Verstappen and Honda Triumph at 2019 Austrian GP
Today at the 2019 Austrian GP, Honda celebrated its first win in Formula One’s hybrid engine era. Having taken place at Red Bull Racing’s home race in Spielberg, Austria, and with droves of orange-clad fans having come down from the Netherlands to support Max Verstappen, the win couldn’t have come at a better time.
If the 2019 French GP was one of the worst F1 races in recent memory, the 2019 Austrian GP was the total opposite. The atmosphere at the Red Bull Ring circuit in Spielberg is always electric, in part because of aforementioned fans come from a country famous for its DJs and party scene, in part because the mountain scenery is about as good as it gets, and in part because the track is always, historically, fun for both drivers and spectators.
Additionally, for the first time in 2019, the Mercedes F1 team seemed on the back foot. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took a commanding pole position on Saturday, and while Lewis Hamilton set the second-fastest time, he was hit with a three-place grid penalty for impending Kimi Räikkönen’s lap. That would have put him fifth on the grid but for Kevin Magnussen’s own grid penalty — a shame for the young Dane, as his own qualifying effort had been monumental.
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Sebastian Vettel was unable to put in a time in the final qualifying session because of a hydraulics issue, which meant the front row of the starting grid would be the youngest in F1 history: Leclerc and Verstappen, two of the sport’s most highly-rated future stars, both only 21.
But the epic duel that was anticipated to take place was to be postponed. When the lights went out to signal the start of the race, Max Verstappen’s anti-stall kicked in and he seemed to go backward. By the end of the first lap he was down to seventh, just ahead of his teammate Pierre Gasly and behind Sebastian Vettel.
But he didn’t give up. While Leclerc pulled away at first, Verstappen slowly worked to put himself back in contention, and in the second half of the race he was clearly the fastest man on track. He overtook Vettel then Bottas, and with just a few laps to go before the checkered flag, he was all over Leclerc’s gearbox, who had been struggling to keep his tire degradation in check.
On the penultimate lap, Verstappen launched an attack on the inside of Turn 3, banging wheels with Leclerc and taking the lead. The incident was investigated after the race but was deemed to be not worthy of a penalty (rather inconsistently, one might argue). Bottas finished third a long way behind, with Vettel just behind him.
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For a while, Vettel had seemed to have the pace to get a podium finish or even better, but his weekend went from bad to worse when Ferrari completely botched his pit stop. The German champion was still able to catch and pass Hamilton for fourth place, and would likely have gotten by Bottas as well, had the race been just one lap longer. Ultimately, however, it was Verstappen and Honda’s day.
Red Bull Racing sent Toyoharu Tanabe, Honda F1’s technical director, to the podium to accept the manufacturer trophy, where he was unable to hold back tears. Given the work Honda has had to do and the adversity it has faced in the last several years in F1, it must have been an amazing moment of triumph for the Japanese team, and a reassurance to Red Bull that it had made the right choice in switching to Honda power.
The 2019 Austrian GP was a great race, and finally ended Mercedes’ win streak this season. Let’s hope the next Grand Prix, in Britain, is just as good. We can be optimistic, as the Silverstone circuit does tend to produce great races.
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Kurt Verlin was born in France and lives in the United States. Throughout his life he was always told French was the language of romance, but it was English he fell in love with. He likes cats, music, cars, 30 Rock, Formula 1, and pretending to be a race car driver in simulators; but most of all, he just likes to write about it all. See more articles by Kurt.