Max Verstappen wins thrilling Austrian Grand Prix to end Mercedes’ unbeaten streak

Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium after the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix in Spielberg. (AFP)
Updated 30 June 2019

Max Verstappen wins thrilling Austrian Grand Prix to end Mercedes’ unbeaten streak

  • Stewards were investigating Verstappen’s move to pass Leclerc as both cars touched
  • The Dutchman recovered from a poor start to work his way up to the front of the pack

SPIELBERG, Austria: Max Verstappen won the Austrian Grand Prix for a second straight year on Sunday as Red Bull ended Mercedes’ unbeaten streak this season.

The Dutchman recovered from a poor start to work his way up to the front of the pack from eighth place, and overtook leader Charles Leclerc in a Ferrari with just two laps to go.

However, stewards were investigating Verstappen’s move to pass Leclerc as both cars touched.

Starting from pole position for the second time in his career, Leclerc almost led the race from start to finish but ended up just missing his first career win.

Leclerc and Verstappen started the race 1-2 and, at an average age of 21 years, 265 days, they made for the youngest front row ever in a F1 race.

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas completed the podium, ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who started fourth and lost time to replace the front wing of his Mercedes after 31 laps and finished fifth.

Hamilton posted the second-fastest time in Saturday’s qualifying but was given a three-place grid penalty for impeding Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen. He started fourth as fifth-ranked Kevin Magnussen also lost five places for changing the gearbox in his Haas.

Verstappen seemed to lose hope of a repeat of last year’s triumph when his Red Bull barely moved as the lights at the start switched to green. He immediately lost six places and complained over the team radio about “clipping,” hinting at a lack of power likely due to a hydraulic issue.

Verstappen needed until the 10th lap to get back to fifth, after both Mercedes cars and the Ferraris.

Battling for victory with Leclerc at the end, Verstappen had the advantage of fresher and thus quicker tires.

In what was widely regarded as a risky strategy, Ferrari started on the soft tires while Red Bull and Mercedes opted for the medium compound.

While the tires helped Leclerc hold on to his lead at the start, they were affected more by the heat than the medium ones on the Red Bull cars.

While Leclerc switched to the hard tires in lap 22, Verstappen pitted 11 laps later and the newer tires gave him an edge in the final laps.

With track temperatures reaching 51 degrees Celsius (123 F), tire management was always going to be a key factor in the race.

At 4.3 kilometers (2.7 miles), the Spielberg track is among the shortest in Formula One. With inclines of up to 12 percent, it includes just 10 turns and four long straights, favoring cars like Ferrari with good traction and straight-line speed.

Hamilton (six) and Bottas (two) had combined to win all eight previous races this season. Dating back to October last year, when Verstappen won the Mexican GP, Mercedes’ winning streak consisted of 10 races, leaving the team one short of the all-time best mark set by McLaren more than three decades ago.

Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost won the first 11 races of 1988, the season that Senna won the first of his three F1 titles. Their winning streak was ended by Ferrari’s Gerhard Berger.

Mercedes failed to win an 11th straight race twice before, in 2015 and 2016.


Thiem into ATP Finals semis as Djokovic and Federer face shootout

Updated 41 min 35 sec ago

Thiem into ATP Finals semis as Djokovic and Federer face shootout

  • Austrian fifth seed took fight to the world No. 2, recovering from losing the first set to triumph

LONDON: Dominic Thiem produced a scintillating display of attacking tennis to beat Novak Djokovic and qualify for the last four at the ATP Finals on Tuesday, leaving the Serbian facing a shootout against Roger Federer.

In the standout match so far at London’s O2 Arena, the Austrian fifth seed took the fight to the world No. 2, recovering from losing the first set to triumph 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 7-6 (7/5)

Earlier, Federer put himself back in the mix at the end-of-season event with a 7-6 (7/2), 6-3 win against Italian debutant Matteo Berrettini in their round-robin clash.

Federer and Djokovic will face off on Thursday in a repeat of this year’s Wimbledon final to determine who else will progress from Group Bjorn Borg.

Thiem was forced to play high-stakes tennis against the 16-time Grand Slam winner, taking the breath away with some of his inside-out forehands and single-handed backhands

Forced to play at his limit, he hit 50 winners compared with Djokovic’s tally of 27 but also racked up 44 unforced errors.

“This was really one of these special matches, what I’ve practiced all my life for, all my childhood for,” Thiem said.

“Really epic one in an amazing atmosphere, beating a legend of our game. And also I’ve qualified for the semifinals, which is the best.

“Coming back from 1-4 (down in the deciding tie-break) was a little bit of luck, but it was an unbelievable match and one I’ll never forget. Novak is the best player in the world and I had to do something special.”

In a captivating first set the players swapped a break apiece but Djokovic, a five-time ATP Finals champion, edged the tie-break.

Undaunted, Thiem broke his opponent at the first opportunity in the second set and, with Djokovic’s error count climbing, went on to level the match.

Thiem also drew first blood in the decider but cracked in the sixth game as Djokovic levelled the match and appeared to have engineered a switch in momentum.

The Austrian successfully challenged at 30-30 in the 10th game after his forehand was ruled out, preventing a match point for Djokovic and he toughed it out to level at 5-5.

He then broke Djokovic to love to earn a chance to serve for the match but stumbled and the decider went to a tie-break.

Still the drama was not finished. Thiem slipped to 4-1 down but battled back to win it on his second match point when Djokovic dumped a forehand into the net.

Third seed Federer had put himself under the cosh by losing his opening round-robin match to Thiem. The six-time champion was not at his fluent best on Tuesday but ultimately had too much for his Italian opponent.

The Swiss upped his game to take the first set tie-break comfortably and broke immediately at the start of the second set to leave the big-serving Berrettini with too much to do.

Federer was asked after his win against Berrettini whether his defeat to Djokovic at Wimbledon had left emotional or mental scars.

“We’ll find out, but I think it’s all flushed away from my side,” said the Swiss.

“A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.”

Djokovic is hunting a sixth ATP Finals title to pull level with Federer’s record and is also seeking to pip Rafael Nadal to the year-end number one ranking.

On Monday, top seed Nadal lost his opener in Group Andre Agassi to defending champion Alexander Zverev while Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Daniil Medvedev.