The Red Bull Ring was back for the final race of the triple-header, this time bringing us the Austrian GP. Was it a carbon copy of the Styrian GP or did the teams shake things up a bit to make some gains?
On Friday, Pirelli brought a black-walled prototype tyre to be tested during the practice sessions. Each team was given 4 sets of these tyres which they were required to run for 12 laps each. The rear tyres are bigger than those currently seen on the grid, and they are speculated to be made from the C3 compound. These tyres have been approved by the World Motor Sport Council to be used from Silverstone onward.
The race tyres selected for the GP were one step softer than the previous week; Red C5 for softs, Yellow C4 for mediums, and White C3 for hards.
Q1 had dry track conditions and all but Aston Martin and AlphaTauri, who used the C4 tyres, opted to start on the C5 compound. Turn 9 proved tricky as Gasly, Leclerc, and Ricciardo all had lap times deleted for exceeding track limits; Giovinazzi also had his lap deleted for exceeding track limits through turn 10. At the end of Q1 Verstappen was leading the timings with a solid 1:04.2 followed by Norris in P2 and Alonso in P3. Raikkonen and Ocon found themselves in the elimination zone along with Latifi, Schumacher, and Mazepin who all failed to progress to Q2.
In Q2, Russell was able to record an impressive lap time of 1:04.553, securing his first Q3 appearance for Williams. Alonso’s flying lap was impeded by a traffic jam at the entrance to turn 9 as cars prepared their own runs, which left him out of Q3. Sainz, Leclerc Ricciardo, and Giovinazzi also found themselves in the bottom five by the end of the session, with Verstappen again leading the timings with a 1:03.9. Hamilton and Bottas completed the top three. Bottas and Sainz were investigated for unnecessarily slowing into turns nine and 10, although they escaped any punitive action. Vettel was investigated for impeding Alonso, receiving a three-place grid penalty for this incident, dropping him from P8 to P11.
Q3 saw all the drivers don soft tyres. Russell remained in the garage for the first run of the session. Verstappen once again topped the timings with a 1:03.720, however, he was almost out-driven by young Norris who clocked an impressive 1:03.768 to secure P2, his highest starting position to date. Perez rounded off the top 3 finishing with a 1:03.9 and a comfortable gap between himself and the Mercedes of Hamilton in P4. Bottas and Gasly made up the third row of the grid with P5 and P6 respectively while Tsunoda finished P7 and Vettel P8 and Russell and Stroll completed the final row.
The race this week was unfortunately dominated more by penalties than team strategy. The lights went out and the first lap saw both Verstappen and Norris getting a good start off the line, however, the safety car was out on track before the lap finished. Ocon found himself out of the race while Giovinazzi went into the pit due to damage from a collision with the Frenchman. The safety car allowed Perez to close the gap on Norris, catching him on lap 4. Perez tried to take the long way round, however, Norris was still ahead as he exited the corner. Perez left the track and went onto the gravel. The incident was referred to the FIA for investigation, resulting in a five-second time penalty and two license points for Norris. Giovinazzi received the same punishment for overtaking during the safety car.
Perez fell back to P10 after the incident and found himself in a battle with Ricciardo’s McLaren. Meanwhile, Norris kept Hamilton at bay. Tsunoda was the next driver to be placed under investigation for crossing the white line whilst entering the pit lane during lap 14, consequently receiving a five-second time penalty for the offense. The Japanese driver made this error again later in the race, resulting in another five-second penalty and more points on his license.
At the front of the grid, Verstappen had a comfortable gap between himself and Norris. The McLaren appeared to have excellent pace in the straights, however, Hamilton managed to complete an overtake on lap 20.
The pit window opened on lap 27 for the medium tyres. Ricciardo was the first into the pits, swapping to the hard compound tyre and re-joining the track in P12 behind Gasly. Norris followed, also swapping to the hard tyres and serving his five-second penalty at the same time. This allowed Bottas to pit and jump Norris. Perez pitted on lap 33, pulling off an undercut on Leclerc.
Up front, Hamilton received reports from the garage of suspected damage to the rear left aero sensors.
Leclerc chased down Perez, attempting the overtake on lap 41 into turn four, causing the front wheels to touch. Leclerc was forced onto the gravel before quickly recovering and maintaining P9. Perez found himself with a five-second time penalty. The battle continued through the next few laps and Leclerc again attempted the overtake on lap 47, this time during turn six. Leclerc was forced onto the gravel a second time and Perez received a further five-second penalty and two more points on his license.
Stroll pitted for the second time on lap 47 and received a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Two laps later, Mazepin was shown the black and white flag for exceeding track limits.
The Mercedes strategy had changed by lap 51. Bottas was released to race Hamilton for P2. The Finn completed a clean overtake on lap 52. This allowed Norris to chase down the damaged Mercedes and fight for the final podium place of the day, overtaking Hamilton during lap 53. Verstappen, meanwhile, was well ahead of the pack with a 24.3-second gap between himself and Bottas.
With 10 laps left, things started to heat up in the mid-field with Alonso battling Russell for P10, overtaking the Brit on lap 68 at turn four. We entered the last lap with no signs of the drama calming down. Raikkonen and Vettel made contact in sector two causing both drivers to leave the track and not cross the finish line. Verstappen finished the race in P1 with a gap of 17.3 seconds between himself and Bottas in P2. Norris came in P3.
The drama didn’t end with the waving of the chequered flag. The FIA issued a total of ten summons covering eleven drivers on the grid. Raikkonen and Vettel were first up due to the collision between both cars on the final lap. This saw Raikkonen walk away with 20 seconds added to his finishing time and two penalty points on his license. Perez, Sainz, Leclerc, Gasly, Ricciardo, Giovinazzi, Latifi, and Mazepin were summoned for not respecting double waved yellow flags. Mazepin and Latifi were the only two drivers to receive 10-second stop-go penalties, converted to an additional 30 seconds on to their elapsed race times and three penalty points each on their licenses. After the penalties were confirmed, Perez was demoted to P6, moving Sainz into the P5 position.
Here at ATRL, we certainly needed this week off to recover from all the drama of the triple header and mentally prepare for the British GP this weekend.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I fell in love with motorsport watching the Formula 1 with my mum every Sunday and have fond memories of the early 90’s and Senna. I’ve supported and followed McLaren for as long as I can remember. I specialise in F1 and the feeder series. Outside of motorsport I work in change delivery and can be found most weekends at a karting track supporting my girls in the Honda Cadet Series.
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