Give or take another couple inches in the dramatic last-lap contact between leaders Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, it could have been Max Verstappen driving to his second career victory in Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.
Despite a gallant threat from Kimi Räikkönen in the closing laps, the tenacious teen, while on 56-lap old tyres, held off the Finn’s Ferarri to slot into third before jumping to finish second behind race winner Hamilton.
With his second podium coming in his fifth start with the Red Bull Racing team, the performance stands as the first podium result for the team at its home circuit, the Red Bull Ring.
“To finish second with a Red Bull car at the Red Bull Ring is incredible,” Verstappen said afterwards. “I enjoyed it a lot. It was an exciting race and they gave me a great car to finish second.”
Additionally, the run awarded Verstappen the fan-voted ‘Driver of the Day’ Award for the third time in 2016, with the previous two coming in Canada and Spain.
“It was a great start and also a good first lap,” he said. “I could feel the pace was there in the car so I just moved up to the front and once I cleared some guys, I just started to go into my own rhythm.”
Indeed, the 18-year-old qualified eighth but didn’t stay there long, as he made some early overtaking moves before grabbing the race lead through pit cycle on Lap 55 when the leading Mercedes’ of Rosberg and Hamilton made their final stops.
In doing so, the Dutch youngster made his bed in terms of pit strategy, going the rest of the race without a pit stop – with assistance with a Safety Car interruption on Lap 26 when Sebastian Vettel’s right-rear tyre failed spectacularly on the start/finish straight.
“I did a long stint on the soft tyre and especially the last 10 laps, including with some traffic made it very hard,” he said. “I could see Kimi behind me, he was catching up a lot. At the end to come home in second after what happened on the last lap is of course a bonus.”
Verstappen and team were understandably fulfilled to have their brand finally on the podium in Austria.
“The celebrations will be in the plane,” he concluded. “[We have] busy schedules for next week [the British Grand Prix is the following weekend] but yes, great achievement. I think the car was great all weekend. We need to keep working, that’s for sure but definitely we have some happy faces in the plane.”
Images via Red Bull Racing