It’s another stretch of back-to-back race weekends in F1 and the sport moves from France to Austria for the Eyetime Grosser Preis von Osterreich Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring circuit in Spielberg. After eight races, we’d had three different winners while the main battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel was still pretty close with Daniel Ricciardo doing his best to catch up to the world champions.
Home of the Red Bull Racing team, the circuit is a fast one with just 10 corners and three DRS zones and that made Mercedes the favourites to win. Through all the Friday practice sessions it was clear that Ferrari and Red Bull were not on the same pace as the Silver Arrows and that carried through to qualifying as well. Valtteri Bottas has done impressively well this season but misfortune has snatched winning opportunities from the Finnish driver. But it looked like it was going to change, especially after the debacle in France, and Bottas outqualified Hamilton to take pole position as Mercedes locked out the front row in Austria. Vettel managed to set the third fastest time in Q3 but was penalised three places for compromising the fast lap of Carlos Sainz in Q2 and started sixth on the grid. This allowed fourth-fastest Kimi Raikkonen to start the race in P3 and moved fifth fastest Max Verstappen onto the second row in P4. Romain Grosjean in the Haas managing a phenomenal sixth fastest time in Q3 and then starting fifth on the grid alongside the penalised Vettel. Ricciardo had an unhappy day with a disagreement with the team strategy as well and was only seventh fastest. Kevin Magnussen continuing to do a good job with Haas and qualifying eighth fastest ahead of both the Renault drivers, Sainz starting P9 and Nico Hulkenberg P10 on the grid.
It was a fantastically exciting start with Lewis, Kimi and Valtteri going three wide into the first corner and Max right on their tails. Lewis got the lead, Kimi following him who was in turn followed by Max and Valtteri was down into fourth by Turn 2. At the next corner, Raikkonen tried to pass Hamilton around the outside but locked up and went wide allowing Verstappen and Bottas to catch up while Vettel too had run wide and lost places. Hamilton was already pulling away, while Ferrari and Red Bull’s battle allowed Bottas back up into P2 and a couple of corners later, Max had passed Raikkonen to move up into P3, all within the first lap. Ricciardo had managed to make it up to P5 while Vettel was down in P8 battling with both Haas cars ahead of him.
Bottas was running strong in P2 but disaster struck again as a gearbox failure forced him to retire on Lap 14. The VSC was deployed while the Mercedes was recovered from the track and many teams saw this as their opportunity to switch to the harder compound, particularly Ferrari and Red Bull. Hamilton, however, stayed out for a longer stint on the SuperSoft compound, a strategic error of massive proportions. When Hamilton was finally pitted on Lap 26 to switch to the harder compound, he came back on track behind Raikkonen which pretty much handed the win to Verstappen already but it was irrelevant as the Brit was overtaken by Vettel and had to pit a second time because the Soft compound tyres had major blisters, before retiring from the race on Lap 63 of 71 due to an engine problem. Mercedes’ first double DNF since 2016 meant that the young Dutch was on his way to his first win of the season and Red Bull’s first win at the Red Bull Ring as he nurtured his tyres all the way to the chequered flag. An impressive feat as he maintained decent pace with Kimi Raikkonen catching him up lap after lap, the Finn taking a P2 finish in the end with Vettel crossing the line in P3. Wondering about Dani Ric? The Aussie retired on Lap 54 with an engine problem. Not the end he was hoping for on his 29th birthday.
Grosjean’s streak of misfortune finally came to an end and he scored his first points of the season with more than Haas could have hoped for as he finished P4 while Magnussen crossed the line just after him. Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez scoring much-needed points for Force India finishing P6 & P7 respectively after a terrible qualifying result. Fernando Alonso put in a heroic drive with his McLaren to finish P8, having qualified 14th fastest but starting from the pits due to some parts being changed at the last minute. Teammate Stoffel Vandoorne qualified 16th, started 14th and retired after 65 laps. Meanwhile, Renault had a decent qualifying session, a good start to the race but it all went poorly soon after. Nico Hulkenberg retired on Lap 12 with his engine on fire and Carlos Sainz finished the race in P12. Toro Rosso Honda had another no-points finish as Pierre Gasly started 12th and finished in P11, while Brendon Hartley started 19th with penalties for a new power unit elements and retired after 54 due to an engine issue. Both Williams cars continued with their 2018 struggles, qualifying in the bottom five, but moving up on the gird thanks to all the penalties of others and crossed the line at the back of the pack — Sergey Sirotkin in P13 and Lance Stroll in P14.
Out of the lower order teams, Alfa Romeo Sauber had a fantastic result despite problems in qualifying as Marcus Ericsson clocked the slowest time while Charles Leclerc was 13th fastest but had a 5-place grid penalty for the new gearbox. At the end of the race, Leclerc and Ericcson finished P9 and P10 respectively to give the Sauber team their first double point-scoring finish in a long time. This was Charles third consecutive finish in the top 10, which is pretty good for his debut F1 season in a considerably underperforming set of wheels as compared to the middle order that comprises of Renault, Haas and McLaren.
Hamilton and Mercedes came to the Austrian GP in the lead in both championships but the unexpectedly disastrous results have allowed Vettel to retake the lead in the Driver’s championship by 1 point and Ferrari to take the lead in the Constructor’s championship by 10 points. Verstappen’s first win of the season will not only give his critics something to shut up and think about (us included) but expect the youngster to be even more fired up in the coming race at Silverstone. But it makes things even more uncertain about Daniel Ricciardo’s future as the Aussie is looking to lock down on his next year’s team before the 2018 mid-season break. Stay tuned and don’t forget to subscribe to The Auto Loons for more updates on that as well as more racing as we rejoin the action in less than a week’s time for what is the last F1 GP at Silverstone.
Final Race Standings:
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing – 1:21:56.024
- K. Raikkonen Ferrari +1.504
- S. Vettel Ferrari +3.181
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +1 Lap
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari +1 Lap
- E. Ocon Force India Mercedes +1 Lap
- S. Perez Force India Mercedes +1 Lap
- F. Alsono McLaren Renault +1 Lap
- C. Leclerc Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 Lap
- M. Ericcson Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 Lap
- P. Gasly Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +1 Lap
- C. Sainz Renault +1 Lap
- S. Sirotkin Williams Racing Mercedes +1 Lap
- L. Stroll Williams Racing Mercedes +1 Lap
- S. Vandoorne McLaren Renault DNF
- L. Hamilton Mercedes DNF
- B. Hartley Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda DNF
- D. Ricciardo Aston Martin Red Bull Racing DNF
- V. Bottas Mercedes DNF
- N. Hulkenberg Renault DNF