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How one Max Verstappen overtake CHANGED the course of Formula 1

How one Max Verstappen overtake CHANGED the course of Formula 1

How one Max Verstappen overtake CHANGED the course of Formula 1

How one Max Verstappen overtake CHANGED the course of Formula 1

As we settle in for a season that Red Bull already looks like they've wrapped up, I've begun wondering how the races the Milton Keynes team don't win might look.

For inspiration, I looked back at recent Grands Prix between 2014 and 2020, where others broke Mercedes at their most dominant, and in doing so, I found the Max Verstappen overtake that changed F1.

My notable highlights from those seasons are the 2016 Spanish GP, where Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg took each other out on Lap 1, Daniel Ricciardo's relentless overtakes in China 2018, and Verstappen's Austrian victory in 2019 that halted a 10-winning race streak for the Silver Arrows.

The strategic battle between Red Bull and Ferrari in Barcelona was fun, and watching Ricciardo pass his old peers in the old 'big three' in Shanghai was thrilling. Yet, those two were relatively inconsequential. That Sunday in Spielberg, though? Sport-changing.

What happened?

Verstappen's lunge on the inside of the uphill Turn 3 (or Turn 2, depending on your preference) and subsequent opening of his steering angle left Charles Leclerc's race-leading Ferrari with nowhere to go and the two bashed wheels, sending Leclerc wide over the kerb.

"He turned in on me," was the in-race radio defence from Verstappen, with Leclerc immediately complaining, "What the hell is that?" to his Ferrari engineers. Sure enough, the stewards put the incident under investigation.

I remember watching and waiting for Verstappen to hand back the position before having another go in the remaining two laps. He had the pace to overtake cleanly after carving chunks out of Leclerc's advantage for the previous 10 laps.

Instead, the Dutchman extended his lead to 2.7s by the chequered flag, and a lengthy post-race appeal ruled the overtake as legal. That decision set the precedent for the ultra-aggressive overtakes we see today.

Let's rewind the clocks and recap 2019 to set the scene as to why this happened. Hamilton and Mercedes had fended off the Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari 2018 championship challenge, returning to their near-untouchable status, while their Italian rivals waved off Kimi Raikkonen in favour of newcomer Leclerc.

The switch had worked wonders for Ferrari, with Leclerc pushing Vettel far more than Raikkonen had, and the Monegasque would've cruised to his first F1 win in Bahrain if not for an engine issue late in the race. Understandably, Leclerc was hungry for victory.

It took until Round 9, the aforementioned Austrian Grand Prix, for Leclerc to get his next chance. Sadly for the Ferrari newbie, more late-race heartbreak dashed his hopes of a top-step visit.

This time, however, Leclerc's problem wasn't the Scuderia's engine but Max Verstappen's Red Bull.

A pole position start, the second of his career, had Leclerc leading the race. The usually potent two-pronged attack from Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas melted away, literally, with the W10 overheating in the Austrian heat, seemingly leaving Leclerc in the clear for his maiden win.

Red Bull had other ideas, though. A typically plucky pit stop strategy had Verstappen switching tyres many laps later than the other frontrunners, leapfrogging a damaged Hamilton who needed a front wing change, and soon closed in and passed Vettel and Bottas to sit P2.

As we're now familiar seeing, Verstappen effortlessly cut into the gap behind the leader before picking up DRS to close in further.

The Dutch driver battled with Leclerc for P1 by lap 66 of 71 to set up a grandstand finish, culminating in the pair's pivotal Lap 69 Turn 3 collision.

Surprised as I was that the stewards deemed the move legal, with the race marking the most thrilling Grand Prix of that year, it was also no shock that the FIA didn't want to undermine the feel-good factor of a novel non-Merc 2019 win with a post-race penalty that changed the winner.

The controversy of Canada three weeks earlier, when Vettel lost a race where he crossed the line first but with a five-second penalty, was still stinging, too. However, their inaction effectively legalised pushing drivers off the track.

While other racing championships might allow for regular contact and slamming the door shut, that's not the case for F1, with Fernando Alonso's famous "all the time you have to leave the space" line concisely explaining the rules.

One round later, at Silverstone, a galvanised Leclerc adapted to the new ad-hoc rulebook and let Verstappen be on the receiving end of the same hard racing at the exit of Club corner on Lap 24, with Verstappen having to defend his position entirely outside track limits.

Fast forward to Australia 2023, and Hamilton's opening lap pass on Verstappen with more room than Verstappen left for Leclerc four years earlier had the Dutch driver complaining that his 2021 championship rival ran him wide, despite Hamilton's move being the staple Verstappen overtake.

The FIA attempted to tighten the rules about apex overtaking in 2022, something Verstappen cited after the Australian race, yet the double champion's countless no-space-left overtakes being the reason why the governing body reexamined the rules seemed to be lost on the Dutchman.

The age of Raikkonen, Vettel, Ricciardo, and soon Alonso and Hamilton, where 'all of the time you have to leave the space' is ending and although it wasn't without controversies, the racing didn't seem as 'push or be pushed' as we have today.

For better or worse, F1's new generation has 2019's Austria-originated acceptable overtaking rules as their baseline, so Max might need to prepare himself for the consequences of his actions when Red Bull isn't in a class of one out front.

READ MORE: F1 drivers out of contract: Hamilton heads select group

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