Max Verstappen wins Austrian GP after three-hour inquiry into overtake

There were pillars of orange smoke bellowing into the natural amphitheatre of the Red Bull Ring as the Styrian mountains echoed to the raucous celebrations of thousands of Dutch fans roaring home Max Verstappen’s victory at the Austrian Grand Prix.

For the orange-clad hordes and for Verstappen it had been a glorious afternoon but one not conclusive even after the chequered flag had fallen.

In fact his win stood unconfirmed, waiting for more than three hours on the colour of smoke that would emerge from the steward’s room as they considered whether to let the his last ditch pass on Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc stand.

Long after the grandstands had emptied and with an appropriately orange sunset approaching they emerged with their decision and the win was Verstappen’s.

As fake steward’s documents were released on to social media, rumour and counter-rumour swept the paddock but the stewards were clearly poring over this with intense scrutiny before deciding that neither driver was predominantly responsible for their contact and that it was a racing incident.

Verstappen’s win was in the balance after an unlikely victory that left Ferrari and Leclerc reeling and once again having seen victory plucked from their grasp.

The Red Bull driver had come back from nowhere after a start that had seen him drop from second on the grid to seventh after the opening lap as a result of his anti-stall kicking in as the lights went out.

The race had looked like it belonged to Leclerc who had started on pole and led with a commanding drive for the majority of laps.

Verstappen and his team were having none of it however and with a strong strategy and some aggressive driving Verstappen threaded his way through the pack before delivering the coup de grâce on the frustrated Monegasque driver with just two laps to go.

The two young guns of F1, both 21, had elevated what might have been another rather mundane win from the front into a thrill ride.

F1 needed a shot in the arm and the youngsters provided just that. In their wake the older guard were firmly in supporting roles, with Valtteri Bottas in third for Mercedes and Leclerc’s teammate Sebastian Vettel in fourth.

Lewis Hamilton, the championship leader, was in fifth after he had to take a new nose, incurred after taking damage on the kerbs.

Behind them another of the new generation, the 19-year-old Lando Norris, was a superb sixth for McLaren.

The first race Mercedes have been defeated in this season was not a major dent in Hamilton’s title hopes however.

He still leads the championship by 31 points from Bottas in second.

The win puts Verstappen back into third place, 71 points behind, while Vettel is in fourth 74 points back.

This is Verstappen’s sixth career win and is a major result for the Dutchman after he has made a strong start to the season and he makes it two in a row here after he took the flag for Red Bull in Austria last year.

He had started the race on the medium tyres, as did Mercedes, as opposed to the softs Ferrari had opted for and the decision worked.

He went long and had the extra grip in the final laps. Red Bull, had called it operationally to perfection and taken a deserved win against the head.

It is Red Bull’s first win this year, their first since Verstappen won in Mexico last October. At Honda, who now supply Red Bull’s engines, the win will be welcomed as a huge success and with some relief.

It is their first victory as an engine supplier after returning to the sport in 2014 and they endured three terrible years with McLaren, struggling for pace and reliability.

They last won as an engine supplier with McLaren in 1992, when Gerhard Berger was at the wheel in the Australian Grand Prix, and as a constructor with Jenson Button at Hungary in 2006.

Leclerc had held his lead into the newly-named turn one, now the Niki Lauda curve, but Verstappen was slow off the line.

It required a comeback of calm maturity that might have been missing from the younger Verstappen, who made his F1 debut at 17 and is now in his fifth season.

After his late stop on lap 31 he had begun mounting his attack on fresh rubber. Vettel fell through turn four on lap 50 and as the Dutch fans sensed blood so did their man.

He promptly caught Bottas on lap 55, and although complaining of a loss of power, it proved no impediment, as second place was swept from the Finn’s grasp at turn three.

What followed proved gripping. Verstappen trailed Leclerc by five seconds with 14 laps to go.

He had it narrowed to just tenths by lap 67 and was all over the Ferrari’s rear wing.

By lap 68 the two went nervelessly wheel to wheel though turns three and four. Leclerc defended superbly as they gave each other just enough room.

However the next lap Verstappen went up the inside through three again, the pair made brief contact and Leclerc was forced wide and ceded the place and the investigation began.

Leclerc was visibly disappointed and Verstappen elated but between them F1 had been treated to a reminder of just how it can move the soul and one ultimately left unsullied by change of podium long after the protagonists had left the circuit.

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