Max Verstappen and F1 the winners in Austria as future arrives early
Sky F1's Martin Brundle celebrates a race that saw F1’s future light up the present and, ultimately, rubber-stamp the right winner
Last Updated: 02/07/19 2:10pm
The 2019 Austrian GP event had everything, that is apart from a race retirement or safety car deployment.
The next time we have a steady F1 procession or a thrilling encounter we must, either way, balance our views by remembering the past 10 days and the double header of France and Austria.
I am so relieved that the Stewards declared 'no further action' after reviewing the Turn Three overtake and contact between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc.
It was a victory for common sense and F1.
I feel for Ferrari, they could have won three races this season by now, but they have yet to taste the victory champagne.
As you will know, I felt the penalty in Canada denying Sebastian Vettel a potential victory (although Lewis Hamilton may well have won it anyway in a straight fight to the end) was flawed, Leclerc should have won in Bahrain without reliability issues, and Vettel should have been there to pick up the pieces anyway.
Ferrari have been on the losing end of two Stewards' enquiries in three races, and whilst obviously disappointed and supporting their man, they have ultimately spoken like true racers for the good of the sport.
I salute them and will cheer even harder when they next win, particularly when Leclerc gets his first victory. What goes around comes around.
As I drove to the airport post-race whilst awaiting news of the Stewards' decision, I wondered how next time I could stand in front of a camera on the grid, with conviction and integrity, and effectively say 'don't go anywhere, give us a few hours of your precious weekend, you must watch this great race with us' if a penalty was applied and Verstappen denied a great and well-deserved victory.
My mind questioned where this would leave the likes of Honda, winning for the first time since 2006, and Dietrich Mateschitz of Red Bull, together responsible for 20 per cent of the grid and also the venue in Red Bull's case, as they mulled over F1 participation from 2021 onwards. Or others for that matter.
I couldn't begin to remember the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of incidents I've commentated on where a driver in full control overtakes or defends for position in a braking zone, drives the racing line, and sooner than later the losing rival runs out of space and has to yield, cut back underneath, or take to the run-off area.
If the assailant arrives front brakes locked up and out of control, and/or forgets to turn the steering wheel and skittles his rival into the outer reaches then that's a different scenario.
The teams all seriously beef up their suspensions in anticipation and expectation of contact on the opening laps, in combat, and against the street furniture. That's why Max and Charlie both finished.
Ensuring your rival cannot get on the throttle before you is a core skill in successful overtaking, and if we legislate ourselves into a position where only clean, polite passes are allowed then we have no spectacle or gladiatorial edge.
The cars and tracks are sanitised enough, let's not wrap the drivers totally in cotton wool too. It's a race, and that was one hell of a race.
I said on the grid that, with Leclerc and Verstappen on the front row (who would also go on to deliver us the youngest top two in F1 history) we were having a glimpse of the future. I was wrong, it was a full 71-lap show.
Leclerc seemed to have the race covered, starting beautifully from pole position and controlling the race like the seasoned pro that he's not. It was outstanding driving, a pleasure to witness.
Alongside him, Verstappen had an awful start as the anti-stall system saved his blushes. He dropped to eighth initially behind his team-mate Pierre Gasly, who he quickly dispatched and would later lap. But Max had a new front wing on his car, and seemingly most of the crowd on his side who were showing vociferous support from their seats wearing a cap and T-shirt his management had likely sold them.
To many that could mean pressure, to Max it's just pleasure and motivation. Surely no F1 driver has ever garnered this much nationalistic support before becoming a world champion? If ever.
After parting with his flat-spotted medium compound tyres on lap 31 for a fresh set of hard compound Pirellis he returned to the track 14.5 seconds off the lead of a race he would win. But in that gap were two Ferraris and Valtteri Bottas' Mercedes.
After a little drama with an engine sensor costing him power, he steamed past Vettel and Bottas and caught Leclerc, setting fastest lap along the way, beating even Vettel's attempt on a fresh set of soft tyres. The kid was on fire, a driver possessed with winning.
After measuring up Leclerc, who was on 10-lap older tyres, the door was left sufficiently open into Turn Three and Verstappen didn't need a second invitation.
It's uphill, tight and crested there. Leclerc wasn't giving up around the outside and Verstappen wasn't about to leave him any comfort zone having claimed the apex. The place erupted, and if I'm honest, although I knew the Race Director and Stewards had to consider the contact between the two, I was a little surprised it was called in for consideration.
As Vettel said post Canada, we talk like lawyers now about clauses and precedents, but two wrongs don't make a right.
Bottas claimed the final podium spot to close the gap a little to championship leader Lewis Hamilton, but Mercedes were struggling in the heat to cool their cars as the track peaked at 58C, and their 10-race string of victories came to an end. Lewis wisely focused on the championship points as he had an added problem of a broken front wing.
The yellow 'baguette' kerbs on the exit of T9 and T10 did do a lot of car damage over the weekend, and MotoGP demands notwithstanding, some grass or gravel as a deterrent there might be less costly carbon-fibre wise. But it is a great unsighted high-speed challenge we can easily witness and understand.
Lando Norris was a star once again for McLaren, underlining that F1 is in very good hands for the future, and Carlos Sainz in the sister car drove brilliantly and with great pace to eighth from the back of the grid.
Two Alfa Romeos in the top 10 for Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi was good to see, although that rather underlined what a difficult weekend it was for Renault, Racing Point, Toro Rosso and Haas.
I left the comm box a few laps early to do the post-race interviews, misguidedly saying that at least I should have three happy drivers for once. On arrival Leclerc looked wounded and angry, and unfortunately it turns out I was the one who broke the news to Max that his move for the lead was under investigation.
He quickly suggested he may as well stay at home if he can't race like that. Agreed.
Those two were scheduled to share a private jet back to Monaco on Sunday evening, I wonder how that went…
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