So Grand to get real racing again

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BORING Mercedes processions ended with a bang between two dashing drivers as PETER COSTER reports:

SUPERMAX refers to a maximum-security jail but Super Max is Max Verstappen, who takes no prisoners.

At the Austrian Grand Prix the Red Bull driver proved he is a future world champion as he dived inside the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc on the second last lap.

Max Verstappen is a racer, the most talented and aggressive driver in Formula One, five-times world champion Lewis Hamilton aside.

He has made believers of any who might have doubted him. His pass on Leclerc was as much a victory for Grand Prix racing as it was for the 21-year-old Dutch driver.

Leclerc is also 21 and with Verstappen another future world champion. They are the new generation of Formula One drivers ushering in a new era in Formula One alongside extensive rule changes next year.

Verstappen’s win at the Red Bull Ring, owned by Red Bull energy drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz, was his sixth Grand Prix victory and the first for Honda since the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2006.

This made Verstappen’s win in Austria even more impressive.

Red Bull decided to drop its underperforming Renault engines for Honda this year but that, too, was a risk.

Daniel Ricciardo, who finished 12th in Austria, left Red Bull after it became obvious the team was being built around Verstappen.

Honda was a risk and Ricciardo was hoping for an offer from Mercedes that didn’t come.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is wooing Verstappen who has a clause in this contract that releases him from Red Bull if they do not provide him with a car capable of winning the world drivers’ championship.

But Verstappen has now won with Honda power, no doubt to the relief of Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas.

The Finn finished third in Austria ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

Honda, which couldn’t cut the mustard when McLaren was using its engines, has turned its fortunes around with more than a little bit of help from Verstappen.

Pierre Gasly, Ricciardo’s replacement at Red Bull, has performed poorly and was seventh in Austria, ahead of Carlos Sainz in a McLaren but behind McLaren’s other young gun in Carlos Sainz Jnr.

That the Renault-powered McLarens finished ahead of Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg in the other Renault is also a problem for Ricciardo. McLaren is moving up the grid while the Renault works team is slipping further behind.

This points to problems with the Renault chassis as well as the engine that brought Ricciardo three of his seven victories at Red Bull in his first year with the team in 2014.

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Ricciardo turned 30 a day after the Austrian Grand Prix and needs a car that will get him back on the front of the grid.

Even his reputation as the last of the late brakers came under challenge from Verstappen in Austria.

Verstappen carved his way through the field after the anti-stall system saved him from being embarrassed on the grid.

He was on the front row beside pole-sitter Leclerc and fell back to eighth before he started his drive through the field.

It was a re-run of the Canadian race in that the stewards became involved. Vettel won the race on the track in Canada but was stripped of the win when the stewards decided he rejoined the race “in an unsafe manner” when he ran wide and swung back in front of Hamilton.

In Verstappen’s case, the stewards took three hours before confirming he had won the race after banging wheels with Leclerc.

The stewards might well have been influenced in letting the result stand after the uproar over Vettel, who put the No. 2 marker in front of Hamilton’s Mercedes after the race in Canada.

Verstappen’s wheel-banger on Leclerc was judged to be “a racing incident”.

Verstappen said the same, unsurprisingly, as did Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. Leclerc exclaimed over team radio, “What was that?”

That was Super Max who, along with Leclerc, has brought hard racing back in Formula One.

No-one wants to see the usual Mercedes procession. Except Mercedes.


Author: Peter Coster

PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games.



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