Max Verstappen wins Austrian Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton retires, loses championship lead

SPIELBERG, Austria — Max Verstappen took a shock home victory for Red Bull at the Austrian Grand Prix after both Mercedes cars retired from the race with reliability issues.

Verstappen took the lead of the race thanks to a Mercedes strategy blunder just after Valtteri Bottas’ retirement with a hydraulics issue. The Mercedes pit wall failed to pit Lewis Hamilton under the resulting Virtual Safety Car, which eventually relegated him down the order when he pitted under full racing speed. A livid Hamilton retired in the closing stages as his car slowed to a halt at Turn 3 with a loss of fuel pressure.

Starting from sixth place, Sebastian Vettel wasn’t able to take full advantage of title rival Hamilton’s problem, but still took third place directly behind Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen in second. The podium finish returned Vettel to the lead of the drivers’ championship by a single point and moved Ferrari to the top of the constructors’ championship by 10 points.

Although reliability issues struck both Hamilton and Bottas on Sunday, Verstappen and Red Bull can claim the victory on merit. Hamilton had taken the lead from teammate Bottas at the start but Mercedes threw it away when it opted against pitting Hamilton at the reduced racing speed of the VSC. Meanwhile, the two Red Bulls and two Ferraris seized the opportunity to take on fresh tyres by double stacking their cars in the pit lane, giving Verstappen the lead ahead of Ricciardo and Raikkonen when Hamilton came into the pits under normal racing conditions on lap 25.

Mercedes head of strategy James Vowles admitted to the mistake over the pit-to-car radio, but it all proved academic when Hamilton retired nine laps from the end resulting in Mercedes first double retirement since the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.

Ricciardo had been running as high as second after Hamilton’s pit stop but had to pit for a new set of tyres after he pushed too hard while trying to keep Raikkonen at bay. He later retired from the race on lap 54 when an exhaust leak cooked the rear of his car, handing fourth place to Haas’ Romain Grosjean, who finished 1.5s ahead of teammate Kevin Magnussen.

Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez took sixth and seventh for Force India ahead of an impressive drive from a pit lane start to eighth by Fernando Alonso. The two Saubers took the final points on offer with Charles Leclerc in ninth and Marcus Ericsson tenth.

How the race unfold

Raikkonen made a lightning-fast start from third on the grid to split the two Mercedes on the run up to Turn 1. Bottas, who had started from pole position, was on the outside going into the corner and dropped to third as Raikkonen and Hamilton passed him on the inside. Bottas found a way back into second place after Raikkonen ran wide in Turn 3 defending from Verstappen and became a sitting duck on the run down to Turn 4. Although it wasn’t obvious at the time, Verstappen then pulled what turned out to be a race-winning move on Raikkonen exiting Turn 6 for third place, with the pair banging wheels through Turn 7 as the Red Bull slipped past the Ferrari.

After Mercedes’ dominant display in qualifying, the race looked set to follow the same narrative on Sunday as Hamilton eased into a comfortable lead over teammate Bottas. Behind them, Verstappen held a comfortable margin over Raikkonen while Ricciardo moved from seventh on the grid to fifth and Vettel recovered from a slow start to run sixth. With pre-race predictions indicating a one-stop race, any changes of position looked set to hinge on the timing of the pit stops, but that was before Bottas stopped on track.

The first sign of Bottas’ failure came when his gearbox refused to swap cogs under braking for Turn 3 on lap 14. A loss of hydraulic pressure had caused the gearbox to seize and by Turn 4 he had pulled off in the run off area and into retirement. Race control decided to deploy a VSC so that the car could be recovered, triggering a chance for all drivers to pit without losing too much time.

Bizarrely Mercedes spurned the opportunity from the lead, meaning Verstappen in second place had a gap of just 16 seconds to Hamilton when he emerged from his pit stop and normal racing resumed on lap 16. A pit stop at the Red Bull Ring costs at least 20 seconds under normal racing speeds, meaning Verstappen just had to match Hamilton’s lap times to ensure he took the lead of the race when the Mercedes made its inevitable stop. There were some suggestions Hamilton might go long into the race to have fresher tyres to attack at the end, but Mercedes opted to pit him on lap 25 in reaction to Vettel’s attempts to join Verstappen, Ricciardo and Raikkonen in his pit window with a sudden burst of pace on fresh tyres.

That meant Hamilton rejoined in fourth, ahead of Vettel but behind a raging battle between Raikkonen and Ricciardo for second place. The Red Bull had passed Raikkonen on lap 20 on the outside of Turn 4, but blistering on the left rear tyre of Ricciardo’s car saw Raikkonen regain the position at the same corner on lap 38. That convinced Red Bull to reset Ricciardo’s race by pitting him for a new set of tyres, but just 16 laps later he retired when he lost gear-sync as a result of the leaking exhaust gases at the rear of his car.

Blistering on rear tyres proved to be a theme throughout the rest of the race and Hamilton started to struggle soon after Ricciardo. That allowed Vettel to pull a bold move into Turn 3 on lap 39 and pass his title rival on the track for third place. Hamilton eventually pitted on lap 52 for fresh tyres before retiring ten laps later on the run up to Turn 3 when his V6 engine was starved of petrol due to a lack of pressure in the fuel system.

By the final lap Raikkonen had closed the gap to Verstappen to just 1.5s — but there was little doubt the Red Bull driver had the race under control. It was his first win of the season after a series of incidents in the opening six rounds of the year and the result moves him just three points off teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who won in China and Monaco.

Meanwhile, the battle at the top of the championship has swung back in Vettel’s favour with Hamilton’s home race at Silverstone just one week away. – Source: ESPN