Max Verstappen pulled off a storming comeback drive to take victory in the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix despite suffering a nightmare start to the race.
The Red Bull dropped five places at the start but fought his way back, the Honda power allowing him to force his way past pole sitter Charles Leclerc on lap 69 to the delight of the grandstands packed with Dutch fans. However the controversial overtaking move is under investigation by the race stewards, and the result could still be overturned.
Leclerc held on to second place, with Valtteri Bottas flying the Mercedes colours on the podium in third place. However Lewis Hamilton finished in fifth place after falling foul of a late pass by Sebastian Vettel, who had stopped for new tyres late in the race.
With western Europe still sizzling in heatwave conditions, the Red Bull Ring was undeniably baking as the cars lined up on the grid for the start of the race, Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon telling his team “My feet are on fire!” even before the formation lap.
Sunday’s grid was headed by the youngest-ever front row in the history of Formula 1, with two 21-year-olds leading the way: Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on a well-deserved pole, with Max Verstappen alongside. The Red Bull had been promoted one place by Lewis Hamilton’s penalty for blocking during qualifying, meaning Hamilton was now part of an all-Mercedes second row and starting in fourth place next to his team mate Valtteri Bottas.
Starting on the soft compound, Leclerc had the speed advantage when the lights went out and shot off in the lead down into turn 1. But there were problems for Verstappen on the medium tyres, the RB15’s anti-stall kicking in and immediately dropping him down five places. That allowed Bottas to pick up second place, while Hamilton initially fell foul of McLaren’s Lando Norris before fighting back through the opening corners to retrieve thirds place before the end of the first lap.
Norris also fell foul of Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, leaving him in the cross hairs of Sebastian Vettel who was already up three spots from his compromised grid spot after technical issues in qualifying. Vettel completed the pass with a brave move through turn 3 on lap 4, leaving Norris running ahead of the two Red Bulls of Verstappen and Pierre Gasly. Verstappen also made quick work of the McLaren and took off in pursuit of Vettel, the pair soon catching and passing Raikkonen to put them into the top five.
Now the big question was how long the flying Ferraris could extend their opening stint on soft tyres before having to pit, and whether the medium compound would offer Mercedes any significant advantage given that overheating was already becoming an issue for the two Silver Arrows, both of whom were struggling to stay on track. Bottas finally blinked first on lap 22, and Vettel immediately responded – only for a radio comms glitch catching the Ferrari pit crew on the hop, and problems fitting the front-left costing him vital seconds.
There were no such problems for Leclerc who also pitted for hard tyres next time by, while Hamilton and Verstappen both decided to try toughing it out for a while longer now that they were up in first and second respectively. Hamilton finally came in on lap 31, but his hopes of overcutting Bottas for position evaporated when the team elected to fit a new front wing to the W10 due to Hamilton reporting a loss of downforce, having repeatedly running wide over the thick sausage kerbs. When he emerged from pit exit, Hamilton was eight seconds behind Vettel.
Verstappen pitted two laps later to return the lead to Leclerc, who now held a four second lead over Bottas with Vettel a further nine seconds behind. Verstappen himself rejoined in fourth ahead of Hamilton, with Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo yet to stop in sixth and seventh followed by Norris, Gasly and Raikkonen.
With the key pit stops complete, any further gains were going to have to come on track – and Verstappen was up for the challenge, eagerly using his fresher tyres to wipe out Vettel’s lead over the next dozen laps. The storm finally broke on lap 50 when Verstappen used DRS out of turn 3 to blast past the Ferrari, to a road of approval from his legion of orange-clad fans in the grandstands. Job done, he was immediately off in pursuit of Bottas while Vettel reacted by pitting for a fresh set of tyres, ceding track position to Hamilton in favour of fresher, faster rubber that soon saw him setting fastest race laps.
Despite reporting a worrying loss of engine power, Verstappen continued his charge and made a successful move on Bottas in turn 3 for second place on lap 56, leaving him five seconds to find to take the fight to the race leader. He did so with time to spare, catching the Ferrari with five laps to go and then throwing everything he had into attack. The decisive move came on lap 69 when Verstappen forced Leclerc to run wide in turn 3, a robust move that the stewards indicated would be under view.
At almost the same time, Vettel was able to use his fresher tyres to pass Hamilton for fourth place. Norris crossed the line in sixth place, followed by Gasly, Sainz, Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi while Racing Point’s Sergio Perez just missed out on the points, followed by Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg. Lance Stroll finished 14th ahead of Albon and Romain Grosjean.
The second Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat was able to fend off George Russell for 17th place. Despite starting from the pit lane due to an overnight repair to his FW42, Russell still finished ahead of Kevin Magnussen after the Dane was handed a drive thru penalty for being out of position on the grid before the start.
With all 20 cars making it to the finish, the last man on track was Robert Kubica in the second Williams.