Max Verstappen Wins Austrian Grand Prix Amidst Mercedes Misfortune
The young Dutchman takes his fourth career GP win while Mercedes suffers a double retirement.
Red Bull F1's Max Verstappen redeemed himself after commandeering the lead mid-way through the Austrian Grand Prix and finishing atop the podium. Despite an all-Mercedes front row at the beginning of the race, Verstappen capitalized on Valtteri Bottas' and Lewis Hamilton's tribulations to gain his first GP victory since Mexico in 2017.
Upon the race start, Hamilton quickly overtook his teammate Bottas, who started on pole for the second consecutive year at the Spielberg circuit. Mercedes ran one-two for the first handful of laps as Verstappen stayed steady in third, but a disheartening hydraulics failure for Valtteri forced him to retire on lap 12. Taking advantage of the Finn's rough string of luck, Red Bull pitted both Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo under yellow to change to Soft compound tires. In doing so, the crew had plans of running to the end without pitting again, putting them in a potentially prime position.
Meanwhile, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel also pitted. The four-time world champion, who started P6 as a result of a penalty, consistently fought through the upper-half of the field behind his teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
On lap 26, Hamilton pitted and surrendered the lead to Verstappen, rejoining the action behind Ricciardo and Raikkonen in fourth. The Brit's battle with Vettel for position quickly became the story halfway through the race. Eventually, the fight concluded with Vettel passing Hamilton uphill into turn one on lap 39. Tire life began to factor in as Ricciardo had already suffered major blistering on Soft compounds while Hamilton complained of a similar issue over team radio.
Skipping ahead, Hamilton was forced to pit for a second time on lap 53. Mercedes opted for Supersoft tires in order to put him back in contention for a podium, but he relinquished track position to Ricciardo in doing so.
Shortly after being promoted above Hamilton, Ricciardo retired on lap 54 as he joined the ranks of attrition that also included Bottas and Renault's Nico Hulkenberg. In total, Austria marks the third DNF of the season for Ricciardo and the first since his infamous run-in with Verstappen in Baku.
Car and driver endurance quickly became the name of the game as Verstappen was building a gap to the Ferraris in second and third. Towards the middle of the field, McLaren's Fernando Alonso was putting on a fight with Charles LeClerc similar to the bouts we've seen between the two throughout the season. Toro Rosso's Brendon Hartley was running near the points when he decisively retired with 15 laps to go, seemingly because of another gearbox issue.
Hamilton and his crew were certain that a win was out of their reach, but as Team Strategist James Vowles came over the radio earlier in the race to apologize to Hamilton for the improper strategy, Lewis received instruction to push. That he did as he continually challenged for a podium finish up to lap 64 when Mercedes' nightmare worsened.
Hamilton slowed and went off-track, grinding to a halt with disgust. Prior to Sunday's GP, both Mercedes drivers had finished in the points for 24 consecutive races—now, neither would make it to the checkered flag.
Verstappen relished it all at the front of the field as he managed his tires and cruised to victory at the Red Bull Ring. He was then followed up by Raikkonen, who achieved his 96th career podium, and Vettel, the new Drivers' Championship leader by a point after Hamilton's retirement.
In other news, Romain Grosjean was awarded his first points of the season while his Haas teammate Kevin Magnussen also finished in the top ten. Both Force Indias finished in the points as did both Saubers with Fernando Alonso claiming a hard-fought P8 at race's end.
Ferrari now sits atop the Constructors' Championship, 10 points ahead of Mercedes, in addition to Vettel's Drivers' Title catapult.