Looking out into the stands you could almost be forgiven for thinking the McLaren’s fans had taken over, but in Austria, a sea of orange can only mean one thing – Max Verstappen has come home (kind-of).
Verstappen put in a steady performance in FP1, but found himself involved in an unfortunate high-speed crash at turn 10 in FP2 which saw him lose the back end of the car and collide with the barrier. Thankfully, Verstappen was unhurt and the car was made ready in enough time for FP3 and the Qualifying session on Saturday afternoon.
Max and the team were optimistic in spite of the set-back; ‘Crashes can happen unfortunately, but maybe it’s a good thing because they’ll take the whole car apart and so a few new parts on it.’
Sure enough, as if by magic, Verstappen’s positivity, a lot of hard work overnight from the Red Bull engineers and a rare grid-penalty for Lewis Hamilton resulted in an excellent qualifying position for the Dutchman, starting 2ndon the grid, next to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
It was an impressive run for Max who confessed after qualifying he had been dreading bringing the car to Austria; ‘Before we came here, I was not really looking forward to qualifying because I knew it was going to be hard.’
Sat at the front of the grid, the pressure was on for Max to make a good start to the Austrian Grand Prix. Unfortunately, after being sat for over half a minute, the RB15’s anti-stall system kicked in when it really mattered, setting him back to 7thplace before reaching turn one. Thankfully Verstappen’s determination and a huge amount of encouragement from the crowd saw the Red Bull flying through the pack in spite of the ropey start.
Speaking to Sky F1 after the race, Max said he was ‘extremely disappointed but I just kept pushing hard… I had to stay calm and get through them cleanly’. The RB15 sailed through the grid overtaking Valterri Bottas for second place on Lap 56 in spite of a hair-raising issue with an exhaust sensor, causing what Verstappen describe as a ‘loss of power’ over the team radio.
This was quickly forgotten about as Max pushed on to close what was a 5 second gap between himself and Leclerc’s Ferrari. By Lap 69 Verstappen was in a position to challenge Leclerc, which he quickly achieved in a controversial overtake at turn 4 which caused the two cars to bump tyres and push Leclerc into the run-off area.
The chequered flag fell in favour of Verstappen and Red Bull, much to the delight of the army of Dutch fans. This was quickly overshadowed by a furious Leclerc protesting the move, followed by a notice from the Stewards who put the ‘incident’ under investigation.
The Stewards decision to put the overtake under investigation exposes Formula 1 to yet more criticism, following their poor decision to give Vettel a 5-Second time penalty which ultimately handed Hamilton the race win in Canada. The fact that something like a driver running off the track or touching wheels, something we see on an almost weekly basis at the start of a race, suddenly warrants an investigation, shows the lack of consistency and a reluctance to allow actual racing to take place.
It took the FIA almost 3 hours to decide on something that should have gone down as good, close racing. Perhaps it says more about the lack of action in the sport in recent races, that when the stewards see something mildly exciting happening on track, they’ve forgotten how to deal with it.
There has been and continues to be an enormous push forwards in terms of safety in Formula 1, the most recent of which was the introduction of the halo in 2018 to further protect the drivers head in the car. The controversy about Vettel’s ‘unsafe re-entry’ in Canada and now the debate over Verstappen’s overtake in Austria clearly comes from a concern about safety, however in doing so, this hints at a fear from the FIA of allowing for racing and the minor racing incidents that go along with it. Clearly, the FIA need to re-evaluate and make allowances for true racing and entertainment.
The drama doesn’t seem to have dampened the spirits of Red Bull and Honda, who have seen their first win since 2006. Indeed, Max’s initial comment after getting out of his car hit the nail on the head; ‘It was hard racing. If it’s not allowed, what’s the point in racing in F1?’.
Whatever your thoughts on the winner, the Austrian Grand Prix has produced yet another talking point in Formula 1. It’s unfortunate that once again, real racing is overshadowed by the stewards.
But still, the best man took the win, eventually!