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Wow’s the word for the wild young tyros of Formula One

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THE British Grand Prix excited old memories and promised fun in the future. PETER COSTER reports:

A NEW generation of Grand Prix drivers has shown what petrol heads dream of. It was as if this ageing rev head stood once again on the grass at Silverstone during the British Grand Prix.

That was between Abbey and Village, where they don’t let you stand anymore, even with a press pass.

So close the grass around my feet flattened as the cars passed with a shriek that near burst the eardrums.

Back in the day when F1 engines revved to 18,000 rpm. Now it’s a more polite buzz and around 12,000 rpm.

But this weekend the adrenaline near overflowed as the 20-somethings turned Formula One from a procession that threatened to turn it into a funeral cortege to a race.

Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc may be only 21, but they have been racing each other since they were driving karts; that before they were even teenagers.

Super Max in the Red Bull and Leclerc in his Ferrari gave no ground as they challenged each other down the pit lane after a safety car stop.

So it was on the circuit as they banged wheels.

But later in the race came the sublime as Leclerc came up on Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly, only two years older at 23, as they left Abbey. First one way and then the other as Leclerc passed on the outside at the Village curves.

No wheel touched as they executed a motor racing pas de deux. “Wow,” exclaimed commentator Martin Brundle, a veteran of 158 GPs. He could only repeat himself. “Wow!”

The “wow factor” was the cleanest of high-speed passes, centimetre perfect winning Leclerc the vote as Driver of the Day from a world-wide audience of millions.

They are F1’s Young Lions and more than enough to put the curl back into the sagging ends of Liberty Media chief Chase Carey’s handlebar moustache.

Leclerc said after the race that it was the most fun he has had in Formula One. He is in only his second season and his first for Ferrari, but he means the most fun in his life.

An Australian would pronounce his name as it is spelt. The French pronunciation is smoother, as in a chocolate eclair.

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Leclerc is a Monagasque, a native of the tiny principality of Monaco on the French Mediterranean coast.

Leclerc finished third on the podium and Gasly fourth with Verstappen fifth, which was perhaps as remarkable as is F1’s changing of the guard.

Verstappen was fourth before passing Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel with the dash and aggression that marks him as a future world champion.

Vettel, in a mistake that might have been made by a younger driver, ran into the back of the Red Bull, sending them off the track.

The four-times world champion eventually finished 15th and a lap down after being penalised 10 seconds by the stewards.

Vettel is 32 and Ferrari will be concerned at the number of mistakes being made by the German driver, who is in the final year of his reportedly $50 million a year contract.

If Vettel were to retire, it would leave a seat open for Daniel Ricciardo, who has a two-year deal with Renault, but by 2021, who knows?

The Australian is reportedly being paid almost as much as Vettel and had been confident of being signed by either Ferrari or Mercedes when Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen were out of contract. But Mercedes re-signed Bottas and Raikkonen was replaced by Gasly.

The Silverstone race gave us a look into the future but resulted in the usual Mercedes one-two finish, the sixth this season.

Once again, Bottas could be said to have had bad luck while Lewis Hamilton, at 34, is on his way to a sixth world championship having secured his 80th F1 victory.

A bemused Mercedes chief, Toto Wolff, said: “I’m still not sure how he did it.”

Bottas was on a two-stop strategy and Hamilton, who was on a one-stopper, inherited the lead when Bottas pitted for fresh tyres.

The Finn would have passed Hamilton, but a safety car when Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi spun into the gravel presented him with a free pit-stop. He was able to change tyres and rejoin still in the lead.

Ricciardo finished seventh, once again ahead of teammate Nico Hulkenberg. It is about where Renault can expect to end the season.

Ricciardo must hope the team is well-prepared for major changes in F1 in 2021; that is if he is still with the French works team.

Ricciardo is a winner and still has time to overtake the lion cubs, but like all drivers the smiling assassin, who remains king of the late brakers, must have the machinery beneath him to make use of his skills.

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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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