For once in the 2018 Formula 1 season, Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen’s race craft was commended by almost everyone when things were falling apart for his rivals in a race of attrition at Red Bull Ring.
It was Lap 25 when Verstappen took the race lead after Mercedes’ pit stop blunder opened the door for the Dutchman to capitalise on. Red Bull had double-stacked Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo under the VSC when Valtteri Bottas retired.
With Hamilton out of his way and Verstappen having done his mandatory stop, a victory seemed certain for the Red Bull driver. However, with both Hamilton and Ricciardo suffering with blisters on their fresh tyres, it didn’t seem certain then.
But remarkably, Verstappen held on nicely for the remainder of the race to win his first of the season and fourth in his career. It wasn’t easy as the Dutchman had to adopt a clever strategy to evade blistering his tyres.
The 20-year-old used limited tyres in the last two right corners while made up for the lost time in other part of the circuit where the load was less and he could use the tyres to the maximum – as revealed by his boss Christian Horner.
“Unbelievable,” exclaimed Horner. “It is a win for a Red Bull car in Red Bull Ring – it could have been better if Daniel was up there, but I have to say, such a mature drive from Max today, just remarkable.
“He was cool today because these tyres, if you put too much stress into them, there was so much energy that the tyres would start blistering. It happened with Daniel, we saw it with Lewis but Max was just able to manage those tyres and keep the blister under control.”
Verstappen has come under fire all season long for his driving but in the last three races, he has scored 58 points – the highest among all the drivers. Interestingly, he has completed the unique progression as well.
He finished third in Canada, followed it up with a second place in France and then took a win in Austria last weekend. “I think it [the win] was a bit unexpected, especially after our Friday pace and in the long runs,” said Verstappen.
“I think in the first stint we could actually keep up quite well – and then I just tried to do my own race. I saw Valtteri disappearing with a problem, and then I think we made the right call when the virtual safety car came out, that we pitted.
“The team, again [made a] great call on that, and then virtually I was in the lead, and I just tried to do my own pace. Initially from behind there was no pressure. I think I could build up a gap.
“At one point, when Lewis pitted and Kimi started to put Daniel under pressure and he started to struggle with his tyres [allowing] Kimi [to get to] second, I tried to manage the gap – but I could see my tyres also opening up a bit on the rears and the fronts.
“I just had to drive around the issue and luckily I could manage it until the end of the race,” he explained. The win has also helped Verstappen to 93 points and move into fifth place – only eight behind Kimi Raikkonen, three behind Ricciardo and one ahead of Bottas.
While Verstappen had the win, birthday boy Ricciardo was on the receiving end. He faced with blisters like Hamilton and was forced to a second stop but an exhaust issue ended his race, denting a chance to score points and catch up with the leaders.
“I am a bet delirious right now,” he said. “There’s no point being upset right now, I know what I signed up with this sport as a kid and sometimes this happens, things happen out of your control. It is what it is.
“For Red Bull, the team, Mr [Dietrich] Mateschitz, the ‘Orange Army’, it’s the perfect day, so I don’t want to stand here and talk about my sob story and how my birthday didn’t become a great birthday. It happens.
“The soft tyre fell apart, strange it did, not really sure why and then I think a broken exhaust is what killed the race at the end. It is weird, I mean it was going good then all of a sudden it [tyres] quickly went away.
“If you look at the race of Max and how it went, Kimi did the fastest lap at the end of the race, so if it worked, it worked. For Lewis and myself, it fell apart very-very quickly and I don’t really have an explanation for that right now.”