Formula 1 Austrian Grand Prix
Circuit: Red Bull Ring, Spielberg
Duncraig Dan 2020, Chapter 1: Another Blockbuster involving Spielberg
In the midst of the Styrian Mountains, Formula One became the first international sporting competition to restart in the wake of COVID-19, albeit under some fairly strict guidelines.
One such guideline is that teams are limited in the number of staff they can have trackside, and a knock-on effect is that teams can’t have the usual giant motor homes, and instead, the teams supplied their own tents and awnings, while the drivers stayed in something resembling portable cabins.
Hilariously, the only exception was Red Bull, who obviously own the Red Bull Ring, and had their own facility to use for their F1 team.
As for team & driver changes – The ex-Force India driver Esteban Ocon replaces Nico Hulkenberg as Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault teammate, Nicolas Latifi at Williams is the only rookie in the 2020 field, and in case you missed last year’s memo, Toro Rosso are now ‘AlphaTauri’ in reference to Red Bull’s clothing line, which means we’ve got Alpha vs Alfa on the grid.
Of course, the last team named after a fashion brand was Benetton.
Another change came from Mercedes, who moved on from the traditional Silver Arrows to adopt the striking Black Arrows livery (With matching black racesuits), as part of their commitment to fighting racism, especially prevalent given Lewis Hamilton’s support for Black Lives Matter, and as part of the team’s pledge to improve diversity, after they revealed only 3% of their employees are from a minority background.
Not even 2 days in to the restart, and the political drama is back underway.
Red Bull protested about the legality of Mercedes’ Dual Axis Steering system on the W11, on the grounds that it breached the Technical Regulations as an illegal adjustment of the suspension system while the car was in motion (Articles Articles 3.8 and 10.2.3).
On Friday evening, it was thrown out, and DAS was deemed to be a part of the car’s steering system, which means it’s officially open season for teams to develop their own DAS, although it’d be shocking if they weren’t already.
As for what exactly is DAS – Essentially, while going down straights, the driver is able to change the toe angle of the wheel, which is naturally inwards (Toe-in) under braking, but causes drag on the straights, and heats up the inside rim of the tyre.
So by pulling the steering wheel inwards (Like a trombone), they can increase toe-out down long straights, thus making the wheel as straight as possible, increasing grip, and thus, top speed.
DAS or not, Mercedes absolutely creamed everyone in Practice, and even Stevie Wonder could see the way Qualifying would end.
After a relatively quiet Q1, the first major shock came when Ferrari’s below-average weekend became worse, with Sebastian Vettel being knocked out in Q2 by Alex Albon’s final lap, while Charles LeClerc only snuck in to Q3 in 10th place – It was the first time Vettel had missed Q3 on raw pace since his Toro Rosso years.
Another chapter in a dour year already for Vettel, having already had his departure from Maranello confirmed.
Q3 was fairly predictable – Valtteri Bottas was able to break the unofficial lap record with a 1.02.939, beating out Hamilton by a tenth, and the Black Arrows were both no worse than half a second faster than anyone else.
As everyone saved up for a one lap dash to end the session, Bottas went off-track at Turn 4, causing a local yellow flag, while Hamilton went on with his lap, suddenly the only driver who could top his teammate, and he very nearly did it with the latest sub 63-second lap, but missing out on pole position by 0.012 seconds.
As for the other pushbikes, Max Verstappen qualified 3rd in his quest for a hat-trick of Austrian GPs, Lando Norris had his best-ever qualifying result for McLaren, both Racing Points (Alternatively called the Pink Mercedes) of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll started in the Top 10, and the good news on ‘our’ side was that Danny Ric made it in to Q3, backing up the good pace that he’d shown in Friday practice, which predictably ended in disappointment after his only flying lap was wrecked by the Bottas yellow flag, leaving the Renault to start from 10th.
Just summing up how far Ferrari had fallen:
LeClerc’s car had dropped 13.4 km/h in the speed trap compared to 2019… whatever the FIA found in their investigation into Ferrari’s engines last year, it’s done a number on them.
The 5th best car on the grid… it was unthinkable for a Prancing Horse, but it wasn’t wrong.
Hamilton initially avoided a penalty for his final Q3 lap (He did have another lap time deleted for exceeding track limits) after claiming he couldn’t see a yellow flag, but Red Bull once again protested after new footage emerged, with the smoking gun being the 360 degree camera, clearly showing Hamilton passing a flashing warning light without backing off.
So with proof, the stewards upheld the protest a mere 90 minutes before the race, and Hamilton was dropped 3 places to 5th, a punishment consistent with the one Verstappen received in Mexico last year… Ironically, that yellow flag was also caused by Bottas.
That promoted Verstappen to 2nd, and also put Norris up to a new career best 3rd – McLaren’s best starting position since Jenson Button at the same track in 2016!
Alex Albon starting from 4th was also the best starting position by a Thai driver in F1 history, surpassing Prince Bira’s 5th at the inaugural World Championship race at Silverstone in 1950.
Race (71 Laps)
In the first Grand Prix in some 7 months, and the first season to start in Europe since 1966, Bottas got the best start from pole, Norris dared to take on Verstappen but had to settle for 3rd, while Hamilton fought with Albon, and almost came to grief with LeClerc, as the field was able to get away without a major incident – Ricciardo lost out to Vettel and settled in to 11th.
Once the DRS was open, Albon flew past Norris, putting both Red Bulls into the early podium positions, and Hamilton got past Norris, and it was looking like McLaren were already being brought back to earth.
Hamilton claimed Albon with DRS down to Turn 4, meanwhile, Ricciardo had lost out to Vettel in the early scrap for 10th and 11th, with Vettel starting on Medium tyres compared to Dan’s softs.
The first shock of the race was on Lap 11, when Verstappen suddenly lost power at Turn 1, and despite repeatedly trying a bump start, the anti-stall always kicked in and left him trundling back to the pits, where Red Bull tried a hasty steering wheel change to see what would happen, which did restart the car, only for the hydraulics to abruptly cut out, and that was that.
It was an absolute shame, because the 2-time defending winner in Austria seemed like the only driver who could fight with the Mercedes, who now looked set for another regulation 1-2 to begin the season.
Verstappen’s departure promoted Ricciardo back to 10th, while Stroll in 8th was beginning to suffer from a loss of engine power due to a sensor issue, forming a 3-way fight with Vettel.
Sadly though, only one of them would still be in the race 10 laps later… and it wasn’t Dan The Man.
On Lap 18, Ricciardo was frustratingly the second driver to exit stage right, suffering what appeared to be a power failure of some kind, but Renault later stated the car was retired as a precaution due to a cooling issue.
Fantastic – We all waited 4 months to watch a Renault once again shit itself.
Just get him in that McLaren now.
Vettel soon breezed past Stroll, who began to fall out of the points, and would become the third retirement inside 22 laps – The official reason being a sensor issue, which had been an issue with Mercedes engines in testing, although the factory team would suffer sensor problems of a different kind.
Further down the field, after Romain Grosjean had already gone into the gravel at Turn 4, the sister HAAS of Kevin Magnussen suffered a front right brake blowout at Turn 3 on Lap 26, just as the other Renault of Ocon had gone up the inside, bringing out the first Safety Car of 2020.
In the frantic action as basically every car dives in to the pits, Racing Point almost released Perez into the path of Norris, who had been held up by a slow change of the left rear, but luckily stayed ahead by bare inches.
The race was restarted on Lap 31, and immediately at Turn 3, Sainz was fighting his future Ferrari teammate LeClerc for P6, and for some reason Vettel saw it as a chance to try and have a go at his successor, but his completely unrealistic attempt at passing the McLaren ended with him locking up and spinning, tumbling down to 15th.
Another feather in the cap for poor old Seb.
In a tactical move from Racing Point, Perez had changed on to Mediums when everyone had gone on to Hard tyres to run to the end, which at least made an immediate impact as he passed Norris for 4th.
Out in front, Bottas was struggling on the hard tyres, the polar opposite of Hamilton, who was consistently within DRS range, allowing the 6x champ to set repeated fastest laps.
Meantime, the team were dealing with sensor issues with the gearbox, the apparent result of contact with the kerbs and the resulting vibrations, which was serious enough for the team’s chief strategist James Vowles to get on the radio to both drivers and tell them to stick to the white lines.
I believe that was also the first “Valtteri, it’s James” of the season…. and thankfully it wasn’t about making him give the lead to Lewis.
Even still, just summing up how hilariously superior the Mercs are to everyone, Albon was 11 seconds behind in 3rd and not making up any ground.
The retirements continued to come – Grosjean went off at Turn 4 for the second time on Lap 50, in another case of HAAS brake failure, causing another bout of headaches for the Americans, given both cars couldn’t even make it to 75% race distance.
At the same time, George Russell lost power in the Williams (Another Mercdes-power issue), and was forced to stop at the side of Turn 4, bringing out another Safety Car on Lap 51, giving plenty of teams the opportunity to take on a fresh set of tyres – Albon did it and gave up 3rd, Norris did it, Sainz did it and dropped down to 9th, as did LeClerc.
Somehow, Perez didn’t pit, and neither did the Mercedes off their hard tyres, which proved to be a decision that came back to bite at least two of them on the arse.
Immediately on the restart, Albon passed Perez at Turn 3, but the Safety Car was redeployed when Kimi Raikkonen rather abruptly lost his front right wheel on the Alfa Romeo at the penultimate corner, the apparent result of not being tightened at his second stop.
Because Raikkonen pulled up next to the pit exit, the field was forced to tour through the pit lane while the tractor took the Alfa away.
There was conjecture about whether or not the Albon move was made before the yellow flags came out, so Red Bull initially gave the place back, but race control later confirmed the move by the Thai was legal, putting him 3rd for the restart, and giving him a crack at Hamilton on a vastly superior set of tyres.
This could only end well.
The Safety Car peeled in with 10 laps remaining, and Albion struck while the iron was hot, making a daring move on Hamilton down the outside of Turn 4 and actually getting it done, but it was like an old fashioned case of deja vu, because just like Brazil 2019, Hamilton spun the Red Bull, once again ruining Albon’s almost certain maiden podium.
How rude of a car promoting diversity to hit the only Asian driver.
Albon may have put the horse before the cart, but he absolutely had drawn ahead, and Hamilton quite simply understeered into the Thai.
It was a carbon copy punishment from Brazil – Hamilton was handed a 5 second time penalty, but this time, it didn’t take until after the race to be applied.
So just like that, Perez was back into 3rd, but amazingly, he would ALSO cop a 5-second penalty – This time for speeding in the pit lane during the Safety Car – Meaning the driver with the hot hand was LeClerc, who was on for a solid podium after Ferrari’s abysmal qualifying performance, and he made sure of it with a clinical dive-bomb on Perez.
In another moment that had major ramifications, Norris barged his way past Perez into 4th, giving him the chance to cut into the gap to Hamilton and claim a maiden podium, and further down, Albon’s miserable finale was put to bed by a loss of engine failure, giving Red Bull a double DNF in their home race.
Still, there was one last BIG BANG retirement in store for us, when Daniil Kvyat’s left rear tyre exploded at Turn 1 with 2 laps remaining, almost certainly because of contact with the kerbs, which had done a number on several cars.
Because we’d all become so engrossed in the race, Bottas leading all the way and winning from pole after seeing off plenty of problems almost became an afterthought, because Hamilton was 2nd on the road ahead of the actual runner-up LeClerc, BUT NORRIS SET THE FASTEST LAP ON THE LAST LAP, AND ENDED UP 4.8 SECONDS BEHIND HAMILTON – HE WAS ON THE PODIUM!
To sum up how bonkers that was, Norris was 9 TENTHS FASTER than Hamilton IN THE MIDDLE SECTOR.
I’ll put it mildly – Young Lando was a mildly happy young adult post-race, so yes, there was plenty of language.
Only 11 cars finished, fewer than any race in 2019 – The unlucky bugger who didn’t score was Nicolas Latifi on debut, as Williams once again miss out on a rare point.
Plenty of notes from that race – Norris is the first British driver sitting above Lewis Hamilton on the standings since Jenson Button in Australia 2014, Sainz charged home to put both McLarens in the Top 5, Perez didn’t lose any places because of his penalty, Ocon’s 8th was the first time since Jarno Trulli finished 8th in 2003 (Yep – The V10 era) that the factory Renault team had scored points in Austria, and interestingly, this was the first time in Sebastian Vettel’s career that he had finished a race in 10th.
It was his 241st start.
Once again, a McLaren driver scores his maiden podium thanks to Hamilton being penalised for spinning Albon, and once again, nobody in the crowd was there to see him standing on the podium..
After so many months of waiting, it was a fantastic race to watch, and you know what it made me think of.
The restart of the footy season.
Watching cars drop out left and right because of mechanical issues was like watching players suffer blowout injuries due to a lack of match practice and a limited preseason.
Of course, typical of Dan’s luck that he was one of the retirements, when this was a race he absolutely would’ve scored points, with better reliability.
Case in point – All 3 Renault-powered cars that reached the finish scored points.
Still, that decision to sign for Mclaren is looking pretty good one race in.
Of course, the fun part is: THERE’S A REMATCH IN AUSTRIA THIS COMING WEEKEND, except this time it’s the Styrian Grand Prix!
Final note – The Australians in Formula 3
I figured I should mention this because there’s 4 Aussies in the 2020 field – Renault junior Oscar Piastri, Alex Peroni, Calan Williams and Red Bull Junior driver Jack Doohan, son of some bloke named Mick who use to ride motorcycles for Honda.
Apparently he was good.
You probably saw Peroni in the news last year, after the Taswegian hit a sausage kerb at the Monza Parabolica during the Italian Grand Prix weekend last year, sending him into a frightening rocket launch into the metal fencing.
It could just be coincidence, but Sophia Flörsch, the driver who suffered THAT crash in the 2018 Macau Grand Prix, similar to what you see above, is also on the F3 grid.
He’s now known by me as the Crusty Van Diemen, and while that crash obviously ended Alex’s 2019 with a fractured vertebrae, he was able to get back to Hobart, recover, and with the lockdown, he’s finally back in business, some 300 days after the crash.
Williams, Doohan and Piastri all made their first starts in the category, but it was Piastri who made headlines when he qualified well for Race 1, and it could have so easily been game over at Turn 1 on Lap 1, when Piastri had a major collision with polesitter Sebastian Fernandez, which sent Fernandez into the air and into the gravel, while Piastri’s car somehow survived without damage, and further to it, he had swept down the outside of Lirim Zendeli into Turn 3 to take the lead!
Piastri would never relinquish the lead after that, and put up a 3 second lead in a matter of laps, while Peroni started in 8th place, but was soon up fighting for the podium positions, and capping off a fine day Australian racing, he scored his first F3 podium with a sweeping move down the outside of Fred Vesti at Turn 4!
A cracking result, and it was the first win for an Australian in Formula 3, which gives you a hope that there could be a few Aussies coming up into F2 and hopefully F1 after Ricciardo’s time is done.
Also, considering Piastri is a Melbournian, and Doohan is from the Gold Coast, surely that entire race will be considered a criminal offence by the Queensland Government?