Watch: Max Verstappen beats Charles Leclerc to win thrilling Austrian GP
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Max Verstappen showed off his risky racing style Sunday to win the Austrian Grand Prix for a second straight year and end Mercedes’ unbeaten streak this season.
Chasing the leading trio, the Red Bull driver used all of his overtaking skills to get past Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas in the closing stages of the race before passing leader Charles Leclerc in a Ferrari with just two of the 71 laps to go.
However, more than an hour after the race ended stewards were still investigating Verstappen’s pass of Leclerc as the wheels of both cars touched in a duel full of excitement which was often lacking in recent F1 races.
Leclerc held off an attempt by Verstappen in lap 68, but failed to do it again the next lap. The cars came out of Turn 3 side-by-side when their wheels bumped.“The second time I braked a little bit deeper in the corner. From my side this is racing, it is just hard racing,” Verstappen said.
Leclerc, however, claimed “the second overtaking was not done correctly.”
“There was contact and I had to go wide,” Leclerc said.
Verstappen had to work his way up to the front of the pack after dropping down to eighth due to a difficult start.
“The start was disappointing but we never gave up and to come back like this is amazing,” Verstappen said.
“This is very important, also for the future and for Honda as well,” he added, referring to Red Bull’s engine supplier getting its first victory in the hybrid era, which started in 2014.
“I am happy that it happened today. Maybe a few doubts go away. At the moment it is an amazing feeling,” said Verstappen, who earned his sixth career victory.
Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas completed the podium, ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who started fourth and lost time to replace the front wing of his Mercedes after 31 laps and finished fifth.
Hamilton posted the second-fastest time in Saturday’s qualifying but was given a three-place grid penalty for impeding Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen. He started fourth as fifth-ranked Kevin Magnussen also lost five places for changing the gearbox in his Haas.
Starting from pole position for the second time in his career, Leclerc almost led the race from start to finish but ended up just missing his first career win.
He also looked set for victory leading in Bahrain in March, but he was hit by engine problems 10 laps from the finish and finished third.
Leclerc and Verstappen started the race 1-2 and, at an average age of 21 years, 265 days, they made for the youngest front row ever in a F1 race.
Verstappen seemed to lose hope of a repeat of last year’s triumph when his Red Bull barely moved as the lights at the start switched to green. He immediately lost six places and complained over the team radio about “clipping,” hinting at a lack of power likely due to a hydraulic issue.
Verstappen needed until the 10th lap to get back to fifth, after both Mercedes cars and the Ferraris.
Battling for victory with Leclerc at the end, Verstappen had the advantage of fresher and thus quicker tires.
In what was widely regarded as a risky strategy, Ferrari started on the soft tires while Red Bull and Mercedes opted for the medium compound.
While the tires helped Leclerc hold on to his lead at the start, they were affected more by the heat than the medium ones on the Red Bull cars.
While Leclerc switched to the hard tires in lap 22, Verstappen pitted 11 laps later and the newer tires gave him an edge in the final laps.
“We stayed out (on the mediums) quite long. Once we came out again we had great pace,” Verstappen said. “One-by-one we were overtaking the cars ahead. The car really came to life.”
With track temperatures reaching 51 degrees Celsius (123 F), tire management was always going to be a key factor in the race.