Max Verstappen vs Charles Leclerc is destined to be an F1 rivalry for the ages

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“I’m leading, he wants to pass. He pushed me off the track. It’s not fair,” an infuriated Max Verstappen explained.

Asked about the same incident moments later, Charles Leclerc shrugged and responded: “Nothing [happened], just an incident in the race.”

They were only 14 years old when TKartMagazine got a quick line from each of them after a heated race of the WSK Euro Series in 2012 but a fierce rivalry had already materialised.

Fast forward seven years and the two drivers have upgraded from go-karts to the finest machinery in motorsport but the dialogue remains eerily familiar, apart from the fact that they swapped lines.

Verstappen’s gutsy overtake in the penultimate lap of the Austrian Grand Prix denied Leclerc his maiden Formula One win last weekend. The two bumped wheels and the Monegasque found himself off the track, questioning the legality of the manoeuvre.

It was hard racing, sure, but within the confines of the regulations – a conclusion the FIA stewards eventually arrived at after over three hours of deliberations.

It meant Verstappen would keep the victory at Red Bull’s home circuit ahead of a seething Leclerc and just like that, we may have had our first taste of F1’s next great rivalry.

The narrative at Spielberg was laid out early that weekend with Leclerc dominating the time sheets in practice and storming to pole in qualifying. A penalty for Lewis Hamilton dropped him down to P4 which saw Verstappen join the Ferrari driver in the front row – the youngest in F1 history.

Hopes of the two battling it out during the race suffered a huge blow after the Dutchman’s catastrophic start but in high temperatures, tyre strategies proved crucial and the Red Bull driver benefited.

There was still an extraordinary amount of work for Verstappen to do though and he had to access every last bit of his immense talent to work his way up the order in a scintillating drive that produced a series of fastest laps.

Leclerc was flawless all weekend but with the win in his sights, he suddenly had Verstappen all over his gearbox heading into the last few laps.

Cheered on by his adoring Orange army, the Dutch star pulled off a stunning move to pass his old foe and take the chequered flag.

It was a tremendous display from a phenomenal driver who has been pegged as a future world champion – and quite possibly the youngest – ever since he won his maiden Grand Prix in Spain three years ago on his Red Bull debut at the tender age of 18.

But in Leclerc he finds an equal who has as much chance as he does of beating Sebastian Vettel’s record (23 years and 134 days old) given that both drivers are 21 and born within three weeks of each other.

Though Verstappen’s eye-catching overtakes in Austria were sublime, they shouldn’t take away from Leclerc’s superb drive.

The Frenchman never put a foot wrong and the manner in which he fended off Verstappen with far more degraded tyres than his counterpart for a couple of laps before eventually succumbing in lap 69 was utterly brilliant.

In lap 67, Verstappen looked to pounce coming up to Turn 3 but Leclerc occupied the middle before shutting the door on the inside as they rounded the corner.

The following lap, at the same juncture, Verstappen dove early down the inside but having been afforded the space, Leclerc recovered superbly. Quicker on the throttle, he accelerated out of the turn to get back in front before braking late into Turn 4 to deny the advancing Verstappen again.

It won’t get the credit it deserves but that show of resistance was star quality.

If nothing else, it proved what a gifted driver Leclerc is and one worthy of going wheel-to-wheel with Verstappen at every opportunity.

It’s too early to suggest this rivalry is the next Ayrton Senna versus Alain Prost, ludicrous even.

However, the feud has long since been bubbling under the surface and may have reached a simmer after temperatures were raised in Spielberg.

Now there’s inevitability about it boiling over. Watch this pot.

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Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes suffer in the heat of battle in Austria

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Lewis Hamilton does not expect Mercedes’ lacklustre showing in Austria to derail his championship charge.

After being passed by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel on the penultimate lap at the Red Bull Ring, Hamilton took the chequered flag in fifth, marking the world champion’s worst finish in more than a year.

The Briton had to lift and coast throughout the race due to his Mercedes engine overheating in the extreme heat. Hamilton’s race was also hampered when he ran over the kerbs and had to stop for a new front wing.

Hamilton, however, will head to his home race at Silverstone in a fortnight’s time with a 31-point championship lead over Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

“We have not had any problems up until this race,” said Hamilton after his Mercedes team were beaten for the first time this year.

“The race in Budapest will be hot but I don’t think this performance will happen in a lot of places.”

Mercedes have dominated this season with six one-two finishes from nine rounds. This marked the first race Hamilton has failed to finish in the top two.

The five-time world champion added: “We knew it would be a difficult weekend, and it has been more painful than we thought but, as a team, we have not been complacent at all.”

Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal said: “From a fan’s perspective, this was a really exciting race to watch. However, from our team’s perspective, it was a difficult day.

“It’s clear that we have to fix our cooling problems for the coming hot European races.

“We knew that it was our Achilles heel and we were carrying the problem since the beginning of the season.

“We tried to work on mitigating the performance loss but in the end it was really painful to watch them cruising, not being able to defend or attack.

“But the bad days are the ones when we learn the most to come back stronger.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Max Verstappen wins Austrian GP thriller and other talking points

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Max Verstappen won the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday after overtaking Charles Leclerc in the closing laps. Verstappen’s Red Bull touched wheels with Leclerc’s car triggering an immediate investigation with Leclerc forced off the circuit.

Valtteri Bottas came in third, with Sebastian Vettel in fourth. Here are our key talking points from the race.

VERSTAPPEN STARS

A scintillating drive from the Dutchman. Verstappen, who won the Austrian Grand Prix last season, started from second on the grid but a poor start saw him drop down to seventh by turn one.

At this early point of the race, it was hard to see him climb back up to a podium spot. However, it’s not about the start of the race but the end, and Verstappen roared back, benefiting from fresher tyres to mount successful attacks on both Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas.

He pushed hard in the final frenetic laps, and after reeling in Leclerc, he finally dived in to take the lead with two laps remaining – touching Leclerc’s wheels in the process.

It may be split opinion with the touch of tyres, but this is racing against two drivers of the future, and should be allowed.

HEARTBREAK FOR LECLERC

More heartbreak for the Monaco man. The 21-year-old drove superbly around the Spielberg circuit all weekend, maintaining his pace for large spells of the race before conceding the lead with two laps to go.

Leclerc was the faster driver for much of the weekend but couldn’t hold off the searing pace of Verstappen late in the race, despite the Dutchman touching his wheels.

After being denied victory in Bahrain three months ago, Sunday’s second place will at least add more positives for a driver who is only in his second season in Formula One.

He will be disappointed no doubt, but let’s hope this podium finish will at least be the start of more success for the Scuderia.

HAMILTON STRUGGLES

The Briton qualified second fastest but was given a three-place grid penalty for impeding Kimi Raikkonen.

Starting from fourth, he could only manage fifth, with his edginess in the car down to a lack of pace on the straights, where Red Bull and Ferrari dominated all weekend.

Although he will be disappointed with the result, it doesn’t have much affect on the drivers’ standings where he still holds a 31-point lead over Bottas. His confidence won’t be affected either, with six wins from the first nine races.

Next up is the British GP – a track Hamilton has won a joint-record five times.

MIXED SHOWING FOR VETTEL

Poor old Seb. The German started ninth after an engine-related problem stopped him from setting a laptime in Q3 on Saturday.

A bright start to the race saw move up to fourth and threaten a podium position early on.

However, when Vettel came in to pit on lap 22, the Ferrari mechanics had an issue with their radios and they didn’t receive the message. As a result the stop took 6.1 seconds, denting his hopes of a podium finish.

Overtaking Hamilton for fourth late on will put some gloss on a mixed weekend.

MCLAREN SHINE AGAIN

The McLaren duo Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz are slowly becoming one of the most likable driver line-ups on the gird.

Not only do they come across as genuine and outgoing people, but they are also fearless, pacey and continue to get the best out of the McLaren car.

Norris finished a joint-season’s best sixth, while Sainz crossed the chequered flag in eighth after starting from the back of the grid.

A superb weekend for the Woking side.

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