The Austrian Formula 1 Grand Prix gave the sport a desperately needed shot in the arm – someone not driving a Mercedes-AMG won the race.
It was instead a 71-lap battle between Scuderia Ferrari and Red Bull Racing Honda – specifically its respective young guns, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen – and in the end Verstappen forced his way past long-time race leader Leclerc on the sixty-ninth lap.
The move itself was questionable, with the pair banging wheels at Turn 3 and Leclerc forced wide as he lost the lead. Verstappen declared it a by-product of hard racing; Leclerc and Ferrari were justifiably angry in the race’s immediate aftermath. There were fears of a repeat of the Canadian Grand Prix, and after a marathon three-hour hearing and deliberation the FIA Stewards declared Verstappen the winner.
An extract from their statement read: “[As] both cars proceeded to negotiate the corner alongside each other … there was clearly insufficient space for both cars to do so. Shortly after the late apex, while exiting the corner, there was contact between the two cars. In the totality of the circumstances, we did not consider that either driver was wholly or predominantly to blame for the incident. We consider that this is a racing incident.”
Despite disagreeing with the verdict, Ferrari indicated it would not seek to appeal the ruling.
“We still believe this is a wrong decision,” Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said. “We believe Charles was not at fault, a collision has happened and he has been forced off the track. Having said that we respect fully the decision of the stewards. They are the judges, we need to respect that, and more than that, as a Ferrari fan – and I am an ultimate Ferrari fan – I think it’s time for F1 to turn the page and look ahead.”
Verstappen’s win was unlikely in the least, leaving Ferrari and Leclerc reeling at once again seeing victory snatched from their grasp. The Dutch driver, supported by tens of thousands of orange-clad fans, came back from nowhere after an appalling start which saw him drop from second to seventh by Turn 1 when his anti-stall kicked in.
That left pole-sitter Leclerc with an unchallenged run into Turn 1, named the Niki Lauda Kurve in honour of the country’s recently departed three-time World Champion. The Monégasque driver looked to continue his fine form that had been a feature of his entire weekend, steadily pulling a lead to keep him out of DRS range.
It looked as though Leclerc would cruise towards his maiden Formula 1 victory, but Verstappen and his Red Bull Racing team had other ideas. A strong strategy and plenty of aggressive driving saw him carve his way forward; his late-race passes on Sebastian Vettel for third on Lap 50 and Valtteri Bottas for second on Lap 55 caused alarm bells to start ringing.
With track temperatures at a tyre-melting 58°C (136°F), Leclerc’s Pirelli rubber had little left in it as the final laps ticked by. Verstappen ate into his lead – slashing a 14-second gap to less than a second in a dozen laps – and on Lap 68 the pair ran side-by-side through Turns 3 and 4, with Leclerc bravely holding out his rival.
A lap later and it was Verstappen who delivered the killer blow with a lunge up the inside of the right-hander. It was game over.
It was the sixth win of Verstappen’s Formula 1 career – perhaps his finest – and his second in a row, appropriately, at the Red Bull owned track after clinching victory here last year. A decision to start on the Medium compound tyres (as did both Mercedes’) as opposed to the Soft tyres Ferrari had opted for, proved the difference. Able to run a longer first stint, he pitted later than those around him and had the extra grip in the final laps when he needed it most.
The win brought ecstasy and relief to the team’s engine partner Honda. It was the Japanese firm’s first win as an engine supplier since the 1992 Australian Grand Prix when Gerhard Berger claimed victory in the final race of its first marriage with McLaren, and its first since its 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix success with Jenson Button as a constructor.
Having returned to F1 as an engine supplier in 2014 and endured three disastrous years with McLaren where it struggled for power and reliability, its switch to Red Bull’s ‘B’ team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, brought some hope last year. Expanding its footprint with the ‘A’ team has clearly yielded further gains.
The sport’s two young guns, both touted as future World Champions, had transformed what might have been another lights-to-flag procession into one of the season’s more exciting races. It was what the sport desperately needed, bringing to an end Mercedes-AMG’s ten-race unbeaten streak and also putting the old guard drivers into bit-player roles.
Valtteri Bottas finished a distant third, with Leclerc’s teammate Vettel in fourth. Championship leader Lewis Hamilton came home in fifth after being forced to swap front wings during his pit stop after damaging his original wing over the circuit’s exit kerbs. The Mercedes’ simply didn’t have the straight-line speed at this power-dependent track, which lacks the kind of corners that reward the W10 chassis’ superb aerodynamic grip.
It was the first race where Mercedes had been defeated this season – and after Bahrain and Canada, the third where they had been outpaced – but the result barely made a dent in either Hamilton or the team’s healthy leads in the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship standings. The Englishman still leads the Drivers’ standings by 31 points over Bottas with Verstappen leapfrogging into third, albeit 71 points behind. In the Constructors’ standings, Mercedes (363 points) are still miles ahead of Ferrari (128).
Beyond the top-five finishers, another young gun, McLaren’s Lando Norris, finished a superb sixth for McLaren Renault with teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. putting in his own fine drive from the back of the grid (thanks to an engine change penalty) to claim eighth.
The result atoned for the Woking team’s disappointment at last weekend’s French Grand Prix – where Norris’ failing hydraulics saw him lose a certain top-six finish – and further cemented the team’s fourth-placed position in the Constructors’ Championship standings by giving it a 20-point buffer over its factory rivals Renault who couldn’t get either car in the top-ten.
The plaudits for Verstappen will be in stark contrast to the continued pressure being applied to his teammate Pierre Gasly, who once again looked underwhelming in comparison. The French youngster made heavy weather trying to overtake Kimi Räikkönen’s Alfa Romeo during the first half of the race and ultimately finished in seventh place, a lap behind his race-winning teammate.
The final two points’ paying positions went to the Alfa Romeos of Räikkönen and his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi. The similarly under-pressure Italian scored the first points’ finish of his Grand Prix career, arguably long overdue, and was reluctantly chased down by team boss Frédéric Vasseur in their motorhome to have his hair cut.
|FORMULA 1 MYWORLD GROSSER PREIS VON ÖSTERREICH 2019 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (71 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||71||1:22:01.822||26|
|2.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||71||+ 2.724||18|
|3.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||71||+ 18.960||15|
|4.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||71||+ 19.610||12|
|5.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||71||+ 22.805||10|
|6.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||70||1 lap behind||8|
|7.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Racing RB15||70||1 lap behind||6|
|8.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||70||1 lap behind||4|
|9.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||70||1 lap behind||2|
|10.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||70||1 lap behind||1|
|11.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||70||1 lap behind|
|12.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||70||1 lap behind|
|13.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||70||1 lap behind|
|14.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||70||1 lap behind|
|15.||Alexander Albon||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||70||1 lap behind|
|16.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||70||1 lap behind|
|17.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||70||1 lap behind|
|18.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||69||2 laps behind|
|19.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||69||2 laps behind|
|20.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||68||3 laps behind|
Points are awarded to the top 10 classified finishers on a 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 scale.
Max Verstappen is awarded an additional 1 championship point for posting the fastest lap of the race by a points’ finisher.
Images via Red Bull Content Pool
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