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]

‘It was hard racing’ Hometown Heroes take the Austrian Grand Prix, eventually…

Looking out into the stands you could almost be forgiven for thinking the McLaren’s fans had taken over, but in Austria, a sea of orange can only mean one thing – Max Verstappen has come home (kind-of).

Max Verstappen, passing the Netherlands fans that are supporting him. Image courtesy of Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen put in a steady performance in FP1, but found himself involved in an unfortunate high-speed crash at turn 10 in FP2 which saw him lose the back end of the car and collide with the barrier. Thankfully, Verstappen was unhurt and the car was made ready in enough time for FP3 and the Qualifying session on Saturday afternoon.

Max and the team were optimistic in spite of the set-back; ‘Crashes can happen unfortunately, but maybe it’s a good thing because they’ll take the whole car apart and so a few new parts on it.’

Sure enough, as if by magic, Verstappen’s positivity, a lot of hard work overnight from the Red Bull engineers and a rare grid-penalty for Lewis Hamilton resulted in an excellent qualifying position for the Dutchman, starting 2ndon the grid, next to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

It was an impressive run for Max who confessed after qualifying he had been dreading bringing the car to Austria; ‘Before we came here, I was not really looking forward to qualifying because I knew it was going to be hard.’

Sat at the front of the grid, the pressure was on for Max to make a good start to the Austrian Grand Prix. Unfortunately, after being sat for over half a minute, the RB15’s anti-stall system kicked in when it really mattered, setting him back to 7thplace before reaching turn one. Thankfully Verstappen’s determination and a huge amount of encouragement from the crowd saw the Red Bull flying through the pack in spite of the ropey start.

FIA Formula One World Championship 2019 Stop 9 – Spielberg, Austria
Photographer Credit:
Philip Platzer/Red Bull Content Pool

Speaking to Sky F1 after the race, Max said he was ‘extremely disappointed but I just kept pushing hard… I had to stay calm and get through them cleanly’. The RB15 sailed through the grid overtaking Valterri Bottas for second place on Lap 56 in spite of a hair-raising issue with an exhaust sensor, causing what Verstappen describe as a ‘loss of power’ over the team radio.

This was quickly forgotten about as Max pushed on to close what was a 5 second gap between himself and Leclerc’s Ferrari. By Lap 69 Verstappen was in a position to challenge Leclerc, which he quickly achieved in a controversial overtake at turn 4 which caused the two cars to bump tyres and push Leclerc into the run-off area.

The chequered flag fell in favour of Verstappen and Red Bull, much to the delight of the army of Dutch fans. This was quickly overshadowed by a furious Leclerc protesting the move, followed by a notice from the Stewards who put the ‘incident’ under investigation.

The Stewards decision to put the overtake under investigation exposes Formula 1 to yet more criticism, following their poor decision to give Vettel a 5-Second time penalty which ultimately handed Hamilton the race win in Canada. The fact that something like a driver running off the track or touching wheels, something we see on an almost weekly basis at the start of a race, suddenly warrants an investigation, shows the lack of consistency and a reluctance to allow actual racing to take place.

It took the FIA almost 3 hours to decide on something that should have gone down as good, close racing. Perhaps it says more about the lack of action in the sport in recent races, that when the stewards see something mildly exciting happening on track, they’ve forgotten how to deal with it.

There has been and continues to be an enormous push forwards in terms of safety in Formula 1, the most recent of which was the introduction of the halo in 2018 to further protect the drivers head in the car. The controversy about Vettel’s ‘unsafe re-entry’ in Canada and now the debate over Verstappen’s overtake in Austria clearly comes from a concern about safety, however in doing so, this hints at a fear from the FIA of allowing for racing and the minor racing incidents that go along with it. Clearly, the FIA need to re-evaluate and make allowances for true racing and entertainment.

The drama doesn’t seem to have dampened the spirits of Red Bull and Honda, who have seen their first win since 2006. Indeed, Max’s initial comment after getting out of his car hit the nail on the head; ‘It was hard racing. If it’s not allowed, what’s the point in racing in F1?’.

Whatever your thoughts on the winner, the Austrian Grand Prix has produced yet another talking point in Formula 1. It’s unfortunate that once again, real racing is overshadowed by the stewards.

But still, the best man took the win, eventually!

“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]

Renault: “We must do better” in Silverstone

Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul has said his team “must do better” at the British Grand Prix than it has in the previous rounds in Austria and France.

The French marque endured a pointless race at the Red Bull Ring last weekend, with Nico Hülkenberg retiring due to a fiery engine failure and Carlos Sainz falling foul of tyre blistering, while in France the week before an MGU-K failure almost dropped Sainz out of the points in the closing laps.

“The sign of a good race team is the ability to react quickly and come back stronger,” Abiteboul said ahead of the British Grand Prix. “Even in the short turnaround between Austria and Silverstone, we must improve reliability, recover our more usual competitiveness level and further our understanding around tyre management.

“We know Silverstone will be a tough challenge but we will keep pushing to get back on target.”

Renault Sport F1 Team

Abiteboul added that Austria in particular was “a crash landing” after eight consecutive points for the team:

“Although the circuit did not play to our strengths, we must do better. It certainly benefited our rivals, who took advantage of three retirements in the top teams to finish higher than usual in the rankings.”

Renault remains in fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship after Austria, but their absence from the top ten meant that Haas—who finished fourth and fifth in Spielberg—closed to within 13 points in the standings, and could overtake Renault this weekend if the French team run into any more misfortune in Silverstone.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Austrian GP driver ratings

In Formula 1 anything can happen, and it usually does! That was what Murray Walker always said, and it did indeed happen at the Red Bull Ring this weekend. A very hot Sunday played havoc with the field, though some acclimatised better than others.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Max Verstappen: 9.5

This was a great weekend for Verstappen, as he continued his podium form and this time to the top step. Fortune favoured the brave on the first lap with a great move on Raikkonen. One of the first to pit under the Virtual Safety Car, Verstappen made his tyres last in the heat while others struggled with blistering. He is a driver known for his speed, but this weekend Verstappen proved he can drive calmly.

Kimi Raikkonen: 8

Austria was one of Raikkonen’s better races of the year. After a great start (marred slightly by running wide on the first lap) Raikkonen put in a tyre management drive reminiscent of his Lotus days to take a superb second place. With reports saying Leclerc is all set to join Ferrari next year, could this be the beginning of Raikkonen’s swan song?

Sebastian Vettel: 7

After this weekend sees Vettel leave Austria as the Championship leader, he won’t mind too much about the grid penalty he was given for impeding Carlos Sainz in qualifying. Vettel’s race started poorly on Sunday as he fell to 8th, but a good recovery drive put him on the podium. 

Haas F1 Media

Romain Grosjean: 8

The Frenchman finally sees the flag in the top ten! Grosjean was very impressive on Saturday when he outqualified a Red Bull, and was one of the better drivers on Sunday at keeping the tyres in good condition. A great result for him and especially Haas, as teammate Magnussen finished behind him in P5.

Kevin Magnussen: 8

Magnussen continued his impressive 2018 in Austria with a great haul of points in P5. Together with Grosjean, Magnussen’s points this weekend helped Haas back up their statement about being the fourth-best team. A great drive from Magnussen all weekend, evening if Grosjean had shaded him on race day. 

Esteban Ocon: 8

Ocon is a name being frequently mentioned in the drivers’ market as a hot talent, and he proved why in Austria. Starting in P11 he had the free choice of tyres, and used that well to finish P6. He had a fresher set of tyres later on than most which helped him too.

Sergio Perez: 7

After dropping out of qualifying in Q1 it looked like Perez would struggle. But with grid penalties ahead of him, Perez started P15 and made up the most places of who took the grid to finish P7—his first points finish since Spain.

Steven Tee/McLaren

Fernando Alonso: 8

Alonso started from the pitlane on Sunday because his car was taken out of parc fermé for a change of front wing and MGU-K. He was on the radio early on calling for a new strategy to get out from behind Hartley’s Toro Rosso, and and an early pit stop allowed Alonso to come back through the field as he kept his tyres from blistering. A much better race for the 2018 Le Mans winner.

Charles Leclerc: 8

Through to Q2 again for the sixth weekend in a row, Leclerc’s Sauber showed great pace on Saturday. A gearbox penalty meant he dropped back to P17 on the grid, but a strong recovery brought him up into the points—and all on the weekend that his move to Ferrari for next year has reportedly been decided.

Marcus Ericsson: 7

Ericsson had a pretty poor Saturday as he said couldn’t find a gap on track in qualifying, but put that behind him to help Sauber to its first double points finish since China 2015. To sweeten the deal, Ericsson only had to wait seven races between his last points finish and this, as opposed to the two whole seasons before. The Sauber is being developed well.

Pierre Gasly: 7

Gasly’s tyres just gave up on him at the end of the race as he suffered from the blistering that affected most of the field. He was running a strong P8 with a few laps remaining but his tyres were past it. For a very power hungry track, Gasly qualified a fine P12 with the Honda power unit. His raw pace is noticeable. 

Renault Sport F1 Team

Carlos Sainz: 6

Sainz was only one of two drivers to finish further back from his grid place in Austria. He started P9 and actually got by Vettel for half a lap, but his two-stop strategy didn’t pan out and he dropped to P12 by the end of the race.

Sergey Sirotkin: 6

Out in Q1, Sirotkin struggled to get to grips with his car in the early part of the weekend. However it was a better Sunday from the Russian, as he finished P13 and ahead of his teammate.

Lance Stroll: 6

A great Saturday performance saw Stroll get into Q2 for the first time since Azerbaijan. On the first lap he was running as high as P12 and points were possible, but a ten-second penalty for ignoring blue flags resulted in him finishing P14. 

Stoffel Vandoorne: 4

Austria was another poor weekend by Vandoorne, with a Q1 exit on Saturday and a collision with Gasly on the first lap on Sunday. After pitting for a new front wing the Belgian was way down the order and off the pace. He retired lap 66 due to damage, and the pressure to defend his seat for next year is building.

Steve Etherington / Mercedes AMG F1

Lewis Hamilton: 7.5

With upgrades on his car Hamilton was the one to beat in the early part of the race. But when the VSC came out on lap 14 he didn’t pit like everyone else, and as a result lost the race lead. Hamilton then retired on lap 64 with a loss of fuel pressure—his first retirement since Malaysia 2016—and lost the lead of the championship to Vettel.

Brendon Hartley: 5

Hartley’s Sunday began with a 35-place grid penalty for changing his power unit, and ended when his gearbox failed on lap 57 and put him into retirement.

Daniel Ricciardo: 6

The Austrian Grand Prix may have been on Ricciardo’s 29th birthday, but sadly it ended in retirement. It was a sour start to the weekend with him being outqualified by Grosjean and an argument with his teammate over slipstreaming tactics. Ricciardo put a trademark late-braking move on Raikkonen early in the race but struggled with tyre blisters later, then retired due to a broken exhaust. He’ll be hoping for a stronger weekend in Silverstone.

Valtteri Bottas: 9

Bottas seems to love the Red Bull Ring, and pole and the win last year gave him huge confidence into this year’s event. He managed to get pole again this year but didn’t get as good a start as he got in 2017 and lost the lead to Hamilton in Turn 1. A great double overtake on the first lap saw Bottas recover to P2, although luck wasn’t on his side as the seemingly ever-reliable Mercedes broke again with a hydraulics failure. Two mechanical DNF’s for the Silver Arrows.

Nico Hulkenburg: 6

The first failure of the race came to Hulkenberg, a massive engine failure with smoke and lots of fire. Hulkenberg was in place for reasonable points but lost power on the straight. He had great pace in qualifying and got through to Q3 but reliability caught him this weekend.

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.

Analysis: is Bottas now a title contender?

When Valtteri Bottas crossed the finish line in Austria to take his second career Grand Prix win, the calls from F1’s pundits were all but unanimous—the unassuming Finn, not so long ago dismissed as Mercedes’ number two driver, was now firmly in contention for the 2017 Drivers’ Championship.

Steve Etherington / Mercedes-AMG Petronas

Statistically speaking, it’s a solid claim to make. At 35 points adrift in third, it would take a couple of perfect storms in Britain and Hungary for Bottas to assume the lead of the championship before the summer break; but the odds of him overcoming the fifteen-point gap to Lewis Hamilton in second between now and August are certainly far from negligible.

It’s worth remembering too that if Bottas were to rack up another victory at Silverstone next week, as well as making him the first back-to-back winner of 2017, that would also bring the Finn level with Hamilton’s and Sebastian Vettel’s respective win tallies this year. Looking over his other results, Bottas has also taken only one less podium than Vettel and one more than Hamilton this season, whilst his lowest finish of sixth in China is still one better than Hamilton’s seventh place in Monaco.

Furthermore, all that is in spite of Bottas being the only driver of this title trio to suffer a DNF so far this year, when his engine blew at the Spanish Grand Prix—and if we were to assume that that had not happened, and Bottas joined Hamilton and Vettel on the podium in third that day, then the Finn would now be level on points with his teammate.

Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes-AMG Petronas

Of course, ifs and should-haves aren’t enough to win a championship, and if Bottas is to take the crown at the end of 2017 he will need to continue pushing beyond the base expectations of himself and his car. His triumphs in Sochi and Spielberg have displayed beyond doubt Bottas’ serene control at the front of the field, but he is only just beginning to show the kind of aggression necessary to assert himself as more than just the third-fastest man on track—something he will certainly need more of if he is to keep touch with Vettel and Hamilton across the season.

That is something that will only become more pronounced now that Bottas has been thrust into the title race spotlight. Up until Austria, the Finn has been able to profit from all the media attention being focused on Hamilton and Vettel, allowing Bottas to quietly rack up points in the background without being subjected to the pressures of a declared championship tilt. But now that his rivals are aware of the threat he poses, Bottas can no longer rely on the element of surprise and must come out of the shadows fighting.

Fortunately for Bottas, though, that should just be a case of doing what he’s always done, and doing it more. His two pole positions and near-level qualifying head-to-head with Hamilton are proof that he has more than enough speed to run his teammate hard on Saturday; and even if qualifying doesn’t go his way, the lightning starts he’s made all year (not to mention his stellar recovery from last to second in Baku) will ensure Bottas remains a looming presence in any polesitter’s mirrors.

Steve Etherington / Mercedes-AMG Petronas

What’s more, Bottas has proven time and again that he has the focus and mental strength needed to take on a full title challenge—even against opponents as intimidating as a three- and a four-time world champion. His level head has been one of the Finn’s defining attributes ever since winning the 2011 GP3 title at the first attempt; it was particularly evident in 2014 when, partnering a reborn Felipe Massa in a podium-worthy Williams, Bottas dove his way to an outstanding fourth in the final standings. So far, the only visible dent to his determination came under the frenzy of Ferrari speculation in 2015, but from the way Bottas has settled into his new Mercedes seat despite the rumours surrounding it would suggest that he has learnt from that episode.

His grounded nature should stand the Finn in good stead as he wades into the Hamilton–Vettel battle. He will have seen first-hand how unsettled his opponents can be by the championship’s many twists and turns, and know that when that happens (as it undoubtably did in Austria) he has only to drive a solid weekend to take full advantage. If they didn’t already, Hamilton and Vettel will now have their hands full making sure their own turbulent duel doesn’t leave Bottas with an open goal.

Steve Etherington / Mercedes-AMG Petronas

Make no mistake, Bottas faces a considerably tall order if he is to wrest this 2017 Championship away from Vettel and Hamilton. No amount of comparisons to Kimi Räikkönen in 2007 will guarantee Bottas comes out on top after Abu Dhabi—as ever, all that counts is what happens on track this year.

But if the Finn can drive home his current momentum with another victory or two before the flyaways in Asia and the Americas, there’s no reason why he can’t push his rivals all the way to the final round. Whether he quite has what it takes to beat two of modern F1’s biggest stars across the ultimate finish line is another matter—but when it comes to his talent, composure and performances so far this season, there’s no denying that Valtteri Bottas is well and truly in this title fight.