The Austrian Grand Prix threw up a surprise result that further underscored the unpredictability of the 2018 championship season. Max Verstappen survived a tyre-destroying race in the Styrian mountains to give Red Bull Racing victory on home soil, finishing ahead of Ferrari duo Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel.
Mercedes, the championship leaders and race favourites after dominating practice and qualifying, imploded during the race with both pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas and championship leader Lewis Hamilton retiring with mechanical troubles.
Hamilton’s retirement, which followed Bottas’ early race stoppage, was a major blow for the Brackley squad which had already thrown away a shot at victory with another poor strategy call from the pit wall by not pitting the Englishman during the Virtual Safety Car that his teammate’s retirement had precipitated. By failing to finish and with arch rival Sebastian Vettel finishing in third place, the championship lead swung back in the German’s favour.
Track conditions were a baking 45°C by the time the warm-up lap started, far hotter conditions than had been in evidence all weekend and which would prove a deciding factor in shaping the outcome of the race.
After locking out the front row in qualifying, Bottas and Hamilton both made decent getaways but charging through the middle came Räikkönen. The Finn had barely an inch either side of his Ferrari and he sliced between the Mercedes, but Hamilton held the inside line at Turn 1 to snatch the lead while Bottas tucked in behind in third place.
Räikkönen was on a charge and challenged Hamilton for the lead under braking at Turn 3, but his Ferrari’s brakes were too cold and he ran wide at the exit of the corner, which allowed Bottas to slip back into second place.
The two Mercedes’ ran 1-2 and eased away from the chasing pack in the opening laps, looking good at this early stage to continue their weekend’s dominance. Nico Hülkenberg was an early retiree when his Renault spectacularly blew its turbo along the start/finish straight, and just two laps later Bottas stuttered to a halt with an hydraulics failure.
The luckless driver – who earlier this year lost a certain victory in Azerbaijan when he had a puncture less than two laps from the chequered flag – pulled up the scape road at Turn 4, but his car was in an awkward position and the Virtual Safety Car was called so it could be safely retrieved.
Hamilton, now without a rear gunner, was kept on track by Mercedes’ strategists in what would ultimately prove a disastrous decision – not the team’s first this year. In Australia is blamed a software miscaculation that allowed Hamilton to be jumped by Sebastian Vettel during a VSC interruption, and shortly after in China a mistimed pit stop proved a factor in denying Hamilton victory in Shanghai.
As the other frontrunners, including both Ferraris and Red Bulls pitted, Hamilton now needed to build a 20-second gap to keep his lead when he pitted.
His rear tyres began to overheat under the strain and he was soon in the pits, emerging in fourth place behind Verstappen – now in the lead – Räikkönen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Frustrated at seeing a seemingly certain victory slipping through his fingers, Hamilton pushed hard to make up lost ground but once again overworked his tyres and was forced into a second pit stop, we were a number of other runners.
It became a moot point when he too pulled off track, his car having suffered a drop in fuel pressure. By that stage, Ricciardo’s birthday celebrations ended in a damp squib when his Red Bull retired with an exhaust failure.
Verstappen, meanwhile, continued on serenely out front. The 20-year-old showed a level-headedness that has rather been lacking this year and managed his tyres to perfection by only needing to stop once during the race.
In the closing stages a large left-rear blister caused concern and prompted Räikkönen and Vettel – who recovered from a poor start that saw him eighth by the end of Lap 1 – to give chase. The red cars closed up, but ran out of laps to mount a serious challenge to the Dutch youngster.
A superb fourth and fifth were claimed by the Haas duo of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen respectively, giving the American team the best result in its history and vaulting it up to fifth in the Constructors’ Championship standings. The Ferrari-powered VF-18 cars had proven rapid all weekend at a circuit suiting the chassis’ straight-line speed, and more importantly they had held together when a number of rivals hadn’t.
Following in close company were the two Force India Mercedes’, which saw Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon swap places late in the race for the former to try and challenge the Haas’ ahead. Ocon was moved back in front of Pérez later on, with the pair claiming sixth and seventh to give the Silverstone outfit more important points.
Fernando Alonso started from the pit lane in his McLaren and somehow finished eighth despite the papaya-coloured car being out of sorts all weekend. The Spaniard ran largely towards the rear of the field and made up ground as rivals’ tyres fell away to give the Woking squad its first points’ finish since the Spanish Grand Prix. Teammate Stoffel Vandoorne damaged his front wing in the opening-lap action and retired late in the race with a broken gearbox after circulating at the back of the field.
The final two points’ paying positions went to the ever improving Sauber team, which managed to get both of its drivers in the points for the first time since the 2015 Chinese Grand Prix. Charles Leclerc led home teammate Marcus Ericsson, with the latter earning his first points finish in 56 races.
|FORMULA 1 EYETIME GROSSER PREIS VON ÖSTERREICH 2018 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (71 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||71||1:21:56.024|
|2.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||71||+ 25.888|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||71||+ 1:01.935|
|4.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||70||1 lap behind|
|5.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||70||1 lap behind|
|6.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||70||1 lap behind|
|7.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||70||1 lap behind|
|8.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||70||1 lap behind|
|9.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||70||1 lap behind|
|10.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||70||1 lap behind|
|11.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||70||1 lap behind|
|12.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||70||1 lap behind|
|13.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||69||2 laps behind|
|14.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||69||2 laps behind|
|15.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||65||Gearbox|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps|
|DNF.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||62||Fuel pressure|
|DNF.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||54||Transmission|
|DNF.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||53||Exhaust|
|DNF.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||13||Hydraulics|
|DNF.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||11||Turbo|
|Fastest Lap||Team / Entry||Lap||Time|
|Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||71||1:06.957|
Lance Stroll – who was provisionally classified 13th – was issued a 10-second post-race time penalty for ignoring waved blue flags.
Images via Aston Martin Red Bull Racing