Wow. That was a Bull Ring belter!

After a few lacklustre races, F1 buckled up its lederhosen to give us a thoroughly dazzling display in Austria. There was drama by the bucketload – cracking first lap, euphoria, crushing DNFs, disastrous pit stop calls and mega midfield battles.

But who is the schnauzer taking the schnitzel? Which mongrel conquered the mountains of Styria? Put that Top Dog prize in a brown paper package and tie it up with string for…

…Max Verstappen 

Image: Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Yep, the boy wonder is back. The lad has come in for a fair amount of stick this season. Max is making serious errors of judgment. Max is guilty of over-driving. Max is getting a bit too arrogant for his own good. Whatever! The Dutchman was adamant there would be no change in his driving approach and woe betide anyone who suggested it. Thankfully, no headbutts were evident in Austria, just sheer joy as Max finally took his first win of 2018.

And a fairytale win it was too, gifting Red Bull a maiden victory at their home circuit. As Mercedes suffered a devastating double DNF (not to mention another catastrophic pit strategy goof-up) the battle for the win was a straight fight between the Red Bulls and Red Cars. The smart money might have been on the Ferraris, but Max had other ideas.

You might say he won the race on the first lap. Having almost got past Raikkonen at Turn 3, Max held back on any risky heroics and waited for his moment a few corners later, skimming Kimi’s rear left tyre to execute a classic Verstappen overtake. When pole-sitter Bottas retired with hydraulic failure (a cruel blow for the Finn), Max was elevated to P2. Unsurprisingly, his battalion of orange-clad fans went stark raving ballistic. The Verstappen grandstand almost took off when he took the lead. Their jubilation was off the scale when he crossed the line for victory. It was a heartwarming sight after the gut-wrenching disappointment of seeing their hero retire on Lap 1 the previous year.

How do you solve the problem of the left rear? 

Max may have benefited from others’ misfortunes (including poor birthday boy, Dan Ricciardo) but he still had to work for the win.  Like many other drivers, he was suffering the effects of a blistered left rear tyre. High temperatures and an abrasive track surface were causing Pirelli havoc. Ricciardo and Hamilton suffered more than many, but our race leader was not immune. And this is where Max confounded his critics. While he may have been tempted to drive flat out and pull a big gap to the rapidly advancing prancing horses, Max took a more measured approach. Manage the gap, but also manage the tyres or the victory could easily slip from your grasp. His left rear tyre was looking ropey from around Lap 40, but Max was unconcerned and said as much on team radio. “I’m feeling good, so don’t worry!” 

He may have felt a little hotter under the race suit collar around Lap 60 as the Ferraris picked up their pace. Their tyres were in better shape, especially Vettel’s, and the team let them off the leash to push hard for the last 10 laps. Verstappen did not have that luxury but did a sensational job of nursing his tyres and managing his pace to prevent the red cars from having a decent crack at passing. Immature, you say? Too reckless? Max was anything but in what was one of his best drives to date. Is it luck? No, it’s discipline!

Great job Max on a fabulous race win and Top Dog award. It’s great to see you back on the top step. May you bloom and grow forever.

Deputy Dogs

This was a cracking race and there were many contenders for Top Dog honours. I am loving the midfield battles this year. Austria saw many terrific drives from the likes of Alonso, Gasly, Ocon, Perez, Ericsson and up-and-coming superstar, Charles Leclerc.

But today’s undisputed Deputy Dogs are the Haas boys. The whole team has done a stellar job all season but the drivers deserve special mention for today. K-Mag has been knocking on the Top Dog door several times this year and had another strong weekend. And bless Romain Grosjean for scoring his first points of the season with a brilliant qualifying and stonking race. I can stop calling him ‘Nil Points’ now!

Special mention must go to Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles for holding his hands up and apologising for the almighty pit strategy mess that could have cost Hamilton a win – although technical gremlins saw to that in the end. A stark reminder that this is a team sport played out by fallible humans. They’ll be back.

And so to Silverstone for the final instalment of this crazy tripleheader.

Will Hamilton bounce back and take an unprecedented sixth victory on home soil?

Which way will the championship pendulum swing next?

It’s unpredictable, it’s exciting, it’s why F1 is one of my favourite things. Follow all the Silverstone action with Badger GP. Or you can watch the action live at Badger’s special Grand Prix Screening in Leeds. Enjoy!