F1 – Austrian GP – Race
Hallo, MiniFans! Unlike any other normal racing weekend, the ones involving a sprint race change the schedule a bit, meaning that Sunday’s grid is decided on Friday and the sprint is its own standalone event, with its very own qualifying. The order of the cars as the lights go out may be different, but still not quite like the rest of the season’s, as Ferrari managed to slide both cars in second and third, while Norris managed a previously unseen fourth, while Verstappen was the unmovable element, once again starting from pole position.
Unlike yesterday’s start, which was embellished by the wet track, this time the battles were few and far between, while also quicker and less hectic. Hamilton managed to get past Norris, while Leclerc put up a battle with Verstappen, but couldn’t overtake him. A very strange safety car came out, given that there hadn’t been any big crashes, but it was soon revealed it was due to debris from Tsunoda’s front wing, which had been ripped from his car by Bottas in the first corner.
The restart was also clean and quick, as Verstappen hit the gas a couple of corners before the main straight, catching Leclerc unaware and starting to push and drop the Ferrari out of the DRS zone. A conundrum rose within the Italian team ranks, as Sainz had his nose pushed up right against Leclerc’s rear, and its solution was being brewed. The Spaniard was clear on his messages, assuring the team it was easy to see he was faster, but he was instructed to stay behind for the moment.
Track limits started to be notified around the tenth lap, with Hamilton even receiving a black and white flag as a warning, before a virtual safety car came out due to Hulkenberg losing power. Verstappen and Ferrari had a very tight warning, so they couldn’t make it in as soon as it was announced, while Hamilton and Norris were able to. The red cars did pit the following lap, with two slow stops in a double pitstop, but the Red Bulls stayed out. The VSC left just as them and Alonso were getting out of the pitlane.
Not even twenty laps in, the first 5-second penalties for track limits started to be handed out, as Hamilton was first in line for it and was closely followed by Tsunoda, and the radios were plagued with complaints from drivers about the cars in front of them. The distance between Verstappen and Leclerc started to close up and Red Bull finally decided to pit the championship leader a third of the way in, getting out right behind Sainz, who wouldn’t be able to put up much of a fight as the Dutch driver set the fastest lap on fresh hards and started to pull away in pursuit of Leclerc.
In pure Ferrari fashion, Leclerc was inquired about his thoughts on a possible three-stopper right before Verstappen fully caught up, barely needing a handful of corners to get past and start building a decent sized gap. Meanwhile, Hamilton’s brooding on the radio about penalties and track limits was clearly starting to get to the team, as Wolff stepped in more than once to try and get him out of the spiral of negativity he’s prone to get himself in when things don’t go the way he wants.
The window for the second stops saw drivers starting to comply with their 5-second penalties, with teams not being allowed to touch the cars until they’ve been stopped for that amount of time. Hards were the rubber of choice for the top cars, while mediums were preferred by most of the rest of the points positions. While first and second looked pretty settled, the last step of the podium had a few contenders. Pérez was coming quickly for Norris and Sainz, who inquired about his rivals’ pace, in case keeping Norris in his DRS zone could help him not to let the Red Bull past either of them, but the Mexican driver was too quick for either of them to keep him behind for a prolonged period of time, even if the Ferrari defended his position as if his life depended on it.
The last handful of laps went by with the positions mostly settled, with only the backmarkers being close enough among themselves to battle it out, but Verstappen decided he was a bit bored and needed to spice up his race. With a 23-second lead, he forced the team’s hand to pit for softs, leave in front of Leclerc by three and a half seconds and score the fastest lap in the last chance possible right as he crossed the chequered flag to complete yet another hat trick.
After Saturday’s fun, Sunday went back to a more normal experience for an F1 race, with some scattered battles throughout a calmer field. Track limit penalties were very prevalent, taking up a good chunk of the radios, complaints and communications from race direction. However, the fact that things went back to normal also meant that Verstappen was, yet again, untouchable, even if Leclerc put up a bit of a fight at times. His seventh win of the season came with an orange cloud coming from the Red Bull Ring grandstands, which celebrated the bigger gap in the championship with which they will arrive in Silverstone.