Defeat to Leclerc ‘a surprise’ in Austria – Marko

Red Bull admits Charles Leclerc’s victory for championship contender Charles Leclerc in Austria came as a “surprise”.

“I expected them to be strong,” said championship leader Max Verstappen. “I just didn’t expect them to be this good.”

Carlos Sainz’s fiery engine failure, however, was a nasty surprise for Ferrari, indicating that reliability remains a problem despite Leclerc closing the points gap to the lead to 38 points.

Dr Helmut Marko said Verstappen – who finished second at Red Bull’s own circuit at Spielberg – managing to secure an extra point for the fastest lap to be “the best possible damage control”.

Leclerc says Ferrari has always had the pace to challenge the Red Bulls.

“Apart from Miami, maybe, where we were a little bit down compared to Red Bull, it’s been strong in the last five races,” said the Monaco-born driver.

“We just couldn’t put everything together. So yeah, it’s great that we finally had a normal race on my side.”

Nonetheless, Marko says the result on Sunday “came as a surprise”.

“We had severe tyre degradation that we cannot explain,” said Red Bull’s top Austrian official. “Our pace and the wear on the last set of tyres were all the more astonishing.

“I hope we can work that out but we limited the damage at least. Ferrari and we are at more or less the same level all year round. It’s about the little things.

“So we’re not worried. It’s not like we’re suddenly losing the championship here,” said the 79-year-old.

As for Silverstone winner Sainz’s Ferrari failure, team boss Mattia Binotto thinks it is “very likely” it was the same problem as Leclerc suffered at Baku.

“Of course we’re worried,” the Italian admitted. “But we’re working flat out on solutions that we can hopefully bring to the track soon.”

Marko, meanwhile, had some criticism for Sergio Perez for his contact with Mercedes’ George Russell.

“Before the start we emphasised there should be no overtaking on the outside of Turn 4 as it’s not possible,” Marko told Sky Deutschland.

“That was totally unnecessary.”

Mercedes in general is continuing to improve, with Lewis Hamilton securing another podium.

“We’re missing three tenths,” said team boss Toto Wolff. “We’ll keep getting on top of it with every race.”

Finally, while Formula 1 as a whole slammed the behaviour of some of Verstappen’s Dutch fans over the weekend, Wolff said the criticism should be carefully targeted.

“We need to be very careful that we don’t put the sport that we love into a corner and say this is all racist or sexist, because it’s not,” he said.

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali agreed: “The entire top three was applauded by the fans.

“That shows that the drivers are getting the respect they deserve.”

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