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2018 F1

Race Report: Austrian Grand Prix

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Max Verstappen won the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix, at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg marking the fourth victory of his career and the first this season. At a circuit where Mercedes dominated for the entire hybrid era in the sport, a gutting double retirement for them, has just twist the title battle both in the drivers and constructors’ championship. The two Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel finished second and third consecutively, with the latter taking the lead of the drivers’ championship by a point, and the former being catapulted to third place in the title and logging the fastest lap of the race which was a new track record. An interesting 71 laps fold enough of strategies drama, and tyre issues leading to a non-stop swing in the points finishes.

At the start Raikkonen made a brilliant start chasing the two Mercedes starting from third, but a lockup on lap 2 in an attempt to snatch the lead, made him run wide. Vettel on the other hand, had a poor start and dropped to seventh after starting fifth on the grid due to a five place penalty. The Finn also complained about getting nudged by Max Verstappen who then managed snatching P2 from him and dropped him to fourth. The interesting part was Bottas who had claimed Mercedes’ 175th pole position, had his lead snatched at the start, and then had to fight his way back where he not just lost places to the Red Bull Racing car and Ferrari but later had to retire due to loss of hydraulic pressure by lap 14.

Bottas retirement brought a VSC and Verstappen Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Vettel were seen pitting to soft tyres. Hamilton by then who had pulled of a 13 second lead over the pack was seen doing some overtime on the supersoft compound and did not pit until lap 26 to soft tyre. The pitstop dropped Hamilton to fourth place, making him vulnerable to Vettel, who by then was running fifth. By lap 32, Hamilton was heard saying he was losing power on the pit radio, and had become vulnerable to Vettel, who had just clocked the fastest lap of the race. All four drivers Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Vettel were within each other’s DRS window by lap 36.

Two laps down at Lap 39, Raikkonen overtook Ricciardo for second place, and Red Bull Racing reacted to it by pitting the Australian for another set of fresh supersoft tyres. The pitstop sent him doen to 5th place. By then Hamilton was running third and had become a sitting duck for Vettel to overtake, which the German managed after a wheel-to-wheel battle with the Briton.

From lap 41, the order was Verstappen, Raikkonen and Vettel in first second and third respectively. Although Raikkonen, Vettel and Hamilton were trailing close, the Briton’s soft tyres started giving up by 44 where there was visible graining, and by lap 53 the rear left tyre was on the edge and almost on its way to delaminate from the rim dropping him away from the top 3. The Briton had to pit at lap 53, and Ricciardo who was behind him then end up ahead of him in fourth place as he rejoined in fifth after pitting to fresh supersoft tyres. By lap 55, Ricciardo retired due to a broken exhaust, which put Hamilton in fourth place, but he was about 29 seconds behind Verstappen and 19 seconds behind Vettel.

Had Hamilton been in challenging position, the Ferarri cars would have swapped positions, unfortunately that wasn’t the case. The Briton was heard telling the pit-wall that he might have to throw away the win, to which Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles replied on the radio saying “I have thrown away the win. We trust in you and believe in you. Im sorry”. However, with a podium out of reach too, an unfortunate fuel pressure problem made the reigning champion retire at lap 63. The 33-year old’s streak of 33 consecutive points finishes came to an end and add a twist to the race and championship.

Towards the last five laps, the Ferraris tried to put pressure on Verstappen, but due to the number of cars left to overlap, that attack was a bit late. A key takeaway from this problem was that the only team that managed their soft tyre compound without issues in the warm temperatures was the scarlet squad. If there were five laps more to the race, even Verstappen’s tyres would have started to give up. With Ferrari, the warmer the tarmac, the more grip they can extract out of the compounds, a complete opposite of what their rivals Mercedes are used to. As we mentioned in the Free Practice Analysis on Friday, Mercedes did look competitive on the yellow tyre however, they were a tenth of a second slower than the Ferraris. But Friday had different track conditions, where the track temperature was only five degrees more than the air temperature which was 21 degrees. Therefore, at tracks like Monza, Ferrari might just dominate the scenario again. It also reflected in how the two Ferraris could execute a one stop strategy flawlessly,

Hamilton and Bottas retirements might highlight another concern for the Silver Arrows which is the reliability of their new engines, where a similar issue was encountered at the Free Practice session in Paul Ricard last weekend with Bottas car, and Sergio Perez car had a retirement too. The Brackley team had delayed the upgrade due to reliability concerns, but it seems their new engines aren’t bullet proof after all.

The Haas drivers had a double point finish with a fourth place finish for Romain Grosjean who collect his first points of the season and a fifth place for Kevin Magnussen. They were followed by the Force India’ s of Esteban Ocon and Perez. The Mexican surged up to sixth place after starting 15th on the grid. If any driver had to be more persistent in his thirst to be competitive, it was Fernando Alonso who finished eight after starting the race from the pit-lane, after fighting some feisty battles to collect those valuable points for his team.

Sauber drivers Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson complete the top ten of the grid by finishing in ninth and tenth place respectively. It was a victorious day for Ferrari engine power, as all six Ferrari powered cars finished in the points. The other retirements in the race were that of Nico Hulkenberg and Brendon Hartley. The German had to retire his car on lap 12 due to an engine problem that emit a huge cloud of smoke from his car. The New Zealand driver on the hand, had a new Honda engine and supply train put in his car before the race, but he parked his car at lap 57 due to a loss of power.

The exciting race has add an interesting twist to the title battle where Vettel currently leads the title with a total of 146 points, leading Hamilton who has a total of 145 points. Raikkonen has got catapulted into third place with a total of 101 points, has equaled his team-mate with five podiums, but the hunt for a win continues in a season where his drive for next year is in question. In the Constructors’ title Ferrari pipped Mercedes by taking a ten-point lead, as the Silver Arrows double retirements cost them more than 40 points. Last year, the first driver to have a retirement lost the lead, where Vettel lost his lead in Singapore and another retirement followed in Japan.

This year lady luck seems to favour Ferrari who have brought the best package to every race. Hamilton’s retirement can cost him his confidence and points, unless Vettel has a retirement at some point this season. So far Ricciardo has had three retirements, Verstappen, Bottas and Raikkonen have had two each and Hamilton has joined them with his current one.

Ironically the Milton Keynes team who have the circuit named after them, have never been successful here, and this is their first win here int he hybrid era of the sport. With the Silverstone Grand Prix up next, a Hamilton and Mercedes favourite, it will be interesting to see whether Ferrari and Red Bull Racing can end their domination there too, since Austria was the second track after Montreal, where a Mercedes domination record was broken this season.

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