IT had all the makings of a fairytale: a picturesque setting in the forested Styrian mountains, a sunny sky and a handsome young hero.
While that scenario panned out well beyond expectations for Max Verstappen, the Austrian Grand Prix was a nightmare for many other drivers.
The 71-lap race on the undulating 4.3 km Red Bull Ring circuit gave the Dutch youngster his first win of the season and the Red Bull team’s first success at the its home track.
But it was as if the fairy godmother smiled on Verstappen while the wicked witch waved her malevolent wand over the Mercedes-Benz team, Verstappen’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo and a host of other contenders.
Verstappen, starting from fourth on the grid, was lucky to get away with bumping Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari to snatch third place soon after the start, but Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas seemed secure in first and second – until lap 14, when Bottas retired with a gearbox problem.
The witch then focused on race leader Hamilton, whose pit inexplicably kept him out while most of his potential rivals dived into the pits for a tyre change during a virtual safety car period.
It was a poor decision that left Verstappen in the lead, but dropped Hamilton down to fourth place by the time he emerged from his tyre change on lap 25.
Daniel Ricciardo had meanwhile found a way past Raikkonen and he moved into second spot, with a Red Bull 1-2 looking good.
However, all that sunshine resulted in a 47C track temperature that started to take its toll on the fragile Pirelli tyres.
Ricciardo was the first victim, huge blisters on the rear tyres put him back in the pits, followed by Carlos Sainz (Renault) with a similar problem, soon to be joined by several more drivers.
Ricciardo emerged in fifth place, then, on lap 54, a puff of smoke from the rear of his Red Bull signalled the end of his runny nine laps later Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes also rolled to a halt to record his first mechanical failure since 2016 and a rare double failure for the Merc team.
Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari teammate Sebastien Vettel started closing in on Verstappen who was nursing his ailing tyres, while the Haas team of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen had its best form to date, unchallenged in fourth and fifth.
Verstappen, cheered on by a vast crowd of more than 20,000 orange-clad Dutch fans, took the chequered flag barely a second ahead of Raikkonen, with Vettel two seconds astern.
Then, behind the Haas pair came the Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, with Fernando Alonso eighth for McLaren and the Alfa Romeo Saubers of Charles Leclerc and Magnus Ericsson ninth and 10th.
Verstappen agreed he’d been lucky.
“The win was a bit unexpected,” he said.
“Towards the end it was difficult to tell if I would win because Kimi and Sebastian were catching me. I could see my rear tyres opening up and just had to drive around the issue. Luckily I could manage it well to the end.”
Of his brush with Raikkonen: “I had a little bump with Kimi early on. It was hard racing but good racing and he is experienced enough to deal with that.
“It was only a little touch, but also good for the sport.”
Don’t know that Kimi would have seen it that way.
It was a tough day for Daniel Ricciardo, who turned 29 on race day.
“I’m obviously disappointed,” he said.
“At one stage it was looking like a one-two, but then I saw the tyre was getting torn apart. So we had to pit and that put us out of contention for the podium. Then we had what I think was a broken exhaust which put me out of the race.”
Team principal Christian Horner said a win in a Red Bull car at the Red Bull Ring was something he never imagined would happen that day.
“All credit to Max, he drove a very mature race, managing a very tricky situation to win our first Austrian Grand Prix.
“It was a great shame not to have Daniel up on the podium as well, after running for many laps in P2, but then his rear tyre started to overheat which caused a second pit stop. Shortly after that we began to see an exhaust crack that was causing gearbox damage, forcing his retirement.”
Impressive too was the performance of the Haas team.
Grosjean split the two Red Bulls in qualifying, signalling a welcome new threat to the established heavyweights of F1.
Grosjean’s fourth-place drive was its best finish in its three-year tenure and with Magnussen fifth, it marked the best collective result for the young US squad in its milestone 50th grand prix.
The result also bumped Haas F1 Team past Force India and McLaren to claim fifth in the constructors’ standings.
Next grand prix is the British, at Silverstone next Sunday.