Red Bull Motorsports
The planets aligned at the Austrian Grand Prix and Red Bull finally got a Formula One victory at the Red Bull Ring, where Max Verstappen took his fourth F1 victory and his first of the season. In the end, he wasn't unduly troubled by Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel, who finished second and third respectively. It was a good day for the Scuderia, with both Mercedes' drivers failing to finish – their first double DNF since the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix. Verstappen won that one too.
After a couple of blanks, F1 fired again this weekend. As the middle event of the first run of three back-to-back Grands Prix, the Austrian race always looked like it would.
Practice times gave Mercedes a slight advantage, but on this postage stamp-sized circuit, it was nothing outside the margin of driver input. The order at the start was slightly mixed already. Mercedes locked out the front row, but it was Valtteri Bottas who'd claimed his first pole position of the year ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel should have been third, but a penalty for a lapse in concentration during qualifying relegated him to P6. That promoted Räikkönen to P3, Verstappen to P4 and the surprise Haas package of Romain Grosjean to P5. Vettel was ahead of the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo.
At the start, it looked like normal service was resumed. A good start from Hamilton saw the Briton take the lead, while Räikkönen picked Bottas's pocket to take second. He went for glory, was blocked by Hamilton and lost second to the recovering Bottas, and then lost third to a charging Verstappen towards the end of the first lap. The elbows were out for that one, with the drivers banging wheels. The Dutch fans who have occupied Austria this weekend went wild.
Riccardo, virtually unnoticed, moved up to fifth, ahead of Vettel. So far, so normal.
The turning point came on Lap 14. Bottas pulled over to retire his car whilst running a comfortable second. He parked as well as he could, but the Virtual Safety Car came out regardless. Time to stick or twist.
Hamilton stayed out, but Ferrari and Red Bull Racing opted to double-shuffle both drivers. They retained the order in which they went in, and when the track went green, Hamilton had an advantage of 13 seconds over Verstappen. However, with no further stops planned, Verstappen had the virtual lead of the race. Hamilton was told he had to push to build a pit window. His incredulity in response suggested he never thought it was on.
"I think we made the right call when the VSC came out, it was a great call from the team," said a champagne-soaked Verstappen at the flag. "We were in the virtual lead, I could do my own pace."
Things got better for Red Bull Racing when Ricciardo slipped by Räikkönen a few laps later. The Finn had locked-up into the difficult, off-camber Remus corner, and Ricciardo didn't ignore the invitation, grabbing the position. It was edge of the seat time at Red Bull, with the tantalising possibility of a 1–2 finish on home turf.
It didn't quite pan-out that way. Everyone was suffering with tyre blistering – Pirelli have a thinner-gauge tyre specifically to prevent that on smooth circuits, but chose to not bring it to Austria, this track having had three years to weather-in since being resurfaced – and Ricciardo seemed to have it worse than most. A large blister formed on his left rear tyre and he gradually dropped back from Verstappen, and eventually Räikkönen retook P2. Ricciardo soon had his mirrors full of Vettel and, accepting the inevitable, pitted for fresh rubber.
Ricciardo came out behind Hamilton, though the Briton was also suffering. He too pitted for a fresh set of rubber, promoting Ricciardo to fourth, but then Ricciardo stopped with a gearbox problem 16 laps from home. Then Hamilton also retired, losing power seven laps from the end. Cue pursed lips at Mercedes, to whom this sort of thing happens rarely, and certainly not in Austria.
That left Romain Grosjean to finish a slightly stunned, but well-deserved, fourth, with team-mate Kevin Magnussen fifth, which by some margin is Haas's best-ever result. Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez were sixth and seventh respectively for Force India, Fernando Alonso charged to eighth from the pitlane for McLaren, while Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson were ninth and tenth for Sauber, marking the Swiss team's first double points finish since 2015.
At the end, the sea of travelling orange rose to greet the conquering hero. F1's new world order is intent on giving the fans what they want, and this weekend in Austria, a win for Verstappen and Red Bull Racing did just that.
"It's amazing, winning the race and seeing all the fans here," said a jubilant Verstappen. "We’re in Austria, it's a 10–11 hour drive from Holland. It's amazing they came!"
The story of the weekend
All DRS, all the time
Race control decided Austria needed a third DRS zone this year, and while the extra overtaking opportunities may have enthralled fans, it wasn't universally popular with drivers. Their issues were two-fold. The first being that the straight up the hill into the blind, off-camber Remus corner was already a good overtaking spot so adding DRS could make it too easy.
The second was that Austria is a pretty short lap and adding the third zone meant almost half the lap is now a DRS zone. Sebastian Vettel likened it to the Dash Mushrooms available in MarioKart, and team-mate Kimi Räikkönen concurred. "Half the track is DRS so it should make it pretty easy – I don't know if it's too easy or not," mused the Finn. "Obviously, we want overtaking, but there must be a point where it's kind of artificial overtaking."
It was a busy weekend for bodywork technicians in Austria, with a litany of damaged front wings and floors keeping the glue pots hot all through practice. The tarmac in Austria is very smooth, which induces teams to set-up their cars reasonably stiff. That’s fine over normal kerbs, but there’s bigger kerbs (commonly referred to as 'sausage kerbs') lurking behind those to discourage drivers from racing on rather more of the track than they're supposed to. Most teams suffered, but the teams running the most rake in the car (nose down, rear up) copped the worst of it, and seemed to need a new nose every run.
All season there's been rumours swirling regarding the potential return of a Dutch Grand Prix, with a race at Zandvoort, the TT track at Assen and a event street race in an as-yet-unnamed city all mooted with various degrees of seriousness. The reason, of course, is the army of fans trekking all over Europe to follow Max Verstappen.
Austria was no different. Despite the organisers best efforts to turn the grandstands red and white, orange was once again the colour at the Red Bull Ring, though it seemed to get more orange as the race went on.
Modern F1 cars aren't very good at following one another. Wake turbulence tends to disrupt the airflow too much behind a car, and so, except when attacking with an obvious advantage, they prefer a slightly wider field spread. There's a small straight-line speed advantage from following in the slipstream with a gap of between three or four seconds, though. Teams don't often attempt to have one car tow the other because a) it's difficult to choreograph with other teams on track, and b) it requires one driver to roll over and let the other tickle his tummy.
The straights at the Red Bull Ring make it quite useful however, hence Red Bull Racing trying it in qualifying. It was Max Verstappen who got the benefit, it being his turn in the rota to be second car out of the garage. The shortness of the lap and the minimal degradation on the cool Saturday surface gave the drivers the opportunity to do several laps, though Verstappen wasn't about to swap positions and give Daniel Ricciardo a go in the slipstream. TV producers were ecstatic to have some choice venting from the Australian to broadcast, although the team, and Ricciardo, insisted they made more of it than was actually there.