Charles Leclerc held off world champion Max Verstappen to win the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday and reboot his world championship challenge but Ferrari’s hopes of a 1-2 went up in flames.
As Leclerc ended a miserable seven-race winless run his teammate Carlos Sainz was reflecting on a lucky escape from his burning car after an engine blow out.
Lewis Hamilton took third ahead of his Mercedes teammate George Russell in cars that had both needed hefty repairs after crashes in Friday qualifying.
This was Leclerc’s third win of the year and Ferrari’s first at the Red Bull Ring since Michael Schumacher in 2003.
After a series of disappointing results Leclerc was thrilled to finally get back on the title trail.
He had to retain all his composure, though, in the closing laps as he reported an issue with a sticking throttle pedal.
“I definitely needed that, to finally show we’ve got the pace in the car is incredible,” said the relieved man from Monaco.
Verstappen was far from disheartened despite failing to take the chequered flag in front of his ‘orange army’ of expectant 50,000 travelling Dutch fans.
“I couldn’t give them a win today but second isn’t too bad,” said the Red Bull driver who didn’t leave the circuit empty handed having pocketed Saturday’s sprint.
Verstappen still has a comfortable cushion in the overall standings — leading Leclerc by 38 points at the halfway point of the championship.
Sainz — who won the British Grand Prix last Sunday for his maiden Formula One success — was going strongly before disaster struck on lap 58.
Steering his stricken car onto the safety gravel there was a terrifying moment when smoke engulfed the car with Sainz still stuck in the cockpit, his car rolling backwards.
But marshalls arrived and the Spaniard pulled himself out of the car to safety.
“There was a lot of fire, I’m lost for words, a 1-2 was more than possible” said the Spaniard.
With the mercurial Styrian mountain weather behaving itself this 11th round of the season was shaping up to be another Austrian pay day for Verstappen.
With wins from pole in the last three races staged at the circuit – the two grand prix last year and Saturday’s sprint – the 24-year-old Verstappen was the undoubted favourite to land the spoils again as the Austrian national anthem was delivered from a grand piano rolled onto the front of the grid.
Verstappen sped off slickly at lights out, untroubled by his front row companion Leclerc.
At turn four Russell’s Mercedes came into contact with Sergio Perez’s Red Bull forcing the Mexican into an unscheduled early pitstop.
Leclerc was optimistic after Saturday’s sprint that he had the pace to spoil Verstappen’s Spielberg love-fest.
And he made an attempt to pass the Red Bull man on lap 10, Two laps later he was past at turn four, a lovely move up the inside,
“Box, box” Versappen was then told, resuming on hard tyres in eighth.
Hamilton was up to fourth by lap 17 with in his wing mirror Verstappen who with his car’s superior straight line speed was past after a brief battle of old foes.
After Perez had to retire race leader Leclerc came in on lap 27 for a 2.6second pit stop, returning in third with Sainz and Verstappen in front
After Sainz’s turn to pit it was back as we were with Leclerc hunting down Verstappen for the lead.
And Leclerc had little difficulty passing Verstappen for a second time, the Dutch driver complaining: “One lap I had front grip, one lap not, the car is so unpredictable, it’s crazy”.
He promptly pitted again to try to salvage his dwindling chances of a fifth grand prix at the track from the past seven.
With 20 laps to go Leclerc came in to fit his car with a fresh set of shoes, Sainz following, to set up a dramatic fight to the finish.
And for the third time he picked off the Dutchman with almost nonchalant ease.
Sainz then exited the stage to leave Leclerc struggling with his throttle but holding off Verstappen to give Ferrari real hope they still have a major hand to play in this world championship.