The Austrian Grand Prix was exactly what Formula One needed. From the start of 2019 Mercedes had been absolutely dominant, winning the first eight races and occupying the top two steps of the podium in each of the first five races, giving Lewis Hamilton a sizable lead at the top of the standings. After five seasons of Mercedes supremacy, fans were lamenting that Formula One was boring and predictable and it seemed as if Mercedes would win every race of 2019. Red Bull had been substantially behind on race pace with the exception of Monaco, where the tight streets limit passing, while Ferrari had managed to let two wins slip out of its grasp. An engine problem had cost Charles Leclerc his maiden victory in Bahrain while a controversial penalty stripped Sebastian Vettel of the win in Canada, inciting conspiracy theories among fans that the FIA, Formula One’s governing body, was favoring the Mercedes squad.
However, while true competition at the top had been absent so far in 2019, Austria provided the entertainment and suspense that F1 had been lacking. Leclerc qualified on pole, while a penalty incurred by Hamilton in qualifying dropped him behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas on the starting grid. Meanwhile, Vettel started a miserable ninth, behind the McLaren of Lando Norris, both Alfa Romeos, and Pierre Gasly’s Red Bull. The shuffled-up starting grid all but guaranteed an exciting opening few laps. Instead, fans were kept on the edge of their seat for the entire race, and the two drivers involved in the battle for the win guaranteed that the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix will go down as a classic.
The start was absolutely electric—Verstappen got an awful jump after going into anti-stall mode and dropped immediately to eighth, while rookie Norris fought wheel-to-wheel with five-time world champion Hamilton. Verstappen and Vettel spent the next several laps making up ground—Vettel had a close battle with Norris before breezing past the McLaren and then Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo to end up in fourth behind Hamilton, Bottas, and Leclerc.
Based on the first eight races of the season, fans might have expected the Mercedes of Hamilton, and possibly Bottas as well, to pass Leclerc’s Ferrari for yet another dominant performance. Austria, however, threw up some surprises—both Mercedes struggled with overheating and Hamilton suffered a damaged front wing after taking too many trips over the curbs, leading to a lengthy stop for a replacement. Vettel’s charge was slowed by a botched pitstop, with Ferrari calling him in before the tires had been brought out to the pit box.
With Hamilton, Bottas, and Vettel finding trouble, the race became a battle between Formula One’s future stars: Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc. While Leclerc comfortably led the race, Verstappen set blistering times, passing Vettel around the outside for third on lap 50. Verstappen caught Bottas six laps later before easily swooping past the Finn.
By lap 68 he had squashed the nearly six-second gap to race leader Charles Leclerc and was right on his gearbox. His first attempt to pass the Ferrari was not to be, with Leclerc hanging onto the position on the outside line. However, when Verstappen dove up the inside of the same corner on the next lap, he braked just a little bit later, squeezing Leclerc. They banged wheels before Verstappen flew off in the lead, leaving Leclerc in his wake. Despite an investigation by the race stewards into the legality of his passing move, Verstappen held onto the lead.
Young talent shone throughout the field. Norris put in another great drive to finish sixth, while Carlos Sainz Jr. in the second McLaren carved his way through the field from 19th to eighth, helping put McLaren solidly into fourth in the Constructor’s Championship. Antonio Giovinazzi had a solid performance for Alfa Romeo, picking up his first point of the year by coming in tenth.
Verstappen’s come-back win was the boost F1 needed after a rocky start to the season, and the win also propelled Verstappen past Vettel into third in the Drivers’ Championship standings. The British Grand Prix is next, and Hamilton will have extra motivation to secure a bounce-back win at his home race. Meanwhile, Verstappen and Leclerc will be hoping to build on their strong performances in Austria and gain some momentum, especially now that Verstappen leads both Ferraris in the drivers’ standings.