Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc battled late after starting on the front row in the Austrian Grand Prix and making the youngest front row in Formula 1 history, as both drivers are just 21 years old.
With just over two laps remaining in this 71-lap race around the 10-turn, 2.683-mile (4.318-kilometer) Red Bull Ring road course in Spielberg, Styria, Austria, it was Verstappen who made the winning pass on Leclerc in turn three en route to securing his first victory of the 2019 Formula 1 season and the sixth victory of his Formula 1 career.
The obvious answer to this question would be that yes, this was, in fact, a glimpse into future battles for race victories and championships in the world’s premier racing series.
But perhaps more importantly, it was a glimpse of the present, and that is saying a lot given the stale product that Formula 1 had become through the 21-race 2019 season’s first eight races due to the flat-out dominance by Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport and Lewis Hamilton.
Before the 2018 season ended, I wrote about the struggles of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel coming through when it mattered most, particularly regarding how his unforced errors have ruined his chances of truly contending with Hamilton to win championships over the past few seasons. As much as Formula 1 tried to bill Hamilton vs. Vettel as a rivalry, it came nowhere close to what you’d typically expect out of one.
A truly great rivalry in Formula 1 was simply not going to feature Hamilton vs. Vettel, period, and we have seen evidence of that yet again this season. However, that didn’t mean there couldn’t be one, even in the near future — the very near future. Even before Leclerc arrived at Ferrari ahead of this season, it was clear that he and Verstappen had what it took to form this next great rivalry.
Leclerc, a former member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, won the 2016 GP3 Series championship and the 2017 Formula 2 championship before landing a ride with Alfa Romeo Sauber for the 2018 Formula 1 season, and he had the best season of any driver at the Swiss team in several years. As a result, he was promoted to Ferrari as Kimi Raikkonen’s replacement beginning in the 2019 season.
Verstappen vs. Leclerc is not on the level of a championship-caliber rivalry at this point, but with both drivers being just 21 years old, it has every bit of potential to elevate to that level if both drivers continue to driver for two of the sport’s top teams.
It took until only Leclerc’s ninth race driving for Ferrari for these two drivers to finish a single race in the top two, and they did it in the midst of a historically dominant stretch of races for the Silver Arrows. They were the class of the field all race long in an exciting race that served as a true shot in the arm for Formula 1 on many levels.
What’s more is how Verstappen won this race. He made his winning pass in turn three with just over two laps remaining, and the two drivers made contact before the 21-year-old Dutchman pulled ahead of the 21-year-old Monegasque, sending the latter off the track.
Leclerc was left fuming with a second place finish after he led 59 of the race’s 71 laps, and while a post-race investigation ensued, no further action was taken against Verstappen’s move despite the fact that a fake document emerged stating that he had been issued a five-second time penalty, which would have turned his 2.724-second victory into a 2.276-second deficit.