Verstappen produces stunning drive to catch Leclerc and win Austrian Grand Prix

Max Verstappen produced a simply stunning drive to catch young rival Charles Leclerc and win the Austrian Grand Prix after dropping from the front row of the grid to seventh on the opening lap.

It had looked for long periods as if Leclerc would record a deserved maiden grand victory, but he hadn’t counted on the pace of the Dutchman on Red Bull’s home circuit, Verstappen passing both Mercedes drivers and Sebastian Vettel before reeling in the leader and making his move stick with two laps remaining.

Valtteri Bottas secured more points for Mercedes after finishing third from Vettel, championship leader Lewis Hamilton managing only fifth after suffering a damaged front wing.

Yet the drivers everyone were talking about at the finish were Verstappen and Leclerc, who provided some of the most exciting racing on the season on the back of what was a pedestrian French Grand Prix.

“After that start I thought the race was over,” said Verstappen after securing engine supplier Honda’s first win of the Hybrid era. “But we kept pushing hard, kept up the pace and kept pushing. I had a bad flat spot on my first tyre. But then after the first pit stop, we were flying. You could see now on the straight we had good pace as well to make the pass. Of course, extremely happy for the whole team and for Honda. We just started working together this year and to win here is incredible.”

In the weighing room and the podium, the atmosphere was frosty between Verstappen and Leclerc, the race decision pending a stewards decision after the pair made contact as Verstappen made his overtake. After two hours of deliberation, the Dutchman was awarded the victory.

“It’s hard racing or we have to go home. If those things aren’t allowed in racing, then what’s the point of Formula One?” added Verstappen over the incident.

For Leclerc’s part, his view of the situation was understandably different and his disappointment also understandable as he again came up agonisingly short of a maiden grand prix victory.

“Overall, I thought it was good,” said Leclerc. “In the end, I had a bit more degradation than I thought. Max came back but then on the incident I’ll let the stewards decide. It was pretty clear in the car. I don’t know how it looked from the outside, so we’ll see. I was on the outside like the lap before he left a car width on the exit to the corner but he didn’t on the other lap so we touched and I had to go wide and then obviously I didn’t have any chance to pass back, so it’s a shame.

Always crucial to the winning of any grand prix is a good getaway at the start and that’s exactly what Leclerc managed and Verstappen failed to do, the Ferrari leading into the opening corner as the Red Bull bogged down and plummeted to seventh.

Lando Norris was another fast starter, initially holding third ahead of Hamilton before dropping back, a rejuvenated Kimi Raikkonen making two places to fourth at the start. Thankfully for fans of the sport, the Red Bull Ring in the Styrian mountains is a great layout, conducive to overtaking and close racing. The first few laps saw plenty of that, Vettel making solid inroads from his starting place of ninth, passing Pierre Gasly, Antonio Giovinazzi, Norris and Raikkonen.

When the dust settled, Leclerc found his soft compound tyres working well on the baking hot Spielberg asphalt, holding Bottas and Hamilton comfortably at bay until the crucial pit stop window.

Mercedes were first to make their move, Bottas coming in for the hard compound in lap 22, a slick 3.5 second pit stop getting him out in optimum time. The same could not be said of Vettel, his Ferrari mechanics still getting the tyres out as he lay in position, another botched stop hampering his chances -the problem later identified as a problem with the mechanics’ radio system.

With Hamilton’s soft tyres coming back to him, the champion put the hammer down and nailed a couple of fast laps to enable him to pass his teammate and apply pressure to Bottas. Then, a problem. Damage to Hamilton’s front wing meant a lengthy 11 second stop on lap 30, ending his chances of victory and putting him out behind bitter rival Vettel and a pacey Verstappen.

Hamilton was the least of Vettel’s worries, however, Verstappen getting within DRS range and making the move stick for third, driving past the Ferrari on the run down to Turn 4, Vettel instantly pitting for new soft rubber to take him to the end of the race.

The next target for Verstappen was Bottas, the Dutchman swooping through into Turn 3 to the delight of the assembled orange army, despite reporting a loss of power. A fix of ‘Fail 3’ over the radio, reported by team boss Christian Horner as an exhaust sensor issue, seemed to do the trick and he next set about the leader.

And reel in the leader he did, the pair providing incredible racing until Verstappen finally made his move stick on the inside at Turn 3, the cars touching as he pushed Leclerc wide – tough racing but the stewards later deemed it to be a fair move.

As was the case in France, the battle for the all-important points across the midfield provided plenty of exciting late fights, Norris, Gasly, Sainz and Raikkonen scrapping tooth and nail for sixth, the McLaren eventually coming out on top to lead home the quartet – Giovinazzi claiming the last point of a gripping grand prix at a great racing venue.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.