Belfast Telegraph

Verstappen nets Austria joy after three-hour wait


Drinking it in: Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium
Drinking it in: Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium

By Philip Duncan

Max Verstappen was declared the winner of the Austrian Grand Prix - three hours and 20 minutes after his remarkable drive to victory at the Red Bull Ring.

With the sun setting in the Styrian mountains, Verstappen's win dramatically hung in the balance as the stewards determined whether he had rammed Ferrari's Charles Leclerc off track in his move for the win with two laps to run of a spell-binding affair.

Verstappen dived underneath Leclerc at the right-handed turn three, before the pair banged wheels, with Leclerc forced to take to the run-off area.

"What the hell was that?" the young Monegasque barked over the radio.

Verstappen protested his innocence. "If those things are not allowed in racing, then what is the point in Formula One?" he said.

After hearing from both drivers and reviewing video evidence of the controversial incident, the stewards took no further action against Verstappen, with their verdict denying Leclerc the first win of his career.

In doing so, it avoided a potential riot among the legion of Dutch fans who had roared the 21-year-old to the line.

"We did not consider that either driver was wholly or predominantly to blame," read an FIA statement. "It was a racing incident."

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto announced they will not appeal the decision. Ten yards along the paddock, a beaming Red Bull team principal Christian Horner could not hide his delight.

"It would have been incomprehensible to have changed the podium," he said. "It was tough racing but Max was slightly ahead of Charles, he got to the apex first, and then it was checkmate. This was just the tonic F1 needed after last week."

Valtteri Bottas finished third for Mercedes ahead of Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, with Lewis Hamilton fifth on an off-colour weekend for the world champion and Mercedes, the sport's all-conquering team.

After seven days of soul searching following a turgid grand prix in France, F1 burst back into life with the race of the season so far.

Verstappen's hopes of the first non-Mercedes victory of the year appeared to be over after a matter of yards as from second on the grid he staggered off the start-line, falling to seventh.

Yet the Dutchman never gave up hope. He stopped for tyres later than his rivals, and on fresher rubber picked off the opposition with overwhelming ease.

Verstappen batted away Vettel on lap 50 and then soared past Bottas five laps later. Although Leclerc was five seconds up the road, with 15 laps to run the implausible suddenly seemed probable.

With Vettel and Hamilton out of the equation, Formula One feasted on a battle of its next generation as the two 21-year-olds went toe-to-toe for the win.

On lap 68, Verstappen looked to have got the job done, passing Leclerc on the entry to turn three only to see the Ferrari driver blast back past.

A lap later, Verstappen tried again, braking deeper, affording Leclerc little-to-no room, resulting in an investigation that was under way before Verstappen had taken off his helmet to celebrate the sixth win of his career.

Reflecting on his move, Verstappen said: "It is better than following. That is boring."

Leclerc responded: "I will let the stewards decide. I did the same as the previous lap so I didn't expect contact. I don't think that the second move was fair. The end would have been the same, but it is not the way you overtake."

Yet the result stood, giving new engine partner Honda their first win since the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Leclerc's wait for his first victory, meanwhile, goes on, while Ferrari's winless run now stretches to 12 races.

British teenage rookie Lando Norris was sixth for McLaren.

1 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1hr

22mins 01.822secs, 2 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:22:04.546, 3 Valtteri

Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:22:20.782, 4 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari

1:22:21.432, 5 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:22:24.627, 6 Lando Norris

(Gbr) McLaren at 1 lap, 7 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Red Bull at 1 lap, 8 Carlos Sainz

(Spa) McLaren at 1 lap, 9 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo Racing at 1 lap, 10

Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Alfa Romeo Racing at 1 lap.

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