The Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring is blessed by a glorious location, and the race more than made up for the drudgery of the two gone before. This was a Grand Prix of surprises, with an outcome that was largely unexpected.
Starting from pole, Valtteri Bottas’s Mercedes got away badly and was overtaken by both Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. Out front, Lewis Hamilton leapt ahead in his Mercedes, clear of the frantic antics that were going on behind.
Raikkonen’s mega start was put to waste later on the first lap when he ran wide; Verstappen took the chance to overtake the Ferrari as it lost momentum, yet Bottas made a stunning move stick and took them both – it was a Mercedes 1-2, as expected.
Sebastian Vettel had also made a poor start in his Ferrari, from 6th on the grid, but soon began making up places.
Nico Hulkenberg, in the Renault, was the first notable retirement with a cloud of smoke form the back of the car on lap 12, and quickly afterwards the sight of a Mercedes pulling off the track was the first sign that all was not going the way of the reigning Champions here in Austria.
Bottas’s gearbox had given up, and the Finn duly parked and got out. The Virtual Safety Car was deployed so the car could be cleared, and here Mercedes made a major tactical mistake. Immediately the VSC was notified, Raikkonen, Vettel and both Red Bulls opted to pit – as did a number of other cars in the midfield; Mercedes decided to keep Hamilton out for a lap or two, believing it would take that long to clear the stricken silver car.
They were wrong; it was cleared very quickly, leaving Hamilton with a 12-second advantage over Verstappen, and a pit stop to make.
Bad Day Gets Worse
When Hamilton made his stop on lap 25 he resumed in 4th position, with the two Red Bulls and Raikkonen ahead, and Vettel close behind. Confused and apologetic radio conversations between team and driver had revealed their mistake; all he could do now was give it everything.
It was at this point that a number of drivers started to suffer blistering of the tyres – the Red Bulls and Hamilton included – and a battle begins to take place between Raikkonen, the Ferrari running very nicely indeed, and the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo which is seeing the worst of the blistering. Such was the problem for the reigning champion that Vettel manages to overtake him on track, must to his disgust.
Hamilton took the opportunity to pit for another set of tyres on lap 54, and came out behind Ricciardo who – next lap – pulled over to the side of the road to retire the Red Bull. Up front the two Ferraris chased down Verstappen, who has a lead of a few seconds and a very dodgy looking left rear tyre, but not quickly enough.
Then came the defining point of the afternoon: Hamilton lost power, the second Mercedes retired. A run of 33 points-scoring finishes came to an abrupt end. That it was it in Austria for Mercedes.
The remainder of the race saw Raikkonen get ever closer to Verstappen, who drove a beautiful race to take a home win for Red Bull by under two seconds. Surprisingly, Ferrari did not switch the cars around, and Vettel took third position. These three were the only runners on the lead lap.
Best of the Rest
The Haas team must have celebrated long into the night as Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen brought the Ferrari-powered cars home in 4th and 5th positions. Helped by the retirement of three front runners they may have been, yet this was still a superb result for the USA team.
Likewise Force India, who brought Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez back in 6th and 7th positions, while 8th place was a major result for Fernando Alonso and the struggling McLaren team after an excellent performance from the Spaniard. The final two point-scoring places went to Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson in the much-improved Saubers, thus ensuring six of the top 10 cars were Ferrari powered.
Vettel now leads Hamilton in the title standings by a single point, but Ferrari has jumped Mercedes to the lead in the constructor’s championship by ten points. Next weekend the teams head to Silverstone, for the British Grand Prix.