Peter Collins: Verstappen easily scales spectacular Styrian hills
If you were on board with Charles Leclerc for the duration, you’d have experienced a hectic race right from the start.
Max Verstappen cruised to his fourth race win of the season as he won the Styrian GP in Austria.
Given the enormous physical effort and concentration required to complete a 71 lap race, cruise is probably not the most appropriate term to use, but it’s almost unavoidable given the fact the Dutch driver wasn’t seriously challenged at any point during the race.
That suggests not a whole lot happened during today’s 8th round of the world championship, but if you were on board with Charles Leclerc for the duration, you’d have experienced a hectic race right from the start.
First, the Ferrari driver tangled with Pierre Gasly’s Alpharauri on the opening lap, an incident that resulted in an early pit stop for Leclerc to replace the Ferrari’s damaged front wing.
So he rejoined down in seventeenth position having started seventh on the grid and there began his busy afternoon of overtaking.
Scything through the slower traffic wouldn’t have caused the Monegasque much difficulty, but as he approached the cars in midfield the task automatically became more challenging. It’s not a simple matter of just putting the boot down and sailing serenely by.
The margins are tight, the performance differences are not as pronounced towards the front of the field, so the racecraft of the driver becomes more and more important.
What you see in Leclerc is a hardened racer, don’t let his courteous and sincerely pleasant manner out of the car fool you, when the visor goes down Leclerc is as aggressive as the next guy.
The Ferrari driver cut a slightly frustrated figure afterward. His car was working really well today and you felt his target was a podium before the chances of that petered out on the first lap.
But that incident meant onlookers had some great overtaking moves to savour. On his way through the field, he came across two of the most wiley racers you could encounter.
First on lap 43, Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo. The Finnish driver is a master at defending his position and making his car as wide as possible, but Leclerc hassled and harried and when the opportunity presented itself, he made his move.
Clean, hard skillful racing and off he went in pursuit of the next obstacle. It presented itself in the form of Fernando Alonso.
Like Raikkonen, the Spaniard has a bottomless well of experience to call upon, although the performance deficit of his Alpine to the Ferrari meant he was never going to hold up Leclerc for too long. Lance Strolls Aston Martin was also put in the Ferraris rearview mirrors pretty quickly too.
Seventh was as much as Leclerc could manage today, but he further enhanced his reputation and gained some additional race experience while he worked his way back towards the front.
A great drive from Leclerc, but you can never take away from the race winner. Verstappen had to suck it up when Mercedes and Hamilton were unbeatable.
Now the Red Bull has the pace, Max is doing exactly what we expected he would do for a long time now, become the man to beat.
Roll on next weekend in ..eh, Austria again, when Mercedes will undoubtedly do everything to close the gap and Ferrari will be right on their tails.