Formula 1

Mika Hakkinen: As Max Verstappen showed in Austria, it’s drivers who win races

July 2, 2019January 6th, 2022

What a fantastic race we had in Austria, with two young guys locking out the front row, plenty of overtaking during the race and a close fight for victory until the very end. This was Formula 1 at its best and, after the processional race in France one week earlier, it could not have come at a better time.

Charles Leclerc’s pole position for Ferrari was really impressive and it is great to see this young guy making such an impact on the sport. To have another 21-year-old, Max Verstappen, beside him on the front row of the grid showed that – in Austria at least – Mercedes did not have all the answers. Ferrari and Red Bull were really competitive against Mercedes, and between each other.

Max’s win was enjoyable to watch, especially after the ‘anti-stall’ software caused him to make a bad start and drop to 8th place at the beginning of the race. He said afterwards that he thought it was all over, but began a comeback drive that is one of the very best in recent years. There is nothing like watching a top driver in a competitive car coming through the field like this. No one was going to stop him!

I have said before that it is so important for drivers to be able to drive flat-out instead of nursing the car and protecting their tyres, and Max’s choice of medium and then hard tyres worked out perfectly. After making a late pit stop he was able to push really hard in the second part of the race, overtaking car after car, including both Mercedes and finally Charles for the lead – 3 laps from the end of the race.

It is a shame that there was some uncertainty over whether the Stewards might apply a penalty for Max’s overtaking manoeuvre on Charles.

To me, it was a clear example of hard but fair overtaking. When the two cars got to the apex of the corner Max had made the overtake. I understand why Leclerc trying to stay on the outside but you cannot use the run-off area to overtake. It was good racing, and Max really deserved this victory.

It was an important win for Honda, and this is good news for Formula 1 because it is important for all the car manufacturers supporting the World Championship to have their moment of success. Honda has been a strong supporter of Formula 1 since the 1960s and it is great to see them on top of the podium again after several years of disappointment.

Austria was a tough weekend for Mercedes Benz due to the challenge of keeping the car’s systems cool enough in hot conditions. The altitude of the Austrian circuit is almost 700 metres, which reduces aerodynamic downforce. Combined with a track temperature of 56 degrees, this gave Mercedes a headache.

This meant that Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were not able to push as hard as they would have liked, and I think Valtteri’s podium finish was as good as they could possibly get.
It is interesting that Lewis has mentioned the possibility of these overheating problems being repeated at some of the hot European races such as Hungary, and team boss Toto Wolff has admitted that these cooling issues are a weak point. You can be sure the team will be doing everything possible to fix this problem.

While Max and Charles got most of the attention on Sunday it was another young guy, 19-year-old Lando Norris, who really impressed me with another strong drive for McLaren. He was up to 3rd position at Turn 1, and although he was overtaken by Lewis and a very fast-starting Kimi Raikkonen, Lando’s skill and growing confidence at McLaren is very clear.
With Carlos Sainz starting from 19th on the grid, due to a penalty, and then recovering to finish in 8th position, this was a strong showing for McLaren and strengthens their 4th place in the team’s championship ahead of Renault – their engine supplier. With new team boss Andreas Seidl in place, McLaren is now leading the mid-field and chasing Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, It’s good to see.

The next Grand Prix will be in Silverstone, UK, and on this high-speed track, I think that Mercedes and Ferrari will go head-to-head with Red Bull Racing hoping to get in the mix if they can. Lewis has won his home Grand Prix four times since 2014, but Sebastian Vettel won last year.

Sebastian had a weekend to forget in Austria, with a technical problem putting him 9th on the starting grid and a mistake by the team during his pit stop losing him a lot of time. He will be determined to re-establish himself against teammate Charles, and score a repeat of that 2018 victory if he can. If we could have a race with the same level of excitement as Austria, that would be perfect.