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Max Verstappen reconciles with rival Leclerc

Max Verstappen reconciled with his rival Charles Leclerc and declared Monday that race stewards’ belated confirmation of his thrilling wheel-banging victory in the Austrian Grand Prix was “the right decision for the sport” © AFP/File / Andrej ISAKOVIC

SPIELBERG, Austria, Jul 1Max Verstappen reconciled with his rival Charles Leclerc and declared Monday that race stewards’ belated confirmation of his thrilling wheel-banging victory in the Austrian Grand Prix was “the right decision for the sport”.

A week after a dreary processional race at the French Grand Prix, the Dutchman’s dramatic triumph for Red Bull ended Mercedes’ early-season stranglehold on the title race and blew away talk of crisis and calls for knee-jerk rule changes.

His late and controversial passing move on fellow 21-year-old Leclerc of Ferrari may have caused a three-hour delay in confirming the result, but on a sweltering afternoon in the Styrian Alps it provided a spectacular, uplifting conclusion.

“It has been stressful few hours, but this is the right decision for me and for the sport,” said the super-confident Verstappen, revelling in his sixth career win. “He would have done the same thing in my place – it’s just racing.”

Earlier, following Sunday’s race, the sport’s young tyro had said: “It you can’t race like that and do that, what’s the point of Formula One. We may as well all go home now.”

The stewards, who delayed starting their hearing until 90 minutes after the end of the race, eventually decided the 69th lap clash between the two drivers, who had started together as the youngest front row pairing in F1 history, was no more than “a racing incident”.

It was a verdict that was welcomed by everyone except those at Ferrari who hoped that their Monegasque driver had finally claimed his maiden Grand Prix triumph.

As Red Bull headed off to celebrate their first win in 11 races since Verstappen finished first at last year’s Mexican Grand Prix, Leclerc and Verstappen reconciled their differences following a frosty post-race silence before and during the podium ceremony.

As the Dutchman cavorted and sprayed sparkling wine, his rival turned his back and departed, but the rift was repaired swiftly – long before their planned shared flight home to Monte Carlo.

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“We’re good, we’re good,” Verstappen said. “Already, after the stewards, we’re good. We are racing drivers and I have known Charles a long time and he, for sure, will this year take his first victory as well.

“You have to accept it, of course, and it’s disappointing to lose your first victory in the last few laps. I’ve lost out on pole positions, which were very painful.

“These things happen in this sport and, as I said, Charles is a great driver. He will come far… I think we have another 15-20 years’ racing together….”

The two delivered a scintillating vision of the future as Verstappen hunted down Leclerc in the closing laps, the Ferrari man losing tyre performance as he endeavoured to turn his pole position into victory.

Asked what was the key to his pass, Verstappen said: “Diving up the inside — late braking, of course. Normally, he should have cut back.”

He added that if there had been a gravel trap and not a wide run-off area, it might have been different.

“If there was gravel, you don’t do that anyway, you try to cut across. But, like I said, it’s hard racing and it should be like that. I like hard racing.”

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