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Round 9, 2018: Austria

1 Jul 2018

Today we see a much changed grid; so as usual in instances like this; the number for each driver next to qualifying is their grid slot and their time was their actual speed in qualifying before penalties and other issues. What it might also mean is an event filled race as Vettel tries to get through the field. Yet, this is the track with the highest average speed on the calendar; a flowing short circuit with only 2 very heavy braking zones. That tends to suit Mercedes down to a T, but we will wait and see. A couple of rumours are now gathering pace in the paddock; contracts and transfers ahead of 2019...Whilst this post shall once again be shorter than usual in some places, this & more follows below in our review of the Austrian GP.

Race Result: Kimi Raikkonen (2nd) & Sebastian Vettel (3rd)
Points Total (after this round): 247
Grid(Qualifying): RAI: 3rd (1:03.660) & VET: 6th/w penalties (1:03.464)
Events & Analysis: Ferrari have retaken the lead of both championships after an awful weekend from Mercedes. Yet; as Vettel said in the post-race interviews they "had a bad Saturday" and should know this result is rather fortunate. Indeed, the first lap was also terrible for both Ferrari's, with Raikkonen locking up numerous times and bottling the chance to take the lead. Vettel, starting 6th due to penalties slipped down to 8th. Yet, both men thereafter performed well, especially Kimi; who was closing on the win at the end after dealing quickly with an ailing Ricciardo. Vettel followed him home after a brave move on HAM into turn 2. With BBC sport reporting that LeClerc is going to replace the experienced Finn; I wonder if another team will punt for the "Iceman" ahead of next year. Ferrari, as a whole, still must do better on sheer pace. Otherwise, only repeats of this luck will allow a full swing of momentum. 

Race Result: Lewis Hamilton (DNF) & Valtteri Bottas (DNF)
Points Total (after this round): 237
Grid(Qualifying): BOT: 1st (1:03.130) & HAM: 2nd (1:03.149)
Events & Analysis: A terrible result for Mercedes. I had thought they had delayed their 2nd generation power units until after Canada, as to gain the most longevity and pace from the new engines. But now it seems that reported "quality issues" were indeed just that. This is the first time since 1955 that Mercedes have had a double DNF from mechanical retirements (unlike Spain 2016) alone. It was all looking so rosy when Bottas led a tidy 1-2 in qualifying. Even when the Finn had a bad start, pace allowed easy recovery into 2nd behind Lewis. But then, hell broke loose as his gearbox packed in on only lap 15. Left to fight on alone, Hamilton was soon experiencing further adversity. When the VSC came for his team-mate's DNF, the team decided not to pit him; meaning he came out behind both Red-Bulls when he eventually did stop. Short from turning radio-air blue, Hamilton was far from impressed; especially when (after some sterling work getting up to 3rd) his tyres began to fall away and he had to make a 2nd pit-stop. Falling to 5th. Then came the icing on the cake: his own (and the team's 2nd) retirement. Whilst performance in France was commanding and their qualifying pace was superior, these engine issues are a real cause for concern.

Race Result: Max Verstappen (1st) & Daniel Ricciardo (DNF)
Points Total (after this round): 189
Grid(Qualifying): VER: 4th (1:03.840) & RIC: 7th (1:03.996)
Events & Analysis: Max Verstappen's 4th Grand-Prix win came from a mixture of fortuitous circumstance and his cool head under pressure. It also helped that, as he had inherited the lead on only lap 20 after the team pulled off a smart double-stack stop, his tyres ran in cooler air and so avoided blistering problems experienced by team-mate Ricciardo and the majority of all the field. With the Aussie's future still not fully resolved, but with Ferrari more likely to hire their young prodigy Charles LeClerc, tempers were flared for Daniel in Qualifying when he berated the "fairness" of giving Verstappen a slipstream. It didn't get better in the race; as his good over-taking work was undone by tyre wear and ultimately a gearbox failure. The worst thing of all? Today was his 29th birthday. Another split fortunes weekend for Red-Bull means the in-roads that were possible were slightly limited. But a first win at the track which bearing their name will, of course, put a huge smile on most faces.
 

Race Result: Carlos Sainz (12th) & Nico Hulkenberg (DNF)
Points Total (after this round): 62
Grid(Qualifying): SAI: 9th (1:04.725) & HUL: 10th (1:05.019)
Events & Analysis: A qualifying performance that promised at least some small points turned into a difficult weekend for Renault. With Carlos Sainz' time penalty limiting the effectiveness of the car's pace and an explosive retirement for Hulkenberg (which ended a run of three point scoring finishes but made it 3 DNF's out of 6) on lap 12, they can only hope for better from Silverstone. Both last year's 6th placed result in Britain, as well as good performance at power tracks this year, suggest their car might do well. Indeed, given their usual consistency (Austria aside) at getting good points, no matter the circuit characteristics, leaves one conclusion: they could have a decent weekend next time
 

Race Result: Romain Grosjean (4th) & Kevin Magnussen (5th) 
Points Total (after this round): 49
Grid(Qualifying): GRO: 5th (1:03.892) & MAG: 8th (1:04.051)
Events & Analysis: Despite the team deciding not to pit Magnussen under VSC, which as we know turned out badly for Hamilton, the team managed to split the strategy to carry both drivers to a huge haul of points. Indeed, not only did the team have pace to beat Red-Bull in qualifying, Grosjean also registered for the first time this season and in doing so helped the American side to a best ever F1 finish at their 50th race. Congratulations to both of them; who will now seek to put their bad luck in previous rounds behind. They have climbed 2 places in the table AND surpassed their total for last year. An excellent weekend.

Race Result: Fernando Alonso (8th) & Stoffel Vandoorne (DNF) 
Points Total (after this round): 44
Grid(Qualifying): VAN: 14th (1:05.271) & ALO: 20th/Pit-Lane Start (1:04.965)
Events & Analysis: Despite having to start from the pit-lane, Alonso still has a perfect qualifying against Vandoorne this season as the times above indicate. He also did very well to turn his last-placed position into an eventual 8th place via some good over-takes on Saubers and STR-Honda's. He and McLaren did have a huge hand of luck with most of the retirements coming ahead of his position. Meanwhile, Stoffel had to pit early due to wing damage on the opening lap. This ruined his race when others gained time under the VSC and he didn't show much more until his eventual retirement. Much like Ferrari, although far less lofty, this result slightly flatters McLaren. Fernando's 13th placed Quali (before his penalties) does offer some legitimate improvement.
 

Race Result: Sergio Perez (6th) & Esteban Ocon (7th)
Points Total (after this round): 42
Grid(Qualifying): OCO: 11th (1:05.148) & PER: 15th (1:05.279)
Events & Analysis: A much stronger performance from Force India in the race than in qualifying. This might be down to the VSC pit-stop gap; it might also be down to the DNF's ahead and especially Renault's woes. But this is much more like the Force-India we are used to seeing & have missed this year; plugging away and keeping cool when others all around are losing their heads. The only hiccup came when Ocon was told to move aside for Perez, who was coming through on much fresher and less battered tyres. They now are closing fast on McLaren & with this good confidence boost, maybe they can do well at their home race of Silverstone. Whilst based beside the track, they have only ever finished 6th and that is about the highest they can aim right now, even at a power-track.

Race Result: Pierre Gasly (11th) &  Brendon Hartley (DNF) 
Points Total (after this round): 19
Grid(Qualifying): GAS: 12th (1:05.011) & HAR: 19th w/penalties (1:05.366) 
Events & Analysis: With both STR-Honda's running in the points during the latter stages of the race; things looked like they could go really well today. Whilst Hartley had to dip out of the top 10, due to a late pitstop and then ultimately a DNF, Gasly hung on right up to the last; when he, somehow, lost a whole lot of pace at the end. I am not too sure at the moment what this was caused by; either terribly worn tyres or engine problem. In the end the team will rue their luck slightly. Positives come from their cars being close to the pace of the McLaren's during qualifying; which show Honda are making good steps.

 

Race Result: Charles LeClerc (9th) & Marcus Ericsson (10th) 
Points Total (after this round): 16
Grid(Qualifying): LEC: 17th w/penalties (1:04.967) & ERI: 18th (1:05.479)
Events & Analysis: LeClerc had to start down in 17th, despite another big performance in qualifying to keep pace with the likes of Alonso. From here, the rising star pitted for the VSC time-gain and had an excellent back and forth fight with Stroll during laps 28 and 29. By making the most of the current year Ferrari engines, both he and Ericsson could profit from the retirements ahead and climb to the points. It was only at the end that Charles, perhaps buoyed by the (yet unconfirmed: until from Ferrari themselves!) news he might be soon racing alongside Sebastian Vettel, got past Ericsson. The Swede himself will also be happy though, as although he had a massive 0.5 second gap to his younger team-mate in qualifying, proved his worth in the race.

Race Result: Lance Stroll (13th) & Sergey Sirotkin (14th)
Points Total (after this round): 4
Grid(Qualifying): STR: 13th (1:05.264) & SIR: 16th (1:05.322)
Events & Analysis: A much better qualifying from Williams this time out, regrettably, could not transfer to the race. Whilst the summary says they finished 13th & 14th, which would be a very good finish for them in a normal race, they still finished last of the men who finished. Lance Stroll's strong defence of LeClerc on lap 28 was, in truth, one of the best moments of the race and shows that, despite poor equipment, he is still capable. He also out-raced by Sirotkin for the 6th time this year to put the scores at 6-3. Sergey might have been in a position to stop this had he not had to pit with 10 laps to go due to large tyre wear.