It could be said, if there was a race that soaked nearly an entire nation in the soothing Dutch colors of orange, then it was the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix. It didn’t matter who won, in the end, for Formula 1 was the clear winner, above the Verstappen-Leclerc show.
Race-day at Spielberg wasn’t about Mercedes.
It wasn’t about Lewis Hamilton’s dominance either.
Nor was it about the usual case of Ferrari either sandbagging or shooting themselves in the foot in another failure to beat the Silver Arrows.
The 2019 Austrian GP was quite simply about a bunch of 21-year-olds telling multiple championship-winning drivers like Vettel and Hamilton what Grand Prix racing is all about.
The thrill of the 2019 Austrian GP, a race like no other
Perhaps it may not be wrong to say that the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix was exactly what the sport needed at a time where boredom was dictating terms instead of usual exhilaration. With 8 races done and another 13 to go, it was time for Formula 1 to reward the patience of those who’ve always stood by a sport renowned for thrill and unpredictability.
And in the end, Round 9 served just that.
Against a backdrop of multiple digs taken at Formula 1, where according to whom real racing had run dry and some, for whom there was no real thrill left at all, Leclerc and Verstappen just proved that there was sense to sit on that sofa.
And perhaps, even close to the edge of the seat.
Lap 67-71, 2019’s savior for bored F1 fans?
Truth be told, if you didn’t see the final five laps of the 71 here in Austria, then perhaps you may have missed the foundation to what could be called a very modern, sizzling rivalry in the top annals of Formula 1.
Is the Leclerc vs Verstappen show the new Hamilton versus Vettel saga, it should be asked?
With just under 10 laps to go, second-placed Max Verstappen was only three-tenths behind race-leader, Charles Leclerc. At that point, the Ferrari was running on 35-lap-old rubber, in comparison to the Red Bull’s 24-lap-old tyres.
This logical advantage that was seemingly playing into the hands of Max Verstappen notwithstanding, what made the catch-up to Leclerc somewhat doable was the Red Bull Ring being laden with 3 DRS zones and Max moving along with nearly the same straight line pace as the leading Ferrari.
Then, as the pressure was being constantly mounted on the race-leader, Verstappen would bring his car further up into the mirrors of the Ferrari. On Lap 65, the gap between the two was now only 2.3 seconds.
At this time, it could be said with sufficient confidence, that regardless of who you were, whether someone who swears by Lewis or someone who fervently defends Vettel when he goes wrong, you were transfixed on the Leclerc versus Verstappen show.
At a time where Formula 1’s dominant discourse- Hamilton beating Vettel had perhaps explored all possible narratives- you began to get feel that a new foundation was being laid to what could now be the leading rivalry of this generation of Formula 1.
And boy, was it exciting or what?
With every passing second, approaching corner and imposing turn, the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix began being written by inarguably, the best fight of this season.
While Leclerc did all in his might to keep a marauding Verstappen at bay, it wasn’t all that easy to suppress Red Bull, now moving akin a leopard charging for hunting its prey within its own territory.
The Red Bull ring, in case you forgot, whilst possibly lost in nail-biting exhilaration, was anyways the home turf for Red Bull Racing.
So this wasn’t going to be any easy for Charles, who faced Verstappen’s wrath while fighting a barrage of nearly successful overtaking maneuvres.
The turning point of the race
While Verstappen did get a beautiful exit from Turn 3 on Lap 68, shunting very nearly all four wheels of the car ahead of the Ferrari, Leclerc was quick to spur ahead, perhaps moved by the idea that his defense was all but over.
The final two laps were quite literally a tug of war between two glorious drivers, embroiled in a do or die sort of situation.
How rare and thrilling, you couldn’t help but ask, was the prospect of seeing something refreshingly different instead of Hamilton beating the blues out of the two Ferraris?
And finally, then on Lap 70, the miracle happened; the narrative of the race changed and a thrilling result was found.
With his gap to Leclerc now being only under a tenth of a second, Verstappen vaulted ahead of the track-leader, cutting no corners and cramping the red car to an extent that the Monegasque driver was out of track limits, in a failing bid to control the Red Bull.
Max now lead Leclerc with only a lap to go as Vettel, hitherto running in fifth, bolted ahead of Hamilton’s struggling Mercedes, the Ferrari now up into fourth. Within seconds, he was 1.8 seconds ahead of car number 16, hence, it was no going back. Some part of you was thrilled beyond measure and some stunned to a state of silence, feeling for Charles.
What was in it for the midfielders?
Meanwhile, Bottas ran a decent race, holding on well to a third while the biggest gainers among the midfielders were the two Alfa Romeos.
Spare a thought for Antonio Giovinazzi, who did well to hold on to his tenth, while teammate Kimi Raikkonen, back to scoring, as seen at France given his seventh, doing decently well for his ninth, albeit failing to pass Carlos Sainz Jr.
Full marks to Lando Norris, who had passed Ricciardo earlier, and finished in sixth, followed by Gasly, who did not so bad himself for a fighting seventh. While it was a disappointing day for the two Renault drivers, both of whom failed to break into the top ten, it wasn’t so glittery an afternoon for the likes of Toro Rosso and Haas’ as well, all of whom failed to collect a point.
On to Silverstone now where one reckons, we might see another belter of a race as F1 will arrive at Lewis Hamilton-land. A question, nonetheless, for us ever-curious fans. Who will ring in “Hammertime?” Can it be Max or Leclerc again?
With Verstappen having now won his sixth race, Leclerc having grabbed his third and consecutive podium since France, can Mercedes bounce back?