SPIELBERG, Austria (Reuters) - Max Verstappen hailed his 20,000-strong orange army of fans after giving his Red Bull Formula One team a first home victory in Austria on Sunday to open his own winning account for the season.
“Of course we’re not playing in the (soccer) World Cup so it’s a bit easier for them to come over here, but in general, great support,” grinned the 20-year-old Dutch driver.
“It was amazing to see so much orange. And then if you win the race and see all the fans lining up there, it’s incredible.
“And this is in Austria, which is still 10 or 11 hours away from Holland. So, yeah, amazing that they all came over here,” he said.
Sunday’s win at the Red Bull Ring was the fourth of Verstappen’s career and it came, like his first in Spain in 2016, after champions Mercedes had imploded.
In Barcelona, in May two years ago, Lewis Hamilton and then team mate Nico Rosberg lined up on the front row in dominant fashion and then collided.
On Sunday, Hamilton and team mate Valtteri Bottas started on the front row but hopes of a one-two ended when first Bottas retired with an hydraulics leak and then Hamilton pulled over with a fuel pressure problem.
A Mercedes strategy error had already handed the lead to Verstappen by then and he responded with a mature drive to the chequered flag as his fans celebrated all around.
“I could see some orange smoke, I could see them cheering so I think that’s good enough,” said Verstappen, when asked whether he could hear their acclaim. “A special moment.
“And I think this was one of the nicest victories but I keep saying that, so I think at the moment they are all nice. But maybe hopefully, at one point, you just say ‘yeah, it’s just another one’. But at the moment I’m really happy with it.”
Verstappen said he had just tried to do his own race as first Bottas and then Hamilton disappeared from the reckoning.
When a virtual safety car was called, he pitted while Hamilton stayed out and the advantage was his — but he had already made things happen by forcing his way past Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen on the opening lap from fourth on the grid.
Verstappen made a brave move at turn eight to pass Raikkonen, with the Red Bull giving the Ferrari a nudge without consequences.
Team boss Christian Horner said Verstappen had “absolutely nailed it”.
“It was hard racing but good racing,” agreed Verstappen. “I think Kimi is experienced enough to handle the situation well. We had a little touch, but I think it’s also good for the sport.”
Editing by Clare Fallon