Austrian Grand Prix Red Bull Ring – Hometown disadvantage
If there's one thing we've come to learn this year, it's that "it's not over till it's over". This year's Austria Grand Prix was anything but the Max Verstappen show it was meant to be, even with the sprint results. Thrills, spills, and the return of that Ferrari fighting spirit we saw at the beginning of the year. All we know is that if this is the way the season is going to unfold, we're in for a rather entertaining second half to the season. Hope you have those anxiety pills at the ready.
Qualifying on a Friday, thanks to the sprint weekend format, spices things up quite a bit. There's limited time for teams to dial in setups, and if you miss a practice session, there's little opportunity to get up to speed. That is why it's exciting and that is why sprint weekends need to stay. With another poor qualification by Daniel Ricciardo not making it past Q1, accompanied by the news that Indy Car star, Colton Herta would be testing the 2021 Mclaren at Portimao this coming week, one can expect the pressure to be mounting on Daniel Ricciardo come race day.
Then again, diamonds are made under pressure and Daniel knows that. Mercedes were, however, left with egg on their faces after both Russell and Hamilton crashed out in Q3, resulting in the travelling Dutch fans cheering. A poor reflection, if ever, and something no one wants to see. Verstappen took pole, followed by Leclerc and Sainz.
The Sprint race - smells like team spirit?
Both Ferrari and Haas have similar problems on their hands as far as uncooperative drivers in certain scenarios. Let's focus on the prancing horse team for a moment, since there's been an interesting development that's been coming to a boil. Now, I'm all for a bit of on-track fighting, but what's come to light is the classic plight of the F1 driver. Win at all costs. The logical decision would be to team up and chase Max down. Defending slows you down.
Why, then, did they fight each other? Let's discount the discussion of team orders. Surely, it's in their best interests to work together, pushing each other to get to Verstappen and then duel it out, giving the team the best chance for victory? So then let's answer that question: Both Ferrari drivers are simply putting their own agendas first.
Carlos wants to prove that he's better than Charles and ol’ dreamy eyes Leclerc wants to continue proving that he's Ferrari's number one driver. It's only a matter of time before we have a repeat Red Bull scenario of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel in the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix when the pair collided with each other. Or again with the Hamilton/Rosberg incident at the 2016 Spanish GP. The end of the Sprint saw Verstappen taking P1, Leclerc P2 and Sainz P3.
The feature race.
Compared to the carnage at Silverstone, this start saw everyone getting away cleanly into the first corner. Sergio Perez's rampant form in the sprint race, fighting his way from 13th to 5th, was reduced to none after contact with George Russel on the first lap. Red Bull finally decided to retire the car after crippling damage to the side pod.
It was all looking like a Red Bull/Verstappen whitewash leading up to the start of the GP, but Ferrari seemed to have other plans, and whatever Mattia Binotto said to Leclerc worked. It's almost as if they dialled it back, returning to that form we saw in the opening part of the season. It's brilliant to see and shows you the fickle nature of this sport at the best of times. You can never predict anything.
Can we all just take a moment and appreciate that pass from Leclerc on Verstappen on Lap 12. The rare time where the Dutchman was either napping or had he admitted defeat at the moment? The tyre degradation issues for Red Bull meant that Verstappen was likely going to adopt a two-stop plan and then an early move by Ferrari meant that an early stop was needed for Red Bull, putting them on the back foot.
On the topic of track limits... As we saw all weekend long, and in all the support races including the F2 and Porsche Super Cup, the ease of going over track limits proved too much of a temptation for many drivers at the Red Bull Ring. Now there are two contrasting opinions on this, but I feel that we should leave it as is. It sets the bait and those drivers who keep within the limits get rewarded versus the other side of the conversation that corners shouldn't have the extra tarmac on the other side of the curb. Where's the fun in that?
Back to the racing. I think we can comfortably put the conversation to bed concerning whether these new cars would provide the close racing we wanted. Another example in support of that argument comes from the five-car dice on Lap 24 between Schumacher, Zhou, Magnussen, Alonso and Norris. Further up on the sharp end of the field, Ferrari looked to double up the passing on Verstappen when Sainz lost his Ferrari engine in what was some rather dramatic scenes. Once more, luck wasn't going the way of the Spaniard. Racing ey? A virtual safety car sparked Leclerc and Verstappen to react, pit and fit a new set of mediums. Mick Schumacher rides the waves of momentum securing his second points haul. What a fine young talent he is turning out to be.
Even though Verstappen launched a last-minute attack following a sticky accelerator pedal on Leclerc's Ferrari, it wasn't enough with Charles reigniting (bad pun considering Sainz's misfortune, I know) the championship battle and providing the excitement a blood-lusting fanbase need. Leclerc finished P1, then Verstappen and a solid-looking Hamilton finished P3. We now look forward to the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard on the 24th of July and possibly the last time we'll see a GP there if Kyalami has anything to do with it. Wink Wink... nudge nudge.
Words: Brent vd Schyff