By Nicola Kenton
- Red Bull claimed their first victory at the Red Bull Ring as Max Verstappen won his first Grand Prix of 2018
- Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas both retired due to mechanical issues
- While Sebastian Vettel regained the championship lead with his third place finish
SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA – Max Verstappen claimed victory at the Red Bull Ring as Lewis Hamilton retired from the race and Sebastian Vettel retook the championship lead.
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Victory for Verstappen
Over the past few races there has been a quiet resurgence of Max Verstappen. The Dutchman has quietly gone about his business without any glaring errors on track and had managed to secure two podium places. Although this weekend was not the easiest for Red Bull, Verstappen made the most of an okay situation by turning around a probable non-podium finish into race victory at the Red Bull Ring.
Verstappen only managed to put his car fifth on the grid but was promoted to fourth after Sebastian Vettel was awarded a three-place grid penalty for impeding Carlos Sainz during qualifying. The start of the race on Sunday was chaotic to say the least with the Mercedes duo battling alongside Kimi Räikkönen. However, by the end of the first lap Verstappen had made a crucial move to get in front on Räikkönen.
From then on Verstappen drove a controlled race, in which he constantly had to concentrate and expect the unexpected. When Valtteri Bottas’ car broke down on lap 14, Red Bull decided to double stack their drivers in a pit-stop – a move which proved to be decisive later on when Lewis Hamilton had to pit for fresh rubber. By the end of the Grand Prix, Verstappen was managing his tyres and trying to stay ahead of Räikkönen and Vettel who were closing in.
This was Red Bull’s first victory in the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring. Despite, team-mate Daniel Ricciardo not being able to finish the race because of an engine issue; it ended up being a good haul of points as Mercedes failed to score.
Double disappointment for Mercedes
At the end of the first lap everything seemed to be in control for Mercedes, albeit the drivers had switched position on the track but things only went from bad to worse. It had started out as a good weekend with the Mercedes cars showing their raw pace in the speed trap and Hamilton topping the timing screens. Qualifying saw Bottas take pole position by 0.019 ahead of his team-mate and with Vettel’s penalty, it seemed as though there would be a swing in the championship but strategy and unreliability reared their heads.
The race initially went wrong when Bottas had a loss of hydraulic pressure on lap 14. As the Finn parked his car a virtual safety car was launched. Red Bull and Ferrari took the opportunity to make an early pit-stop and double stack their cars, while Mercedes kept Hamilton out on track. However, that proved to be a mistake as when Hamilton did have to make his pit-stop, he re-entered the race in fourth place and James Vowles admitted later to the Brit that it was his fault.
Things went from bad to worse when Hamilton’s left rear tyre badly blistered and he needed to come in for another pit-stop on lap 53. The final nail in the coffin came just ten laps later when the Brit felt a loss of power, attributed to a loss of fuel pressure, and Hamilton’s race was over. Mercedes, who were in such a strong position at the start of the race, had now lost the lead in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
Reprieve for Vettel
Sebastian Vettel had a lucky escape this weekend. The four-time World Champion could have been even further behind the Brit in this year’s drivers’ championship but instead he leaves Spielberg with a one point lead over his closest rival. Seemingly it was the turn of Mercedes for some bad luck.
In qualifying, Vettel could not break the Mercedes lockout and finished in third place over three tenths of a second behind the duo. After the session had finished, the German was called into the stewards for impeding Carlos Sainz whilst he was on his flying lap. Although there was no intention in the move, the stewards decided to give Vettel a three-place grid penalty dropping him down to sixth.
Sunday was a mixed bag for Ferrari. Vettel began the race in sixth but had dropped down to eighth by the end of the first lap. The Ferrari driver had to make his way through some traffic but then came Bottas’ retirement and the virtual safety car. Vettel benefitted from fresher rubber and overtook Kevin Magnussen to take fifth place. When Hamilton emerged from the pits in front of the German, it took Vettel over ten laps to pass the Brit but he eventually succeeded.
The podium position was secured, especially with Hamilton retiring, and it looked as though the Ferrari pair may have been able to catch leader Verstappen. However, it was just a few laps too many as tyre management became crucial to secure their hard-earned points.
Grosjean finally gets some points
It has been a difficult season for Romain Grosjean. Before this race the French driver had not scored any points during 2018 while team-mate Magnussen had secured 27 for the team. However, Grosjean finally made amends with a fourth place finish just ahead of Magnussen in fifth. On a difficult day it was a controlled race for the Haas duo who stayed out of trouble and benefitted from the likes of Hamilton, Bottas and Ricciardo all retiring.
This haul of 22 points has surged Haas up the leaderboard in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Kevin Magnussen now sits in seventh place in the drivers’ championships, essentially the head of the rest of the pack while Haas F1 have climbed to fifth in the constructors’ ahead of McLaren and behind Renault.
Speaking to the Formula One website after the race, Grosjean said: “It’s a great day for all of us, the whole team. They deserve such a good result with the cars finishing fourth and fifth. It’s incredible for our 50th grand prix. I’m so, so happy for all the guys. We had some luck in the race with the Mercedes cars not finishing, but it’s been a great weekend and we can really build on that. There are still a few things we can improve here and there, but I’m happy we managed to get that long stint on the tyres. The last 20 laps were not fun – there were blisters on the rears – and I was afraid they were going to explode at any time.”
Rest of the pack benefit from Mercedes’ woe
The retirements of Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo meant that there were opportunities for other teams to add some points to their total. Three teams made the most of this with Haas claiming fourth and fifth, Force India’s duo managed to finish in sixth and seventh with Sauber locking out the final two points-finishing positions. Fernando Alonso also gained some more points after finishing eighth.
Force India managed to make not pitting under the safety car work. Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon extended their first stints but unlike Hamilton, they were able to look after their tyres and claim some well-earned points on a weekend that did not look too promising. While, Sauber recorded their first double points finish since the 2015 Chinese Grand Prix. Marcus Ericsson scored his first points since the Bahrain Grand Prix; whereas, Charles Leclerc has now scored points at five of the last six races.
Alonso began the Austrian Grand Prix from the pit-lane but came away with an eighth place finish. Despite McLaren not looking their best this weekend, the Spaniard has continued his run and scored points at every race this season and the 2018 Le Mans winner will hope that he can extend that at Silverstone.
Lewis Hamilton will be hoping to bounce back in the final part of F1’s triple header when he heads home to the British Grand Prix this weekend.
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