F1 – Austrian GP – Sprint

Hallo, MiniFans! The second sprint weekend of the season is upon us and Austria is playing host to both it and, once again, the rain. The sprint shootout, done earlier in the day, had been topped by Red Bull, with Verstappen claiming the first place on the grid, and the shock factor being provided by Mercedes, as deleted lap times didn’t allow Hamilton to get past Q1 and a car problem caused Russell to remain in his garage in Q2. Meanwhile, Haas had produced another wonderful result, with both cars in Q3 and Hulkenberg in fourth.

The rain had started out as barely a few drops around half an hour before the scheduled start, but by the time the sprint came to happen, more water was falling and cars were clearly lifting spray, probably worrying Bottas, as he had been the only one to choose slicks. The formation lap already proved too much for the Finnish driver, who headed straight into the pits at the end of it for a set of intermediates to complete the uniformity of the grid.

Visibility wasn’t great at the start, but that didn’t deter the drivers from fighting for positions, but it was a rather clean start despite the battles. Pérez’s mistake on the formation lap didn’t stop him from facing up to Verstappen, even managing to get past at some points, but the focus of both teammates allowed Hulkenberg to get in the battle, eventually getting past the Mexican driver and settling into second. Norris was the main loser in this, as he got stuck among a sea of cars and the lack of grip didn’t let him floor it as he usually would, dropping back to tenth place.

Behind the top cars, the Aston Martin quickly settled, as did Albon, taking advantage of his wonderful qualifying to try and score a couple of points. Further back, the other Haas, Magnussen, was also placing himself in front of a car that’s supposed to be quite a bit faster than his own, Russell’s Mercedes, who was having quite a bit of trouble trying to overtake. On the other hand, Hamilton had easily climbed back up the order, managing to slot himself right behind his teammate in barely a couple of laps.

As the race slowly settled, Verstappen was the clear leader once again, as is the norm this season, while Hulkenberg was keeping Pérez at bay, taking advantage of both his and Haas’ ability of producing good results in non-dry circumstances, as well as the lack of DRS until race direction decided to grant permission to use it. The other Haas managed to spend half the race keeping the Mercedes behind but once the track started to dry up a bit in certain places and spray wasn’t as much of a problem, the Silver Arrows had little problem getting past. This was also Hulkenberg’s downfall, as the slowly drying track started to show the real pace. Pérez’s attempts to overtake allowed Sainz to get very close too, and he didn’t take too long to pass the Haas once the Red Bull had done its due diligence.

Leclerc, penalised for impending a lap in the shootout, was having a few more problems than his Ferrari teammate. Ocon was proving to be a hard rival, but Norris was also trying to overtake him at any chance. Messages about the drying track were scattered on the radios and Russell was the first one to gamble, pitting for softs, while everyone else was already leaving the racing line to cool down the intermediates that were heating up due to the lack of water on track. His times were so good that a stampeded entered the pitlane. In the beginning, it was only those outside the points, but Hulkenberg did pit as well, trying to stop the bleeding.

The last five laps saw a mix of intermediates, from the top eight, and slicks, on the rest of the cars. However, the gap to those with the wet weather tyres was so big that it wasn’t quite clear whether it’d be worth it. The cars with dry tyres were lapping the track around three seconds faster than those with green rimmed ones, but the big gaps didn’t allow for this to make too much of a difference when it came to the end results. It did bring great battles in the midfield, with a four-way battle that included Leclerc, Albon, Norris and Hamilton, but just wasn’t quite enough to close the gaps and provide a battle for the win.

A race that’s just a third of the laps of a conventional one means usually means that tyres don’t need to be monitored and babied as much, but a drying track messes with that concept. Russell’s bet didn’t quite pay off, as he did finish in the points, but could only scrape one, nine thousands away from seventh. The entertainment came from the middle of the pack, where intermediates and slicks mingled, but the front was the same as always: Verstappen easily pulling away, despite a small scuff at the start and having to fight for his position in the first lap, and winning by a big margin. Pérez managed to break his bad streak and Sainz was back on the podium, but hopefully, the battles we saw today are a simple appetizer of what’s to come on Sunday.

MiniDrivers – F1
2023 Austrian GP
Sprint Race