Red Bull Motorsports
1. The build-up
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton hoped the upgrades Mercedes brought to its car for Austria would "frighten" its rivals, and the pace advantage the Silver Arrows had over the rest of the field at the Red Bull Ring was scarier than usual for the team that has dominated this Grand Prix since its return to the calendar four years ago. But it was Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas who took pole position, shattering the circuit record with a Q3 lap of 1min 03.130secs in the revised W09, which featured new bargeboards and an altered rear wing.
Hamilton was just 0.019secs behind, while the gap to the best of the rest on such a short and fast circuit was significant, Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari next, but over three-tenths of a second down. That was bad for the German; what was worse was a three-place grid penalty for impeding Renault's Carlos Sainz in the second phase of qualifying, seeing Vettel slip behind teammate Kimi Raikkonen, Red Bull's Max Verstappen and the very rapid Haas of Romain Grosjean on the starting grid, negating his likely advantage from starting on the ultrasoft tyres when the lights went out (both Mercedes' were on supersofts).
One name not to feature in the top six with or without Vettel's penalty was Verstappen's teammate Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian qualifying just seventh for his worst Saturday showing of the season, and outwardly frustrated after he felt he'd been forced to tow his teammate around in qualifying, Verstappen qualifying 0.156secs and two places ahead.
Other than Bottas' second pole in succession in Austria, Grosjean's lap was the talking point of qualifying, the Frenchman backing up his season-best race at the same circuit 12 months ago and putting himself in the ideal spot to finally score his first points of 2018. "The truth is that other teams are faster, but I'm very proud to be between the two Red Bulls," he said after Haas placed both cars in the top 10 on the grid for the fifth time in its 50-race history, Kevin Magnussen qualifying eighth.
The Renaults (Sainz ahead of Nico Hulkenberg) rounded out the Q3 crowd, while further back, rising star Charles Leclerc copped a five-place penalty for a gearbox change after his Sauber ground to a halt in final practice with suspension damage, meaning a continuation of his recent run of points finishes would be a struggle from 18th on the grid. Further back still, Fernando Alonso out-qualified teammate Stoffel Vandoorne for the ninth time in nine races, but 14th and 16th respectively was a depressingly familiar picture for McLaren.
Lance Stroll (15th) hauled his Williams out of Q1 for the first time since Azerbaijan, while Force India's Sergio Perez had a horror run in the team's 200th Grand Prix and qualified just 17th, getting stuck in heavy traffic at the end of Q1 on the short 10-corner, 4.3km layout.
2. The race in exactly 69 words*
Verstappen battled tyre blistering and benefitted from a Mercedes strategy blunder to sail to his fourth career victory, and the first for Red Bull at the Red Bull Ring. Early leader Hamilton retired with fuel pressure problems, while pole-sitter Bottas was out after 14 laps with a broken gearbox. Raikkonen and Vettel rounded out the podium for Ferrari, Vettel retaking the championship lead over Hamilton by just one point.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)
3. Ricciardo recap
While Red Bull had many reasons to party on Sunday, Ricciardo's 29th birthday wasn't one of them, the Australian's weekend going from bad to worse after his annoyance following qualifying on Saturday. Starting seventh, Ricciardo found himself in a strong scrap with Raikkonen in the first phase of the race before pushing past at Turn 4 for third place on lap 20. The plan was to go until the end of the 71-lap race on the new soft tyres fitted when he, Verstappen, both Ferraris and several others (but, crucially, not Hamilton and Mercedes) pitted under virtual safety car conditions to remove Bottas' stricken Mercedes from the side of the track on lap 14. But by lap 32, Ricciardo's left rear tyre had started to develop an ugly blister, a likely result of the track temperature hitting 48 degrees on a scorching Sunday in the Styrian Alps, some 20 degrees hotter than at any other stage across the race weekend. In second place, Ricciardo started to fall further and further back from teammate Verstappen until he pitted again on lap 35, taking supersoft tyres for what would be his final stint.
Fourth place ahead of Hamilton looked to be the best he could manage until he had a gearbox failure 17 laps from the end, crawling to a halt just after he negotiated the first corner. The failure was later attributed to a broken exhaust. "I don't think I'll celebrate too much for my birthday," he said afterwards. Raikkonen's second place demoted Ricciardo to fourth in the drivers' championship, Verstappen's win seeing the Dutchman rise to fifth and just three points adrift of his teammate, who has retired from three races this season to Verstappen's two.
4. What the result means
For the fourth straight race, the championship lead changed hands, Vettel leaving Austria with a series advantage he never would have expected after lining up sixth after his post-qualifying penalty, and definitely wouldn't have imagined after he was boxed in at the first corner and was eighth after lap one, the two Mercedes drivers streaking into the distance. Both Ferraris, particularly Raikkonen, looked to have the pace necessary to overhaul Verstappen in the closing stages, the Dutchman managing the same left tyre blistering that affected Ricciardo earlier in the race, but Vettel would have been content to bank 15 points on a day when Hamilton couldn’t score any, with the title fight still looking like a race in two as we approach the halfway stage of the season. What's more, Ferrari surpassed Mercedes at the head of the constructors' standings (247 points to 237).
For Verstappen, a third podium in a row for the first time in his career was perhaps one of a sequence we should have seen coming; third in Canada, he went one better in France last weekend before going one better again in Austria, much to the delight of the thousands of orange-clad fans who packed the grandstands on race day. After a messy opening to the season, that's three fast, successful and clean weekends for the 20-year-old, who was thrilled to take a win at a circuit where Red Bull typically struggles for pace. "It was also so unexpected, and that makes it even better," he beamed. "An amazing weekend. If you want to win a race this is the perfect place, in a Red Bull car at the Red Bull Ring …"
While Ferrari were content and Red Bull (well, half of the garage at least) euphoric, there were some long faces at Mercedes after just the second double DNF of the V6 turbo hybrid era that it has completely dominated since 2014 by winning all four drivers' and constructors' titles on offer (the other was Spain 2016, when Hamilton and Nico Rosberg ran into one another on the first lap to gift Verstappen his maiden Grand Prix victory). Hamilton was initially perplexed, then furious and later philosophical about the team's somewhat baffling decision not to pit him for new tyres when his rivals did under the safety car caused by Bottas' retirement, but he too suffered with unexpected tyre wear before his fuel pressure problems brought abut his demise. "This is definitely the worst weekend that I can remember for a long time," he said. "We can't throw away points, so we will have to find a bulletproof method going forward."
5. For historical purposes ...
Hamilton's retirement brought to an end one of the more remarkable records in a CV that is heaving with them; the non-finish was his first in 34 races since the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix when he had an engine failure, and all 33 of those finishes were in the points.
6. The number to know
4: Verstappen's fourth career win tied him with Eddie Irvine and Bruce McLaren for the most victories by any driver who hasn’t taken a pole position in F1.
7. A tweet we liked
8. Under-the-radar winner(s)
Haas has to own this section for this race, after 22 points between Grosjean (fourth) and Magnussen (fifth) gave the team its best single-race haul in its third F1 campaign. Such was the pace of the front-running trio that both cars were lapped by Verstappen, but the American team couldn't have cared less after the result it was denied by a double pitstop calamity in Australia finally came to fruition in Austria eight races later. For Grosjean, it was a dramatic way to finally score his first points for 2018. "It's incredible for our 50th Grand Prix," the Frenchman beamed.
The points haul saw Haas leapfrog both Force India and McLaren to claim fifth in the constructors' championship, and 49 points between Grosjean and Magnussen surpasses the 47 Haas managed in the entire 2017 campaign.
Elsewhere, Force India had its best two-car finish of the season with Esteban Ocon's sixth heading Perez in seventh, while eighth for Alonso was, as the Spaniard himself put it, a "nice surprise" after he started from the pit lane, McLaren changing his front wing following qualifying and earning a penalty.
And, on a day of many winners (ands a few high-profile losers), ninth for Leclerc, combined with 10th for teammate Marcus Ericsson from last on the grid, saw Sauber score points with both cars for the first time since the 2015 Chinese Grand Prix.
9. The opposite of under-the-radar winners
Hamilton. Bottas. Mercedes. Ricciardo. Discussed above. 'Nuff said.
10. What's next?
What's better than two races in two weeks? Three in three, although perhaps the weary mechanics would beg to differ as they head to Silverstone from Austria after coming to the Red Bull Ring from France. Hamilton will be chasing history at home next Sunday – the Briton has won at Silverstone for the past four years, and should he win his sixth British Grand Prix, he'll surpass Jim Clark and Alain Prost as the most successful driver in history at one of the sport's signature events.