Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc were not willing to speak to each other after the controversial Formula 1 finish at the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg. In the podium room they couldn’t even look at each other, and on the podium, Leclerc left early during the champagne shower celebrations. Pure theatre!
“They don’t talk to each other. If this starts now, it will last for years”, commented expert Alexander Wurz after the race. For many fans, the incident between Verstappen and Leclerc could become one of the great ‘grudges’ of modern Formula 1.
“They were born within three weeks of each other,” smiles Red Bull team boss Christian Horner on Austria’s ServusTV: Verstappen on 30 September 1997, Leclerc on 16 October.
The two already clashed in go-karting in 2012 – a YouTube video appeared on the Spielberg weekend, which made the rounds in the paddock after the incident. For some, they saw the pushing wide of Leclerc as Verstappens revenge for that incident many years ago.
“It’s just unfair” said Verstappen Jr in 2012, “I’m leading… He wants to pass, he pushes me, I push him back so he pushed me off the track, it’s not fair”
The irony of those statements was not lost on anyone in the paddock post-race.
But despite the difference of opinion about the manoeuvre on the 69th lap, the air between the two stars of tomorrow seems to have cleared: “I’m sure they had a heated debate with the stewards. But once the decision was made, they didn’t question it anymore,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said on ServusTV.
Verstappen confirms this when interviewed on UK’s Channel 4:
“That’s fine. It was already okay after the stewards. We are racing drivers. I’ve known Charles for a long time. He will certainly celebrate his first victory this year. You have to accept that.”
“Of course it’s disappointing if you lose your first victory in the last two laps. I’ve also lost pole positions, which was sometimes very painful. My Monaco weekend last year, for example, was a horror. That’s what happens in sports.”
It’s a sign of mutual respect when Verstappen says: “Charles is a great driver who’ll go far.” and “I think we will race against each other for another 15, 20 years”.
As far as the controversy in Spielberg is concerned, the Red Bull driver sticks to his opinion: “I’m stabbing up the inside, braking late of course. He would have had to hold back, but he tried it on the outside. We all know that the area there is asphalted. If there’s gravel like in turn 4, he won’t do it.”
In Formula 3 that would be normal says Verstappen.
“Hard racing. That’s how it should be,” Verstappen says. “I like hard racing. In Formula 3 there’s such a thing all the time that the wheels come together. If you’re that guy on the outside, you’re just disappointed he got you!”
At the same time he admits that he “sweated more” in the three hours between the finish and the verdict than during the race. And that was already “intense.” Verstappen stresses that it was the most dramatic race of his career: “Especially when it takes three hours afterwards!
Horner is pleased, however, that Ferrari has not lodged a protest against the race result and praises the behaviour of team boss Mattia Binotto as “magnanimous”. Binotto had congratulated Verstappen and Red Bull right after the verdict and highlighted Verstappen’s “fantastic race”.
For Horner it is clear that a penalty in Spielberg would not have been right: “It was a great race and a great manoeuvre. Hard, but Max was in front of Leclerc at the apex.
“That’s how racing should be. That’s what the fans want to see. It was the right decision of the stewards not to impose a penalty. The moment Max is passed, the corner belongs to him.” concludes Horner