Verstappen wins but Norris is The Driver of the Day

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Round two in Austria set up to be the sequel that was better than the original. After a great qualifying session yesterday, the start seemed unpredictable and could spice up the championship fight. Drama is never far though as before the race Russell begun to report problems with the rear of the Williams, fans hoping that it wouldn’t be a repeat of last week.

As they lined up after the formation lap, Norris and Verstappen were pointed at each other, ready for battle. The lights went out and both got a good start, but Verstappen had a better second phase, moving in front of the McLaren before turn 1. Everyone got away cleanly, with Hamilton pressuring Perez for the entire lap but Perez coping well. The safety car deployed at the end of the first lap hampered anyone looking for a move. Esteban Ocon had been squeezed by Giovinazzi and Schumacher into turn 1, causing damage to his front suspension and eventually stopping on track.

At the safety car restart Verstappen backed everyone up until he got onto the main straight. Norris was caught out and Perez put him under pressure, with the Mercedes closely following behind. At turn 4 Perez tried to pass on the outside of Norris but ended up on the gravel at the exit. Sparking the beginning of what appeared to be a busy day at the office for the stewards, Norris was eventually handed a 5 second penalty for the incident.

By lap 15 Verstappen had pulled out a 6 second gap and had all but checked out at the front. Events continued for Norris though because he was managing to hold off advances from the 7 time world champion. Doing a great job of handling the pressure, Norris made it difficult for Hamilton who was beginning to suffer from being behind him. However, on lap 20 Hamilton managed to make a move that stuck, Norris knowing that strategically it wasn’t worth a huge battle over. Hamilton came over the radio to say that “Norris is such a great driver” recognising the job he is doing and making every Norris fan a bit emotional.

Further down the order on lap 18, action was happening all over the track. Perez, who had now dropped due to his turn 4 incident, was battling Leclerc who had DRS into turn 4, but Perez managed to out break him, keeping his place. Only for Leclerc to do a switch back on the exit and with better traction made the move stick. Ricciardo was also looked more comfortable with the McLaren and made a great move into turn 3 on Vettel.

Norris and Bottas were the first to pit of the front runners. Bottas managing to jump Norris because he had to serve his 5 second penalty. Once Hamilton and Verstappen pitted that looked it for the first 2 podium positions, Verstappen had a 13 second gap which Hamilton knew he wouldn’t be able to make up.

Meanwhile, after the stops the battle for P6 got interesting, Gasly, Ricciardo, Perez and Leclerc were fight but the main battle in the group between Perez and Leclerc was reaching boiling point. At turn 4 Leclerc tried a move down the outside of Perez, produce an almost exact same result as the Norris, Perez incident on lap 1. It took a total of 46 seconds for the stewards to go from investigating to giving Perez a 5 second penalty. Just 2 laps later however, neither driver had learned but this time the battle continued to turn 6, where it looked as if Perez had forced Leclerc onto the gravel again. Another p5 second penalty was awarded to Perez, added 10 seconds onto his time at the end of the race. Credit to the stewards because they were at least consistent with the penalties today.

Not featured much in the race, Hamilton began to struggle on the hard tyres just 15 laps after the pit stops and picked up some damage around lap 36 coming out of turn 10. This meant Bottas was allowed to close the gap. There was radio silence from Mercedes as they decided if they would let them race but eventually the call was made to let them race, then a team order for the drivers to switch came through and the deal was done in turn 1 of lap 55. Norris, who had been chasing down the pair of them, capitalised on the struggling Hamilton and overtook him just 1 lap later to see himself into the podium positions.

With just 10 laps to go Russell was still in P10 but Alonso had closed him down and the battle in continued for the last points positions. Fans most likely willing Alonso to stay behind with Russell doing an excellent job at defending under the pressure so that he could finally get a point for the Williams. However, today was not that day because with just 3 laps to go Russell was passed by Alonso.

The final 2 laps were full of drama. Sainz made a late move on Ricciardo to finish P5 for Ferrari once Perez’s penalties were added, important for the McLaren – Ferrari constructor’s battle. Raikkonen on lap 71 looked at a move on Russell but had to back out at turn 4, meaning Vettel saw an opportunity to gain a position, however in a bizarre mistake for Raikkonen, he appeared to turn in on Vettel causing both to crash into the gravel.

Whilst the incident between Raikkonen and Vettel was happening, Verstappen crossed the line for his 15th win. A dominant performance from lights out meant the win was never in doubt for him. Bottas finished P2 and Norris finished in P3 with driver of the day after putting in a fantastic performance, further showing his great from in 2021. Mercedes didn’t really appear to affect the race much and couldn’t answer the performance of Verstappen in Austria. However, with upgrades reported to be coming to Silverstone and a home crowd for Hamilton, could this see a change in fortune for Mercedes?

Info graphics courtesy of Pirelli motorsports

 

Red Bull display dominance at the Red Bull Ring

Max Verstappen took a dominant victory at the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday, as Mercedes went four races without a win for the first time in the hybrid era.

After an excellent qualifying session yesterday, the stage was set for the latest edition in the fight between Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen. The midfield fights also looked to spice up the race, with Norris benefiting from Valtteri Bottas’ penalty and Gasly qualifying really well. Points were possible for George Russell in his Williams starting in P10; the fans can hope. Overtaking is definitely possible at this track with 3 DRS zones and a powerful slipstream meant the battle was on!

The lights went out and Verstappen immediately cut across Hamilton before turn one, having trust that Hamilton would not lock up and go into the back of him. Looking further down there were 4 cars across the track in a battle up to turn 3. Leclerc clipped the rear left of Gasly with his front right wing and tyre, giving himself damage and causing a puncture in Gasly’s tyre. In an attempt to steer the car around turn 3, Gasly collected Latifi and Giovinazzi but luckily didn’t end any of their races. Unfortunately for Gasly that was the end of his race, coming into the pits with suspension damage – Leclerc was able to pit for a new set of tyres and continue.

An early incident with Pierre Gasly meant a busy afternoon for Charles Leclerc – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Media

As Verstappen was pulling out a gap of two seconds and almost checking out in the lead by lap 6, his team mate Sergio Perez began to struggle behind the McLaren of Lando Norris saying over the radio that he did not have the speed on the straights to keep up. There were questions as to whether they would fight the Red Bull and Mercedes cars behind them, or race to their own plan and focus on staying ahead of Ferrari. On lap eight, these questions were answered. Perez made what looked like an easy move on Norris using DRS, and Bottas passing just a lap later. McLaren said on lap 12 that they were happy with the situation with Norris who was not experiencing some of the early car issues that team mate Daniel Ricciardo had.

After a very positive start for Russell, he made up three places from P10. The issues began when his engineer said, “plan B for reliability”, and pitting on lap 26 for tyres it appeared he had a slow stop to add more pneumatic pressure to the car. Having had to change his rear brake by wire overnight, it was hoped that this would be the last of his problems. However, just one lap later Russell pitted a second time for more pressure. At this point the hearts of Russell fans sunk knowing that points were no longer a possibility. 10 laps later Russell retired with the issue not able to be resolved. Heartbreak for him and Williams.

Perez was the first of the front runners to stop, but he had a slow left rear which meant that when Mercedes pitted Bottas they could punish Red Bull for the mistake with the undercut being powerful here, although not as much as Paul Ricard last week. Bottas was able to come out in front of Perez, which was vital for both the team fight and the race strategy. The large gap now formed by the dominant performance by Verstappen means that when Hamilton pitted just a lap after Bottas, he could not close it when Verstappen pitted.

Whilst not a classic or shocking race, this did have its entertainer in Leclerc. He began his recovery drive on lap two, making places very quickly and seemingly on a charge by lap 25, making a fantastic late move on Ocon. This was then a theme throughout the race; Leclerc continued to make his was through the pack, making brilliant moves and almost colliding with Raikkonen but managing to keep it clean. He made a great switch back move on Tsunoda out of turn four which was so exciting to watch. He ended up being voted driver of the day for a very entertaining recovery drive to finish seventh.

By lap 35 there was over a 30 second gap to Norris in P5, so Red Bull pitted Perez for tyres hoping to take the fastest lap off of Hamilton at the time. Gaining on Bottas at nearly two seconds a lap, he achieved provisional fastest whilst closing the 20-second gap. With just 2 laps to go, having settled for 2nd place, Hamilton pitted for fresh tyres to re-take the fastest lap from Perez.

A late stop from Lewis Hamilton saw him claim the fastest lap of the race – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

As the race ended, Verstappen won with a 35 second lead, showing his impressive and dominant form over the weekend and the race. Hamilton achieved fastest lap to finish P2 and crucially get that world championship point. Perez was still gaining on Bottas, and was poised to overtake for the podium place, but the chequered flag came just in time for the Finn. One or two more laps and Perez could have ended up on the podium.

Belgian GP Review: Hamilton takes 89th career win

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton took his 5th win of the season and 89th win of his career on Sunday afternoon in Spa on a day that called for very high tyre management. The Englishman started on pole and had to fend off an early challenge on lap one from his teammate and Max Verstappen. Once he was out in front, it was rarely any challenge apart from managing the tyres which were falling off at the end.

Both him and his teammate Bottas pitted under the safety car around lap ten during a safety car brought on due to Giovinazzi losing his rear and ending up in the barriers while collecting George Russell in the process. The Mercedes duo put on hard tyres like pretty much the rest of the field and limped to the end to finish 1-2.

Max Verstappen of Redbull failed to mount a challenge to the Mercedes after he was put on the same hard compound tyres following the safety car and he had to go into management mode as well. The outright winners of the race apart from the top 3 has to be the Renault sport team after Daniel Ricciardo drove a mega race to finish P4 and take the fastest lap in the process while finishing only 3 seconds behind Verstappen.

His teammate Ocon pulled off a last lap overtake on Red bull’s Albon to finish 5th and the team will be very much looking forward to Monza given the similar characteristics of the Italian circuit. Albon has to be content with 6th after a different strategy call from his team saw him finish the race on mediums which put him at a disadvantage towards the end.

McLaren had a mixed raceday after Carlos Sainz’s bad luck followed him to Spa this weekend. The Spaniard failed to even make it to the grid following an exhaust failure while bringing the car on to the track and will be hoping for something to go his way during next week. The other McLaren of Lando Norris put on a decent show after he finished 7th towards the end passing Lance Stroll on the way and putting up a fight with Albon and Ocon for 5th.

Pierre Gasly certainly put in a driver of the day performance after starting the race on the hard tyres and choosing not to stop under the safety car which enabled him to be on fresher tyres towards the end of the race. The Frenchman definitely made most of this strategy and put in some brilliant moves, especially one up the Eau Rouge onto Radillon on the inside vs Sergio Perez. This saw him finish 8th despite starting outside the top 10 and earned him some well deserved points. His teammate Kvyat in the other Alpha Tauri finished 11th after a quiet race.

Racing Point had a very average race following a similar qualifying and they will be left pondering on the loss of the really good pace that they have been showing so far in the season. Sergio Perez finished in the final points spot at 10th despite trying a different strategy to his teammate Lance Stroll who finished 9th.

Ferrari had a similar, if not worse race compared to qualifying after both the drivers swapped their qualifying positions with Vettel finishing 13th and Leclerc finishing 14th. Leclerc got off to a great start and put himself in 9th place before eventually losing places lap after lap. His pitstop under the safety car did not go according to the plan as well and he had to spend more than 30 seconds in the pitlane. As if this wasnn’t enough, he was then called in for an unexplained pitstop which left him visibly disgruntled on the radio, akin to his teammate.

It was not a completely bad day for the ferrari powered cars after Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo finished 12th ahead of both the works Ferraris while passing one of them on the track in a straight fight. Both the Haas cars finished with Grosjean at 15th and Magnussen at 17th after another very underwhelming weekend for the American team. Latifi finished 16th in the only remaining Williams after his teammate was taken out by a crashing Giovinazzi much earlier in the race.

With the promise of rain yet again not being fulfilled, Spa did not deliver the quite the race every F1 fan had hoped for. Mercedes and Hamilton would not be complaining to much after finishing 1-2 yet again and hamilton extending his lead at the top to 47 points over Verstappen. Renault will be the ones looking forward to another power hungry track in Monza while Ferrari might not be missing the Tifosi too much given how they have been performing so far this season.

Alonso returns to F1 with Renault

(Image courtesy of Fernando Alonso Instagram)

When Fernando Alonso announced in 2018 that he would be stepping away from Formula 1, very few of thought he would return. With the current status-quo as it is with the last few years dominated by Mercedes with only Red Bull and Ferrari able to hold a candle to them, and Alonso growing evidently tired of being in a lackluster McLaren, it was perhaps understandable that many of us didn’t believe these rumours of the two-time champion returning to F1 with the team that took him to those two world championships, Renault.

But sure enough, it was confirmed by Renault that Alonso would make his F1 comeback next year partnering up with Esteban Ocon and replacing the McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo. The former Red Bull driver signed a two-year deal with the French automotive manufacturer which was estimated to be in the region of nearly €25 million per year. But the promise of a car being able to challenge for podiums in the coming years wasn’t convincing enough for Ricciardo, and he will now take the seat of Carlos Sainz who is off to Ferrari to replace four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.

Alonso claimed he would not return to F1 unless he had a race winning car, and in a post on Instagram, he seems to be pinning all his hopes on the upcoming revolutionary 2022 regulations which will close the gap between the top three teams. With the teams having agreed to continue using their current cars for 2021, Renault certainly don’t look like a frontrunning team right now.

The experience of Alonso will undoubtedly play a part in developing their 2022 car but even so, time isn’t on his side. He will be turning 41 in 2022 which means at the very most, he has at most three years if Michael Schumacher’s three-year tenure in his comeback with Mercedes is anything to go by. Will he still be at the top of his game? Even if by some miracle, Renault are consistent front runners and he’s challenging for podiums, wins and maybe even the championship, would Fernando still be capable?

Then there’s the question of Renault’s academy drivers. With Esteban Ocon being out of F1 for 18 months prior to the Austrian Grand Prix and having only raced two full seasons prior with Force India as well as a couple of races with the Manor team in 2016, he’s far from being able to lead a team just yet so that undoubtedly factored in when finding who could take Ricciardo’s seat. However there’s still questions to be asked about where this leads the two probable F1 graduates in Renault’s academy right now.

These two drivers are Formula 2 racers Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard. Zhou is entering his second season of F2, prior to his first season , he hadn’t been that impressive in the junior formula, although was runner-up in Italian F4 in 2015. He had been on the Ferrari driver academy before joining Renault’s for 2019, and despite his time in European F3 not being indicative of being potential F1 material, he stepped it up when it mattered.

Zhou scored five podiums and a pole position on his way to seventh overall, and began the 2020 season with a pole at the Red Bull Ring, and was set for his first win before his Virtuosi F2 car let him down. Plus you have to think that Zhou is also a marketing goldmine for a manufacturer like Renault, since he would be the first Chinese driver and China is always a market that brands want to sell in so it would make sense from a marketing standpoint.

Then we have Lundgaard, who won two F4 championships in 2017, finished runner-up in Formula Renault EuroCup and took a race win last year in FIA Formula 3 with ART Grand Prix. He’s now in F2 with ART and scored a fourth and fifth in his first F2 races. He has had a rapid rise through the lower ranks and undoubtedly has the ability, but perhaps it may have been too early and he could be in prime position to be in the Renault F1 drive after Alonso retires for good.

Since we are talking about Renault juniors, it would be an insult if we didn’t talk about the driver who was perhaps in the best position for that seat alongside Ocon.

Lundgaard may have remained in F3 for a title charge in 2020, but that ART F2 drive had already been paid for by Renault so he was promoted into the seat that most likely would have been occupied by 2018 GP3 champion Anthoine Hubert.

Having won two sprint races last season in F2 at Monaco and Paul Ricard with BWT Arden, but tragedy struck at Spa-Francorchamps when Hubert was fatally injured. I would have put a lot of money on Hubert being champion in F2 this year had he been in that ART seat, considering the past two champions George Russell and Nyck De Vries raced with ART as well.

(Image taken from F1 2020 Game Play)

Nevertheless, it’s the return of Fernando Alonso with Renault for 2021. I can definitely imagine a few more iconic moments from him, especially in the Drive to Survive season focusing on the 2021 season, the combination of Fernando and Cyril Abiteboul is going to make for some interesting moments for us, that’s for sure.

Bottas wins chaotic Austrian Grand Prix as Norris claims debut podium

Valtteri Bottas has taken victory at a chaotic Austrian Grand Prix that saw just eleven cars reach the chequered flag, with Charles Leclerc in P2 and Lando Norris claiming his first ever podium in P3. Lewis Hamilton finished second on the road but dropped to fourth due to a five-second penalty he received for a collision with Alex Albon.

The race was sedate enough for the first ten laps. Bottas built up a 3.2-second gap to Verstappen, while Norris slipped back to P5 behind Albon and Hamilton. On lap 11, though, Verstappen lost power on the approach to Turn 3 and told his engineer that his car kept going into anti-stall. He limped back to the pits and retired on lap 13.

LAT Images

The next casualties were Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll. Ricciardo pulled into his garage with a cooling issue while Stroll, who had been struggling with a lack of power for several laps, retired due to a sensor issue.

Bottas had built up a six-second gap to Hamilton by lap 17, but on lap 21 Hamilton set a new fastest lap and began to reel his team-mate in. Four laps later, the gap was down to 3.8 seconds.

Lap 26 saw the first safety car of the race, brought out due to Kevin Magnussen suffering a brake failure at Turn 3. A flurry of pitstops ensued with every driver opting for the hard tyres except for Perez, who went with the mediums.

When the safety car period ended, Vettel lunged down the inside of Carlos Sainz going into Turn 3. He misjudged the attempt and span, dropping down the order to P15. While the incident was noted, no investigation was deemed necessary by the stewards.

On lap 42, Bottas and Hamilton were warned about sensor issues that had been detected in the gearbox of both cars and were told to stay off the kerbs. This warning was repeated several times and the gap between the two widened as Hamilton eased off slightly. Despite this apparent issue, the duo were still over ten seconds ahead of third-placed Alex Albon.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Lap 51 saw the next retirements. George Russell ground to a halt from what had been a promising P12 and brought out the second safety car of the day. Romain Grosjean, meanwhile, ran off the track at the final corner and pulled into the pits with seemingly the same brake problem that curtailed team-mate Magnussen’s race.

Red Bull chose to bring in Albon for a change to the soft tyres, losing P3 to Perez in the process, while both Mercedes stayed out on hard tyres that had already completed 25 laps by that point.

The Safety Car came in on lap 54 briefly, after which Albon re-took third place from Perez after Perez locked up going into Turn 3.

At that exact moment, however, the safety car was brought out again, this time because Kimi Raikkonen’s front-left tyre had come clean off the chassis going into the final corner. It was initially unclear whether it was Albon or Perez who had been ahead at the moment the safety car came out, but it was decided a few laps later that Albon had been slightly ahead of Perez and thus the Red Bull driver slotted into P3.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Lap 60 saw the safety car come back in and Albon set about chasing after Hamilton on his newer soft tyres. He saw an opportunity going into Turn 4 and went for it, only for the two to come to blows. Albon span and fell down the order to last place. The incident was duly noted and investigated, with Hamilton being given a five-second penalty.

Albon slowed a couple of laps later, saying over the radio that his engine was stopping. He wound up finishing P13, or last.

Between lap 64 and lap 66, Leclerc got past Norris and then Perez to find himself in P3 behind the Mercedes duo. It looked as if Perez was in with a shout of finishing on the podium due to Hamilton’s penalty, only for his hopes to be dashed when he was awarded a five-second penalty of his own for speeding in the pitlane and then being overtaken by Norris.

Lap 70 saw the last retirement of the race when one of Daniil Kvyat’s tyres disintegrated going into Turn 1. He managed to bring the car to a stop behind the barriers at a marshall post.

Bottas crossed the line to take the chequered flag at the end of lap 71 with Hamilton in P2, Leclerc in P3 and Norris in P4. Hamilton’s penalty, though, dropped him to P4 and promoted Leclerc to second and Norris to the final podium position.

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Austrian Grand Prix Preview: F1 is back, but not as we know it

112 days after the opener in Melbourne was supposed to get underway, the Formula One season will finally begin in Austria this Sunday.

As with the return of most sport during the COVID-19 pandemic however, things will work a little differently in the F1 paddock. Media presence will be lower, the freedom of the drivers to roam around the surrounding area during race week will decrease and, perhaps most prominently, there will be a complete absence of fans.

The Austrian Grand Prix will mark the first of two races at the 4.3-kilometre Red Bull Ring, with the Styrian Grand Prix following just a week later. This is all part of the FIA’s plan to satiate the year with as many races as possible so as to create as exhaustive a calendar as possible for the world championship season, which needs to be at least eight races long to classify as such.

Normally by this point of the year, we would know who is competitive and who is not, but the cars have not run since testing in Barcelona at the beginning of the year and, as we learned last year especially, testing pace is little to go by.

It is therefore quite difficult to determine who the favourites are going to be, but the same could generally be said in Spielberg last year. Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari were all competitive last season, with Max Verstappen narrowly beating Charles Leclerc to victory following a controversial overtake at the end of the race, the investigation for which was not concluded until hours after the drivers had stepped off the podium.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

One of the major points of interest is the perennially fascinating midfield battle. The Racing Point, designed on last year’s Mercedes, is tipped to be one of the major challengers to fourth place in the Constructors’ as they look to knock McLaren off their perch as best of the rest. Renault’s inconsistencies over the past couple of seasons will need to be rectified by their new driver-pairing of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon, as the French team consider their future involvement in the sport they have failed to re-master since their return in 2016. Alpha Tauri – rebranded from Toro Rosso – and Alfa Romeo will also have an eye on challenging for the best of the midfield teams.

Haas are understood to be the only constructor not bringing upgrades to this race, as uncertainty looms about their interest in F1 too. Their upgrades last year affected them adversely rather than helping them progress after the first race, and they will look to avoid further regression this year. They managed a fourth and fifth-placed finish in Spielberg in 2018, while Kevin Magnussen qualified an impressive fifth last season. A gearbox penalty and the Haas car’s ghastly race pace saw him finish behind both the Williams cars.

Speaking of which, Williams’ car was three seconds quicker in testing in Spain than it was in the 2019 Spanish Grand Prix, which will lead the British team to believe they can climb off the bottom of the championship table and relieve some of the immense pressure currently on Claire Williams’ shoulders.

One of the shortest tracks on the calendar follows the longest wait for a Formula One season since the World Championship’s inception. The Styrian mountains will not be alive with the sound of fans, but they will still be alive with the sound of Formula One cars.

 

[Featured image – Matthias Heschl/Red Bull Content Pool]

“Put a Ring On It” – 2019 Austrian Grand Prix Preview

Beyoncé may have said “if you like it, then you should’ve put a ring on it”, but in motorsport we race the rings instead. Yes, it’s race weekend once again, as F1 is welcomed by the circuit previously known as the Österreichring!

It was known as such between 1969 and 1995, and then became known as the A1 Ring from 1996 to 2003. Finally, Dietrich Mateschitz bought the circuit and in 2008 started a reconstruction. From 2014, the newly-branded Red Bull Ring became host once again to a European round of the Formula One Championship.

The Red Bull Ring was originally 5.911km in length, with its weakness being its safety record and high speeds (second only to Silverstone during its Österreichring period). Something had to be done, and as such it was shortened to 4.326km in its guise as the A1 Ring, and again in 2016 to 4.318km.

Red Bull Ring sectors. Image courtesy of Pirelli.This weekend we head back to the Red Bull Rin  after last week’s French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, which was dominated by Mercedes with Hamilton and Bottas finishing 1-2.

Can I mention hot air? No, not the untruths one may hear, but instead air streams from the African continent. Tyres could again play a massive part in the race this weekend, with it predicted to be one of the hottest days in Europe so far, courtesy of very warm air streams. Last weekend in France saw temperatures hit 56°C, but this weekend could hit 60°C. That alone will shift the working windows of the tyres and also will vary between teams . With higher air temps we could also see the 2019 aero regulations cause some teams issues with heat distribution.

Available tyres for the races up to the Russian GP. Image courtesy of Pirelli

The Red Bull Ring, following its 2014 redesign, is one of the shortest tracks on the F1 calendar, with the current configuration’s lap record being a 1:06.957, set by Kimi Raikkonen in 2018. With four sharp turns (T1, T3, T7 and T8) and three DRS zones allowing overtaking, the race is not a foregone conclusion.

Infograpics for the 2019 Red Bull Ring. Image courtesy of Pirelli

2019 has been a year of Mercedes dominance, with them having won all eight races so far – two for Valtteri Bottas and six for Lewis Hamilton.

Ferrari has had correlation issues in their fluid dynamics simulation to wind tunnel analysis, hence the testing of new front wing and floor assemblies at Paul Ricard. With that issue presumably sorted, can their car finally show its promise?

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won here in 2018, and he will be hoping for that to happen again this year to finally break the Mercedes strong-hold on the championship.

And if Verstappen, Vettel and Leclerc can’t mount a challenge? It will, yet again, be between the Mercedes boys of Hamilton and Bottas.

 

[Featured Image courtesy of Colombo Images/Scuderia Ferrari]

Austrian Grand Prix: Christian Horner Praises “Mature” Max Verstappen

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has praised Max Verstappen’s approach to the Austrian Grand Prix, in light of the Dutchman’s win this afternoon.

It was Verstappen’s first victory of 2018 after a series of incidents in the early stages of the year, and is Red Bull’s first win at their home race since it returned to the F1 calendar, re-branded in their image, in 2014.

Max Verstappen the Winner of the 2018 Austrian GP with Kimi and Seb. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“To win in a Red Bull Car at the Red Bull Ring is something I never imagined would happen this morning,” said Horner. “All credit to Max today, he drove a very, very mature race, managing a very tricky situation with the tyres and he completed a very controlled drive to win our first Austrian Grand Prix.”

Verstappen started the race in P4 and gained a position on the opening lap when Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen overcooked an attempt to overtake Lewis Hamilton.

When Valtteri Bottas retired on lap fourteen and brought out the Virtual Safety Car, Verstappen emerged from the round of pit-stops in P2, now on the soft tyres and thirteen seconds behind the other Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, who had stayed out.

He then inherited the lead of the race when Hamilton finally did pit, and calmly waved off his team’s concerns about his tyres blistering, an issue that befell a number of other drivers on the grid. Kimi Raikkonen may have been closing in the final stages of the race, but Verstappen had built up enough of an advantage to hold on to victory.

Max ahead of kimi. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo – whose 29th birthday it was today – retired from the race on lap fifty four. “It was a great shame not to have Daniel up on the podium as well,” Christian Horner said, “after running for so 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.

“A special word to our pit-crew, again executing a faultless stacked pit stop on our route to victory, as they had done previously this year in China. I have to also applaud out entire staff back at the factory and their commitment to produce a competitive race car. The day belongs to them, to Max, to the team, to Red Bull and particularly to Mr Mateschitz who has given so much to modern Formula One. We are all delighted for him.”

 

Orange Magic: Max Verstappen wins 2018 Austrian Grand Prix

The second race of the first ever ‘triple header’ saw F1 return to the mountains of Austria, for the Grand Prix at Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring.

As it’s the team’s home race, Red Bull Racing had high hopes. These hopes were, however, seemingly shattered when a disappointing qualifying on Saturday meant that Max Verstappen would start the race on Sunday from P5 (which ended up as P4 when Vettel got a three-place grid penalty for impeding Sainz in Q2), with Daniel Ricciardo in P7 behind the Haas of Romain Grosjean. There was no reason for them to be yodelling just yet.

This weekend not only was a special Grand Prix for the Austrian team’s management, but also for Max Verstappen personally. With a sea of orange shirts in his very own ‘Max Verstappen Grandstand’, it is no surprise that this is seen as the second home Grand Prix for the Dutchman (with Belgium being the other one). Not only that, shortly before the weekend he announced he would be driving with a special helmet design. Rather than its normal dark blue, his helmet instead shone yellow as a thank-you to his first big sponsor, the Dutch supermarket Jumbo. Were these things the trigger for Verstappen to get the luck he so desperately needed?

Start of the Austrian F1 race. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

He had a pretty good start, and went from P4 to P3 after turn one as Kimi Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas ran wide. Still taking risks on the first lap, he made slight contact with Raikkonen, who then had to run wide a bit. He was briefly under investigation for the touch, but the stewards decided it was just a racing incident as the consequences for the drivers were little.

Shortly after Nico Hülkenberg retired with a spectacular engine failure – resulting in some big flames – another car retired. It was none other than Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, whose gearbox got stuck in second gear, resulting in a loss of drive. This brought out the Virtual Safety Car on lap fourteen. Some teams decided to use this VSC to change their strategy, as Ferrari and Red Bull put on the soft tyres on their cars.

One team that didn’t decide to change their strategy, however, was Mercedes, and Lewis Hamilton stayed out on track. This led to a gap of just thirteen seconds to Verstappen, who emerged from his pit stop in P2. It takes roughly twenty-one seconds to complete a pit-stop in Austria, including time spent driving down the pit-lane, so it was looking disastrous for Hamilton. When he finally did pit, Max Verstappen inherited the lead and, from that moment onwards, dominated the race. Things later when from bad to worse for Hamilton, and he eventually had to retire the car due to engine problems.

Max Verstappen leading the Austrian Grand Prix. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

One critical issue during the race for lots of drivers was tyre degradation. Daniel Ricciardo for instance had changed to the softs during the Virtual Safety Car period, but after just twenty-two laps it became clear he would not be able to make it to the end, as his rear-left tyre was destroyed.

Someone that didn’t seem to struggle at all with the soft tyres, however, was Verstappen. He drove over fifty laps on those tyres to bring home the victory for Red Bull Racing, claiming his fourth career win. The orange crowds went insane and it didn’t look like the party would end very soon for the fans and the team.

Max Verstappen. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Criticised for his aggressive driving style many times this season, Verstappen has surely shown the press they were wrong. Whilst his teammate struggled on the same tyre compound after just twenty-two laps, Max managed to make it to the end and keep both Ferraris behind. Once again his aggressive driving style brought him a brilliant victory. Should he really change his driving style?

Austrian Grand Prix: Bottas Claims First Pole of the Year

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Valtteri Bottas has claimed his first pole position of the year, and leads a Mercedes 1-2 into tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Of the big-hitters, only Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen had a truly clean session. Both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel made mistakes early on – at turn three and turn four respectively – and ended up relatively far back after the first Q3 runs had been completed. It took until the last couple of minutes for the pair to pull themselves back up the order – Hamilton ultimately qualified P2, and Vettel P3, with both pushing Kimi Raikkonen down into P4. Vettel was noted as being under investigation for allegedly impeding Carlos Sainz in Q2, but since Sainz did advance to Q3 it is uncertain whether Vettel will receive any penalty.

Red Bull had expected qualifying to be a struggle compared to Mercedes and Ferrari coming into the weekend. Max Verstappen may have qualified P5 but he was still two tenths behind Raikkonen, and Daniel Ricciardo ended up P7 behind the Haas of an impressive Romain Grosjean. Replays of team radio throughout the session indicated a certain amount of tension in the team, with Ricciardo frustrated that Verstappen did not follow orders to lead the Australian for a lap and give him a tow, as Ricciardo had done for Verstappen the lap before.

Kevin Magnussen and the two Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg complete the top ten.

Further down the order, Charles Leclerc continues to impress in the Sauber. He qualified P13 but carries a five-place grid penalty due to his gearbox needing to be changed following a stoppage on track in FP3.

Force India’s Sergio Perez had a nightmare of a session. The Mexican complained of running out of battery during his first run and of getting stuck in traffic during his second. He failed to make it out of Q1 and starts P17.

It was also a frustrating session for McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley. Both were looking to pull themselves out of the drop-zone and into Q2, but encountered yellow flags on their flying laps when Charles Leclerc ran through the gravel trap in the final moments of Q1.

Both Mercedes and Red Bull will start tomorrow’s Grand Prix on the supersoft tyres, with all those around them starting on the ultras. Bottas will be hoping to convert pole position into a win, at the circuit where he claimed his second ever victory in 2017.

Austrian Grand Prix Grid

1. Valtteri Bottas – 1:03.130

2. Lewis Hamilton – 1:03.149

3. Sebastian Vettel – 1:03.464

4. Kimi Raikkonen – 1:03.660

5. Max Verstappen – 1:03.840

6. Romain Grosjean – 1:03.892

7. Daniel Ricciardo – 1:03.996

8. Kevin Magnussen – 1:04.051

9. Carlos Sainz – 1:04.725

10. Nico Hulkenberg – 1:05.019

11. Esteban Ocon – 1:04.845

12. Pierre Gasly 0 1:04.874

13. Fernando Alonso – 1:05.058

14. Lance Stroll – 1:05.286

15. Stoffel Vandoorne – 1:05.271

16. Sergio Perez – 1:05.279

17. Sergey Sirotkin – 1:05.322

18. Charles Leclerc – 1:04.979 *5-place penalty for gearbox change

19. Brendon Hartley 1:05.366

20. Marcus Ericsson – 1:05.479

 

Update – 17:30 – Sebastian Vettel has been given a three-place penalty by the stewards for impeding Carlos Sainz at turn one in Q2. The German will now start P6, promoting Kimi Raikkonen to P3, Max Verstappen to P4, and Romain Grosjean to P5.