Ah, Austria, the country that according to 67.45% of Americans, is Australia.
I remember when ‘Dubya’ Bush visited Sydney for the ‘OPEC’ Summit, and thanked John Howard for visiting the Austrian troops fighting in Iraq.
Johnny took it as a compliment.
The Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring
It really is saying something about this season, that a practice session can be more entertaining than most of the races this season.
All the action went down in FP2, when Max Verstappen severed the rear wing of his Red Bull after losing the rear and spinning into the barrier the final turn, and then not even five minutes later, Valterri Bottas lost the back end of his Mercedes at Turn 6, suffering a violent head-on collision with the tyre barrier at a lazy 23G of impact.
Sebastian Vettel nearly performed a repeat of Verstappen 10 minutes later, but managed to come to a stop in the gravel trap before continuing on.
Unfortunately, Dan and Renault were also having plenty of problems- The rear wings were oscillating with the DRS open (A problem dating back to Pre-Season Testing), Nico Hulkenberg destroyed his front wing at the final corner and copped a grid penalty for a gearbox change, and the car had next to no pace, being a second per lap off the pace.
The issue of idiots backing each other up on the racing line reared its head when Danni Kvyat almost annihilated George Russell on the approach to Rindt (Turn 8), for which the Brit was punished 3 places for impeding.
Lewis Hamilton then came into the gun sights of the stewards, when he impeded Raikkonen’s run in Q2, which led to the Stewards pulling off the impossible, and actually penalising Mercedes with a grid penalty- 3 places, which became two, because Kevin Magnussen had a gearbox penalty from 5th.
The Renaults never had the pace, and Dan could only qualify 14th, being beaten by the Hulk (12th) for only the second time in 2019, although Dan would start ahead thanks to Hulk’s engine component penalty.
Meanwhile, Ferrari were hamstrung by a problem with Vettel’s car, which turned out to be a problem with the air pressure line to the engine, a problem which ultimately put him out of Q3, and ending up in 9th, right as Ferrari had the edge on the Mercs.
This was evidenced when Charles LeClerc smashed the track record with a 1.03.003 on his final lap of Q3 to secure pole, the third different category in which the Monegasque driver has recorded a Pole Position at the Red Bull Ring- GP3 (2016) and Formula 2 (2017) were the others.
For the first time all season, three different teams occupied the first three spots on the grid.
Penalties: Hamilton (2 places- Blocking), Magnussen (5 places- Gearbox), Hulkenberg (5 places- Power Unit), Russell (3 places- Blocking), Albon & Sainz (Back of the Grid- Power Unit).
Pre-race, Red Bull announced that Turn One would be re-named in honour of Austria’s greatest driver, the late Niki Lauda, while Niki’s former colleagues at Mercedes were hoping to equal McLaren’s record of 11 consecutive wins, dating back to that legendary 1988 season.
With the ‘Tongue of Fire’ smashing Europe, the pre-race temperature was a lazy 35 degrees celsius, and the track temperature hit 58 degrees Celsius, one of the warmest Grand Prix on record, although it won’t beat the ’05 Bahrain GP for brutality… given it was in the desert in April.
At lights out, LeClerc jumped cleanly and led, while Verstappen stalled and dropped to as low as 9th behind Gasly, while Vettel began superbly and was up to 6th alongside Raikkonen’s Alfa, and Lando Norris in the McLaren was fighting the Mercedes in the podium positions… very briefly, I will add.
Meanwhile, Dan was dead and buried in 14th behind Hulkenberg and Lance Stroll, pretty much confirming that this was going to be a lazy afternoon for Renault.
On Lap 5, Vettel had passed Raikkonen, and Verstappen was past Norris into 5th, giving the race a sense of normalcy.
Bottas came into the pits from 2nd on Lap 21, with Ferrari bringing in Vettel to try and buy time for LeClerc out in front.
It very nearly worked, because Bottas had to hold while Vettel pulled in to the bay, but the reason I say nearly is because the mechanics weren’t ready for him- Apparently caused by a faulty radio, and one of the crew was almost smacked by Bottas on his way out, akin to an incident at the 2018 Bahrain GP involving a Ferrari mechanic.
But that stop summed up Ferrari in 2019- Good idea, crap execution.
Hamilton stayed out and tried to put the pressure on Bottas, but lost downforce after having debris caught in his front wing and/or hitting a kerb too hard, which put serious pressure on the World Champion, and at his stop, Mercedes had to change his front wing, leaving him right in the clutches of Vettel, and by the time Hamilton came out, the Ferrari was a mile clear, having just set a new fastest lap.
Verstappen didn’t pit until Lap 32, a decision which came home to roost by the end of the race, since he had tyres that were 10 laps younger than the front runners.
Further down the field, Ricciardo stayed out until Lap 47 on mediums, which was the equivalent of leaving a pitcher in baseball out until the 8th inning when he’s getting homered all the time, but given Renault’s lack of speed all weekend, the brains trust probably felt they were screwed anyway.
He rejoined in 14th, and resumed the status quo behind Stroll and Hulkenberg.
A lap later, Verstappen finally caught Vettel, who briefly survived a brush with the DRS, but the superior grip of the Red Bull made it just about a certainty that the Dutchman would fly past shortly, to the delight of the hundreds of thousands of orange fans, and on Lap 50, he got the job done down to Turn 4, and was back on the podium.
Vettel pitted that same lap, taking on Super Softs to have a crack at Hamilton at the end of the race, in the hope that Hamilton’s hard tyres would fall off a cliff.
On Lap 55, Verstappen complained he was losing power, sending a shockwave through the earth’s core, but he apparently hit ‘Fail 3’, and everything was fine, and he flew past Bottas into Turn 3 a lap later, and for once, Mercedes were no hope of winning a race in 2019.
What was insane about Verstappen’s effort was that he was still smashing Vettel on an inferior tyre, and by Lap 63, when he got within 3 seconds of LeClerc, that was the point where the world realised, “Holy crap, Max could win this!”
With 5 laps to go, Verstappen’s pace had put him within DRS range of the Ferrari, and further back, Vettel was on Hamilton’s rear wing, eventually flying down his inside at Turn 4, finally vindicating a Ferrari strategy gamble for the first time in 2019.
With 4 Laps to go, Verstappen almost nailed LeClerc at Turn 3, but the Ferrari pulled some amazing defence to remain ahead down the back straight.
But a Lap later, in the move of the race, Verstappen fired up the inside at the same corner, then sent LeClerc off the track on the exit, taking the lead, and streaking clear to win his first race since Mexico last year, and ending Mercedes’ winning run in 2019.
It was the first win for a Honda engine since Jenson Button won the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix in a factory Honda- BUT, Verstappen’s race winning pass ended up as the subject of a Steward’s Investigation, which like Honda’s drought, also took 13 years to finish.
Personally, I wanted to see a penalty, just to see 70,000 Dutch people fly into a murderous rage and burn down the pit building, sparking the biggest fire Europe has seen since since London burned in 1666.
Ultimately, After all the Dutch fans had cleared the circuit and the threat of retribution was missing, the Stewards confirmed the win.
The youngest podium in the history of Formula One, with Verstappen and LeClerc both 21 years old, and Valtteri Bottas the old bastard of the trio… at 29- An average age of 23.
This was also the eighth ‘Full House’ in F1 history, with every car finishing for the first time since China in 2016.
A few other noteworthy performances- Lando Norris in 6th, Verstappen lapping Gasly after being passed on Lap 1, Sainz coming from last to 8th, and Antonio Giovinazzi scoring his first point!
Further down off Camera, Dan managed to pass Stroll and Hulkenberg, at the very least, gaining the satisfaction of winning the Renault cripple fight.
The debate around penalty vs racing incident seemed to be based on two incidents- The Vettel penalty in Montreal this year, and Nico Rosberg’s attempted pass on Lewis Hamilton at the same corner on the final lap of Austria 2016, for which he was penalised 10 seconds for failing to leave racing room.
But in the end, it was probably the right decision, just so we could enjoy Ferrari fans slowly lose their sanity, yet again.
IN CONCLUSION: A superb weekend, the shot in the arm that Formula One needed in 2019, and what a shock, it was because it didn’t end with the words, “Get in there Lewis”.
NEXT RACE: SILVERSTONE IN A FORTNIGHT!
Maverick Vinales and Max Verstappen both won on Sunday.
Their previous wins prior to this were both on October 28th, 2018.
Their initials? MV.
MotoGP: The Dutch TT at Assen
The Cathedral Of Speed, the longest running event on the MotoGP calendar, and most likely mistaken by Ben Cousins for something else back in the mid-2000s.
Jorge Lorenzo’s brutal and physically painful run of luck continued, when he suffered a horror high-speed crash in FP1, leaving him with two fractured vertebrae, and ruling him out until well after the summer break.
The latest major injury inside the last 9 months… Crikey.
The European Heatwave was in full force in the land of Oranje, with track temperatures hitting 45 degrees Celsius (120 Farenheit).
Q1 was yet another disaster for The Doctor, qualifying in 15th, despite the advantage Yamaha had this weekend.
In a very entertaining Q2, Alex Rins smashed Rossi’s former Assen lap record with a 1.32.461, with Fabio Quatararo and Rossi’s teammate Maverick Vinales also breaking the record, while Marc Marquez was off the front row in 4th, and Dovizioso languishing in 12th.
Vinales came out and thumped that marker with a 1.32.157, but even that didn’t last, with Quartarao almost breaking in to the 1.31s with a 1.32.017, becoming the youngest rider to claim back-to-back MotoGP Pole Positions.
‘El Diablo’ has now racked up 3 poles in a mere 8 races.
Jack would qualify in 10th, managing to beat Andrea Dovizioso, who had a horror show, only managing 11th, and along with Danilo Petrucci only making the 3rd row, highlighting Ducati’s struggles against the Yamahas and the Suzukis.
Marc Marquez said ahead of this weekend that if Yamaha were going to win a race in 2019, it would be at Assen, where they definitely had the strongest bike.
Although at the start, the factory Suzukis of Rins and Mir immediately struck, taking Quartararo while Marquez fell to 5th, while Jack didn’t make any ground and dropped to 11th.
A mere 3 laps in, Rins made an unforced error and fell off at Turn 9, his first retirement in 2019, and then 30 seconds later, Mir went wide, allowing the Pole Sitter back in front, and continuing Suzuki’s horror run at Assen, that stretches back to 1993.
This allowed Marquez into 2nd, sparking a massive three-way battle with Quartararo and Vinales, as the high winds down the back straight caused a wild ride for the Frenchman.
And shortly after, Rossi, having moved up to 10th, completed a hat-trick of disastrous results, when he had a high-speed collision with Nakagami at Turn 8 with 22 laps to go, making it 5 crashes in The Doctor’s past 10 races.
We couldn’t see it real time, but it was a simple case of Rossi losing the front of the Yamaha, and Nakagami being the poor bastard in the wrong place.
That also had the effect of allowing Jack to pretty much run his own race in 9th for the rest of the afternoon.
Vinales finally passed Marquez at half-race distance, and then a lap later, the pair of them flew straight past Quartararo (Who was really battling to stay upright) and Petrucci caught a struggling Dovi for 4th.
Vinales made an unforced error with 9 laps to go to cough up the lead, but the sheer speed of the Yamaha got him back ahead a couple of corners later, and from there it seemed like Marquez decided to settle for 2nd and bank the points.
The rest of the race was a battle of simply staying on the road, with the brutal winds and everyone’s tyres falling off a cliff ensuring Assen maintained its feared reputation, but in the end, after being taken out three times, the ‘Top Gun’ was finally a winner in 2019, his first win since Phillip Island last year, with Marquez scoring another podium in 2nd to increase his championship lead to 44 points, and Quartararo also once again on the podium, in 3rd.
The Ducatis were pretty much a non-factor all weekend; Dovi did finish in 4th, but Franco Morbidelli passed Petrucci for 5th at the final corner, while Jack held on for 9th, being over a second per lap behind the leaders pretty much all weekend.
In the end, Marquez was right- A Yamaha was on top was every session of the weekend.
There was finally some joy for Remy Gardner, as he managed to strike a surprise maiden Pole Position in his Grand Prix career, fittingly at the same track where his dad won in 1986 and 1988.
It was the first pole for an Aussie in the 250cc class since Casey Stoner at Phillip Island in 2005.
And who was on hand to give him some congratulations, but none other than one Michael Doohan.
Unfortunately, as it seems to be the case with Australian riders since Casey retired, such an amazing high is met with an equally crushing low, and sadly for Remy, he made a mistake at the start to drop to 6th, and then he dropped his bike at Geert Timmer chicane from 6th with 15 laps to go.
There would be a maiden winner in Moto2 this weekend, but it turned out to be Augusto Fernandez, who inherited the lead with 2 laps to go, after Lorenzo Baldassarri tried slipping a pass up the inside of Alex Marquez, only to finish both of them off.
NEXT UP: THE GERMAN GP AT THE SACHSENRING, THE LAST RACE BEFORE THE SUMMER BREAK