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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
Ah, Monte Carlo, the signature event on the Formula One calendar. While the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix won’t go down in history as the most exciting race (the word ‘processional’ comes to mind), the challenging nature of the circuit itself makes for an interesting technical race. This season’s running certainly offered up some worthwhile moments, though the lack of a full Safety Car made it seem like it wasn’t quite Monaco.
Daniel Ricciardo stole the show with his masterful pace control from pole position. Capitalising on a clean start, he was able to back the field up for the first several laps, babysitting his hypersoft tyres. Several other drivers commented on the slow pace of the opening stint, but due to the difficulties of overtaking on the narrow streets of Monte Carlo nobody was able to mount an effective attack.
The race appeared to begin in earnest around lap 15, when Ricciardo opened up the throttle. Responding to Vettel’s lap 16 pit stop, Red Bull pulled Ricciardo in for a set of ultrasofts on lap 17. Enjoying a comfortable lead, Ricciardo rejoined the race in first.
On lap 28 Ricciardo reported losing power. While Ricciardo later admitted that Red Bull had identified an issue with the MGU-K on lap 18, it was ten laps later when he announced the problem. Despite being down on power, and further only able to use six of his eight gears, Ricciardo was able to manage his pace remarkably.
As the race progressed, pervasive graining on the left front tyre helped discourage Vettel and others on ultrasofts from pursuing too aggressive an approach, whereas the Red Bull’s chassis served tyre management well. In time, Vettel’s tyres settled in and he was able to mount an attack on Ricciardo, but the Red Bull man defended brilliantly.
A late Virtual Safety Car played into Ricciardo’s hands, as Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren emerged from the pits between Ricciardo and Vettel, albeit a lap down. This traffic allowed Ricciardo to rebuild a lead that saw him cross the finish line over 7 seconds ahead of Vettel to claim victory. After the stunning strategy mistake of 2016 cost him that win, this victory was particularly sweet for the Australian. The fact that he remained in P1 through the entire race could’ve only sweetened it further. His Driver of the Day award was well-earned.
On the other side of the Red Bull garage, Max Verstappen drove a solid race. Starting from the back of the grid, he had claimed both Haas cars on the opening lap, and patiently climbed the order. Verstappen maintained a cool head throughout the race, shepherding his starting set of ultrasofts for 47 laps.
Despite some early complaints of pitting late for a set of hypersofts, he engaged in a duel with Carlos Sainz in which both drivers cut chicanes (leading to an amusing radio call of, “He cut the chicane!” from Sainz who moments before did exactly the same thing) resulting in a warning from the pit wall to keep his overtaking clean. After a weekend of trouble and serious errors in previous races, Max drove a clean race to finish in ninth, up from 20th.
Scuderia Ferrari delivered a workmanlike race, though not terribly memorable. Sebastian Vettel consistently kept pressure on Ricciardo, though he wasn’t able to overtake. The pervasive left front graining on the ultrasoft tyres combined with the narrow streets prevented him from pushing past Ricciardo. Technical gremlins briefly popped up for the German on lap 41, causing a brief blackout on his dash. Happily, this wasn’t to become a more serious issue. Vandoorne’s late pitstop during the VSC period sealed Vettel’s second place.
Kimi Räikkönen, despite pushing hard against Lewis Hamilton, was similarly unable to make any meaningful gains. Suffering from the ubiquitous trouble with his left front tyre, the Finn started and finished in fourth.
On the Mercedes front, it looked briefly like Valtteri Bottas might have a chance at upsetting the order as Mercedes elected to send him out on supersofts after pitting on lap 17. While he avoided the graining issues that held up the other drivers at the sharp end of the grid, tyre temperature issues caused him to back off from Räikkönen for several laps, and he wasn’t able to mount a serious challenge to his fellow Finn. Bottas further continued the trend of finishing where he started, in fifth.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton, while vocal about his tyre issues, race pace and so forth, wasn’t able to do much about any of it either. Starting in third, he finished in third.
And so it went for the frontrunners (and Max), though there was a bit more excitement down the grid.
Perhaps the most exciting moment of the race came on lap 72, when local boy Charles Leclerc’s Sauber suffered a brake failure while approaching the chicane. Accompanied by a large puff of brake dust (and brakes), he plowed into the back of Brendan Hartley’s Toro Rosso. While Hartley limped back to the pits to retire, Race Control invoked the Virtual Safety Car while marshals recovered the damaged Sauber.
Leclerc’s teammate Marcus Ericsson had a much less eventful race, finishing in 13th, from starting in 16th.
Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly drove an excellent race. Starting in tenth, he shepherded his used set of hypersofts for 37 laps before pitting for supersofts. Avoiding drama, the Frenchman put in a workmanlike drive to finish in seventh.
Renault displayed an admirable amount of teamwork and coordination when defending against Max Verstappen’s charge. On lap 55, Nico Hulkenberg, running in ninth, clearly had pace over teammate Carlos Sainz, who was running in eighth. Sainz did a brilliant job of ceding eighth to Hulkenberg while preventing Verstappen from following through the door. Though Sainz would eventually lose ninth to the Dutchman, he didn’t give up the position without a fight. Hulkenberg proceeded to finish in eighth, up from eleventh, while Sainz finished in ninth, down from eighth.
It’s tempting to say that McLaren’s early form is waning, though there are still many races left in the season. Long-suffering Fernando Alonso suffered his first retirement of the season, with a gearbox failure on lap 54 after running in the points. His teammate Stoffel Vandoorne finished in 14th, having stymied Vettel’s chances, starting from 12th. Perhaps Ricciardo will send him a fruit basket for his efforts, or at least a nice note.
Force India suffered from bad luck on one side of the garage, as a troublesome right rear wheel caused Sergio Perez’s lap 23 pit stop to run precious seconds long. Though emerging on the durable supersoft tyres, he was unable to make up positions and finished in 12th, down from his starting position of ninth. Teammate Esteban Ocon, though, despite some graining in the middle stint, had a relatively trouble-free drive to finish where he started, in sixth.
Williams is… continuing to be Williams. The storied organisation’s run of poor performance continued today, even before the race start. Sergey Sirotkin was given a 10-second stop/go penalty for not having his tyres fitted by the 3-minute warning, and was investigated again when it appeared that his crew worked on his car while he served the penalty. He was cleared of this, and went on to finish in 16th, down from 13th.
Lance Stroll had an eventful, though negative, outing. One could be excused for thinking that Stroll was attempting to fill in the punches on his Frequent Pit Stop card, pitting three times. Pitting on lap 9 for a new front wing and supersoft tyres, he emerged in 20th and would have remained there save for retirements up the field. Subsequent stops in laps 34 and 59 for fresh sets of hypersofts didn’t help him overmuch. The Canadian finished in 17th, where he started.
Haas too continued to struggle. After qualifying 18th and 19th, both of the drivers failed to make significant gains on-track, though they did finish ahead of both Williams’. Kevin Magnussen, this season’s points-generator for the American team, finished out of the points in 13th, while Romain Grosjean finished in 15th.
At the end of the day, Lewis Hamilton retains the lead in the Drivers Championship with 100 points, with Sebastian Vettel in second with 96. Daniel Ricciardo rounds out the top three, with 72 points. On the Constructors side, the teams so far mirror the driver standings. Mercedes leads Ferrari by 178 to 156, and Red Bull is comfortably in third with 107 points.
As we approach Canada, the Drivers and Constructors Championships are still wide open. It should be exciting to see how the teams cope with the demands of the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montréal under the new regulations. Stick with us on the weekend of 8–10 June for your Grand Prix du Canada coverage.
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo has claimed his second ever pole position in Formula One, setting a new lap record around the circuit where he incidentally also claimed his first.
Red Bull were always expected to fly around Monaco and it has certainly been an extremely impressive weekend so far for the team – and Ricciardo in particular – save for Max Verstappen’s crash in FP3. Ricciardo was fastest in every single practice session and every segment of qualifying, breaking the lap record numerous times before ultimately taking pole with a 1:10.810, in doing so becoming the only driver to break into the 1:10s.
The Australian’s nearest competitor was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. In the dying moments of the session Vettel managed to improve and close the gap to P1, but he was still over two tenths away from Ricciardo, with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton another two tenths back in P3.
Kimi Raikkonen will perhaps have been hoping for more than P4; he starts ahead of fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas and best-of-the-rest Esteban Ocon, who put in a great performance in the Force India to go P6. McLaren will no doubt be glad to have gotten at least one car into the top ten – Fernando Alonso will start tomorrow’s race in P7 ahead of Sainz, Perez, Gasly and Hulkenberg – because it looked for a while in the early stages of the weekend as though they may be out-performed by Toro Rosso and their Honda engine. The other McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne, however, failed to make it through to Q3 and starts P12.
Sergey Sirotkin’s performance mustn’t be underplayed as well. He may be starting P13, but he qualified a huge eight tenths ahead of his team-mate Lance Stroll, who has been struggling all weekend and complained of a loose head-rest and a general lack of traction in Q1. He starts down in P18.
Home favourite Charles Leclerc qualified P14 ahead of an out-of-sorts Romain Grosjean, who qualified P15 but carries a three-place grid penalty because of the crash he caused in Spain.
Brendon Hartley was my surprise of qualifying, and unfortunately not in a good way. The Kiwi had initially shown very strong pace in free practice – he was P7 in FP3 – and seemed to be on par with team-mate Pierre Gasly, but for some reason he failed to convert that in qualifying and ultimately ended up P16 ahead of Marcus Ericsson.
Rounding out the grid are a frustrated Kevin Magnussen in P19 – another surprise given that he finished sixth last time out in Spain – and Max Verstappen, who didn’t even take part in qualifying because of his FP3 crash and will be receiving a somewhat redundant five-place grid penalty because of a change of gearbox.
It is hard to look past anyone but Daniel Ricciardo for the win tomorrow. It’s one of the great cliches of Formula One that it’s impossible to overtake around Monaco but, at the same time, I’m sure there will be some interesting battles further down the order that will be worth keeping an eye on.
Daniel Ricciardo’s path to victory in Shanghai last Sunday was full of all the precise car placement and late-braking brilliance that F1 has come to expect from its smiling assassin.
But what was perhaps the most noticeable part of Ricciardo’s win was not the moves he made to achieve it, but who he beat along the way.
Fans and pundits alike were quick to point out that the two drivers who trailed Ricciardo onto the podium in China—Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen—also happened to be the same drivers under pressure from the Australian for a 2019 seat.
It was a coincidence sharp enough to be ominous—and judging by the two Finns’ downcast expressions in the post-race press conference, neither appreciated the irony in that result.
For Bottas, the timing of his defeat by Ricciardo could hardly have been less fortunate. It was only a week ago that the Finn was being criticised for a lack of aggression in his pursuit of Sebastian Vettel for the lead in Bahrain, and it will surely not have escaped his notice that one of those critics was Ricciardo himself.
After Bahrain, Ricciardo was quoted by Motorsport.com as saying he would have “at least tried” to overtake Vettel were he in Bottas’s position: “For me, the first opportunity you have to take. If it’s for a win, you just can’t [settle].”
To then have victory snatched away at the very next event, with a decisive move up the inside by the same man posturing to replace you? There’s misfortune, and then there’s misery.
But what makes matters worse for Bottas is that he didn’t just lose out on victory for himself, he also let slip a victory for Mercedes.
With Lewis Hamilton struggling to get on the pace across the China weekend, the burden was on Bottas to lead Mercedes’ charge against Ferrari and secure their first win of the season.
And although the Finn’s chances of winning in Shanghai were ruined by the ill-timed safety car, it’s hard not to notice the similarities between this race and Bahrain. Both times Bottas was the lead Mercedes, both times a clever pit strategy put him in a winning position, and both times he finished only second.
Add that to the qualifying crash in Australia that left Bottas starting 15th on the grid, and Mercedes could be forgiven if their faith in the once-Flying Finn has become a little half-hearted this year.
And the danger there is that Hamilton, also out of contract this year, has hinted several times that the next deal he signs might well be his last. The driver decisions facing Mercedes this year will therefore be made with that post-Hamilton future in mind—their priority will be to lock in place the driver most capable of leading the team forward once Hamilton departs.
Given that’s something Ricciardo’s already shown he can do during his Red Bull tenure, Bottas will have a lot of work to do after his early season errors to prove to Mercedes that he is still their best option.
There is still time for Bottas to turn his situation around—although that time is fast running out.
Ricciardo’s contract renewal talks with Red Bull were due to start this month, and if he decides early not to stay then the Australian could be meeting with Toto Wolff by the time F1 comes round to the European season in May. The uncertainty over Hamilton’s extension might hold up the talks for now—but alternatively, the fear of Ferrari poaching Ricciardo while Mercedes waits may well push Wolff into a swift decision.
Bottas will need to impress quickly, then, if he is to even remain in the running for his seat. But luckily for the Finn, the next race in Azerbaijan should be one of his stronger events—last year, he came from the back after a first lap crash to steal second from Lance Stroll across the line.
Another performance like that will go a long way to restoring Mercedes’ confidence in Bottas at this crucial time in the season—and if he can go one step further and take the Silver Arrows’ first 2018 win, then all the better.
But whatever results Bottas brings from Baku and beyond, he will have to up his game generally, and prove he is capable of taking the fight to Ferrari and Red Bull whenever Hamilton can’t.
Because as messages go, Ricciardo’s “lick the stamp and send it” jibe on the Shanghai podium couldn’t have been any clearer: if Mercedes wants a driver who will do more than settle for second, they know where to find one.