Austrian Grand Prix – Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen took a controlled victory at the team’s home venue at the Red Bull Ring.
The Red Bull Ring hasn’t been a traditionally strong circuit for the eponymous team, with its long straights exposing the mild horsepower deficit that has prevented Red Bull Racing from being quite as strong as Ferrari & Mercedes on power circuits. Mercedes have been the fastest in Austria since the beginning of the hybrid era in 2014, also the year of the circuit’s return to the calendar after 17 years, and initially looked quite strong in the race on Sunday as they led early doors P1 & P2.
Verstappen, having started P4, managed to get past Kimi Raikkonen on Lap 1 after a slight tap through the sweep of Turn 7 unsettled the rear of the Ferrari. Pursuing the Mercedes drivers, the Dutch driver was able to keep pace with them both and capitalised when Valtteri Bottas suffered a mechanical failure on Lap 15 and retired. Now up to P2, Verstappen was first of the Red Bull drivers in the pits when the Virtual Safety Car was deployed and, when racing resumed two laps later, was just 13 seconds off Lewis Hamilton with the other Mercedes yet to stop.
When Hamilton did come in, Verstappen found himself with a 5 second lead over teammate Daniel Ricciardo and, while his teammate’s race unraveled due to tyre troubles, Verstappen running in clear air meant he was able to control his own pace and tyre wear to get to the flag without stopping again. While he came under serious pressure from the two chasing Ferraris towards the end, Verstappen took a measured win to claim Red Bull’s first at their home venue: “I’m so happy to win at the Red Bull Ring, and with so many Dutch fans here. It was also so unexpected, and that makes it even better. An amazing weekend. If you want to win a race this is the perfect place, in a Red Bull car at the Red Bull Ring. For the race I was very happy in general with how the car was behaving but I always just try to do my best race possible; if that is going to be first, second, third, it’s not in your hand.”
Yeah, it was hard racing but good racing. I think Kimi is experienced enough to handle the situation well. We had a little touch but I think it’s also good for the sport. Max Verstappen
Explaining that it hadn’t been completely easy, as he had suffered from a milder version of the problems that ruined Ricciardo’s race, he said that he had had to hold back his pace to ensure not stopping again:
“From my side I felt in control, I was driving to the best I could with the car I had and at the end we were struggling a little more than Ferrari with the tyre blistering but we managed to stay ahead. I knew that Daniel and Lewis had to pit again and I didn’t want that scenario so I was not driving to the full limit of the car but just managing everything. It was tougher than perhaps it looked but I just needed to be on top of my tyres.”
“I’m very thankful to the engineers for making that strategy call under the VSC and full complements to the team for that pitstop, because that definitely made our race. The fans in the grandstand were great, so many orange t-shirts there. My focus was always on the track but for the last few laps I could look a little bit to my left and they were really cheering me on, it was amazing.”
Verstappen’s win moves him to within three points of Daniel Ricciardo in the Driver’s Championship, and 53 points off leader Sebastian Vettel. With Daniel Ricciardo retiring from the race due to a cracked exhaust, Red Bull lost ground in the Constructor’s Championship and are now 58 points behind leaders Ferrari.