Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas made a great start from pole position to win a thrilling Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday. Take a look at some of the main talking points from the weekend.
Anticlimactic end to — Vettel vs Hamilton
After all the drama, aggression and simmering tension between title contenders Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix (and the days that followed), the Austrian Grand Prix was quite the damp squib. I won’t lie, I was secretly hoping for fireworks on tracks as the duo battled it out, gloves off. But alas, that was far from how things played out at the picturesque Red Bull Ring. Perhaps the moment when Hamilton refused to shake Vettel’s hand for the cameras post qualifying may have been defining – if only it didn’t later come to light that the two had already shaken hands earlier while the cameras weren’t on them.
Hamilton had a disappointing race, with a sub-optimal show in qualifying coming together with his grid penalty. Starting from a lowly eighth on the grid, Hamilton’s task was to keep out of trouble and salvage as many points as possible. Vettel, on the other hand, knew that this is a golden opportunity for him to open up his championship gap and consolidate his position at the top. Interestingly enough, it was also his first visit to the Austrian podium.
The result at Austria means that Vettel is able to further open up his championship lead to 20 points while Hamilton has to be content with leading a charge at next week’s British Grand Prix, which is also his home race, and he’s won the past three races. Hamilton also needs to pray that Vettel has some bad luck in coming races to allow him to jump back into the game. It must be remembered that Hamilton has faced team or car issues in the last two races.
Bottas, title contender?
The highlight of Bottas’ race for me was his superhuman start, with a 0.201-second reaction time. Although Vettel cried foul and the FIA even investigated a jump start, Bottas was eventually given a clean chit.
While we all know that Mercedes has the pace, Bottas was an unlikely winner despite his strong show in qualifying. A lot of of us see Bottas as Mercedes’ No 2 driver by default. This was only the second win of his career, so he would surely be delighted. Full credit to him for hanging on till the end, and not succumbing to pressure even when Vettel was menacingly breathing down his neck.
For Mercedes, Bottas’ win is also valuable because it helps Mercedes in the overall Constructors’ battle, where they now lead Ferrari by 33 points. Moreover, Bottas played a crucial role denying Vettel victory — saving Hamilton a possible extra seven points to chase in his title battle. The proof of the pudding of course remains in whether Bottas is awarded a contract extension by Mercedes or not.
The race win also means that Bottas is only 15 points behind Hamilton, and suddenly, everyone is acknowledging him as a title contender. In the nine races contested this season, Bottas has won two races to Hamilton’s three. The Finn’s performances will surely put Mercedes in a bit of a quandary when it comes to their driver line-up for next season. Are the reigning Constructors’ Champions waiting on a bigger name to become available before confirming Bottas?
Red Bull Racing – mixed fortunes
The team had a strong run at home (literally, given that they own the circuit). Daniel Ricciardo jumping onto the podium for the fifth race in a row is massive for the team that has been consistently off the pace in comparison to Ferrari and Mercedes. And while the team would be celebrating Ricciardo’s success, they would also be perplexed by Max Verstappen’s luck, or the lack of it. Their prodigy has notched up five retirements in the last seven races – all of them thanks to car issues or racing incidents on the first lap.
In Austria, it was the return of the Russian torpedo (Daniil Kvyat), who out-braked himself into the first corner, tagged Fernando Alonso, who then spun around and tagged Verstappen. Kvyat’s incident reminded me of Romain Grosjean’s shenanigans from the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, where he took out the title contenders in one swipe! At Austria, Kvyat was awarded two penalty points and a "drive through" penalty for "causing a collision". I wonder if the FIA penalty was lenient because the drivers he took out aren’t contending for the title this season. Aside from FIA’s penalty, is a Red Bull Racing penalty (read: demotion) expected too? Where could Kvyat race next? F2 or GP2?
The ongoing tension between Verstappen and Red Bull Racing is no secret. What remains to be seen, however, is whether Verstappen will trigger a clause in his contract that allows him to move to Mercedes or Ferrari next season, and whether these teams will make space for him. This was the same clause that Vettel had triggered to leave Red Bull Racing, so I will be surprised if they haven’t learnt from that experience and fixed the contractual loophole.
Another Red Bull Racing driver who is far from content is Carlos Sainz. Having proved his skills in the Toro Rosso, Sainz is seemingly tired of waiting for a call up to the senior team. If he continues at Toro Rosso, 2018 will be his fourth season with the team – something no other driver in the history of the team has had. Red Bull’s problem of plenty in their driver pipeline is a good reflection of the success of their junior driver program, but is now seemingly stifling drivers in their career growth. Do the war of words between Sainz-Marko-Horner offer a hint that Sainz has signed elsewhere and could leave the Red Bull Racing stable at the end of the current season?
Kimi Raikkonen, tell us something new
Ferrari for the first time in the season reminded Raikkonen to up his game in Austria. In response, Raikkonen suggested that he is giving his best to the team. In Austria, though, I doubt that Ferrari gave their best to Raikkonen in terms of tyre strategy. I have lost count of how many times Ferrari have "forgotten" him in the race this season. Raikkonen was ahead of Hamilton when the Mercedes team called Hamilton in the pits to attempt the undercut. Instead of responding to Mercedes’ call, Ferrari let Raikkonen remain on-track and see how things unfolded. Did Ferrari keep Raikkonen out to slow Bottas down (after the Finn’s first pit-stop) and back him into Vettel?
Best of the rest
After a terrible qualifying session on Saturday — with both cars out in Q1 — the Williams came back strongly on Sunday for a double-points finish. This helped them jump Toro Rosso in the points to regain fifth place in the standings. The Haas team had a great day with Grosjean strongly bringing the car home in sixth place, equalling the team’s best ever performance. The American-owned Formula 1 team has already matched their points haul from their debut season (2016). Finally, Force India scored yet another double-points finish. They have now scored double points in seven out of the nine contested races this season.
The Austrian Grand Prix could be considered borderline boring, barring the last 20-odd laps where the top four drivers, separated by four seconds each, were chasing each other down. Towards the end, the Vettel-chase on Bottas for victory had us at the edge of our seats, but for now, it is over to the British Grand Prix in four days’ time.
Updated Date: Jul 10, 2017 21:40:37 IST