Austrian Brouhaha

The first F1 race of the 2020 season at the Austrian Red Bull Ring has gone by in a flash. After 217 days, we returned to racing in a thrilling race with non-stop action on track. This blog post serves as a reaction, team by team, of their weekend in the Austrian hills.

Mercedes

The 6-time constructors champions started their campaign with a roaring success. They dominated each session, and truly looked like they were in a race of their own. In qualifying they secured a front row lockout (before Hamilton’s 3 place grid penalty for ignoring yellow flags). Impressively, they secured pole position going 3 tenths faster than they achieved last year. The race started perfectly, Bottas gapped Verstappen quickly, and Hamilton got through the pack nicely, and quickly it became a two-horse race. Their engines turned down, all seemed rosy. But not for long, both cars were suffering with sensor issues in the gearbox, going over the unforgiving kerbs was causing too many problems. For over half the race both cars were lapping 5 tenths slower than they could’ve by staying off the red and white. Bottas won the race, whereas Hamilton fell to fourth.

Bottas

He has started the campaign of beautifully, a win from pole in which he didn’t look in that much trouble, even with Lewis breathing down his neck. The only mistake in the whole weekend was when he decided to cut the grass on his final quali lap. He led every single lap, comfortably gapping Verstappen at the start, keeping Lewis at bay for the rest of the race whilst managing sensor issues which were worse than Lewis. He got every safety car restart perfectly right, and fully deserved the win.

Hamilton

Hamilton done very well at the start to pick his way through Lando and the two Red Bulls to see himself in second. The two Mercedes ran line astern for the majority of the race, he seemed very capable of closing the gap if they didn’t have to manage their cars issues. Hamilton’s main talking point is the penalty with Albon. It was deserving of a penalty, Albon was in front and Lewis knew he had the tyre advantage so shouldn’t have fought it. He clipped Alex’s back wheel indicating that Albon was ahead, and ruined the Thai’s first podium opportunity for the second time in 3 races.

Positives

Far and away, Mercedes were the quickest cars. They had so much pace that they could turn their engines down early, even when they were managing their issues. They will be very confident of claiming their seventh constructor title in a row.

Negatives

They will be worried about their sensor issues, that may not be a fix they can do in a few days before we race again in the mountains. However, a big negative that I think has gone unnoticed is their terrible strategy call of not pitting in the final safety car. Both cars were on used hards, every other car apart from Perez pitted for fresh rubber. It is an easy track to overtake, so there was no point keeping track advantage. In a game of ifs and buts, they could have easily lost the race that was firmly in their grasps.

McLaren

The boys in papaya started their campaign better than they could have ever expected. Coming from testing there were worries whether the car was going to be fourth best like last year with the resurgence of the Racing Point outfit. McLaren exceeded all expectations collecting another podium, and coming out of the first round in second place in the constructors championship. The last time they were in that position was March 2014.

Norris

The young Brit outperformed the car on Saturday, climbing higher than what was expected to have his best start of his short F1 career in third place. He had a very good start and looked to have a run on Verstappen, but ultimately the pacier cars of Albon and Hamilton got past. However, he managed to gap Perez by 3.5 seconds before his pit stop drama, where a slow change of his rear left tyre cost him the gap he created. Perez got passed on quicker tyres, but Lando kept the gap consistent, and began to gap Leclerc. When the second safety car came out to outbreak Perez he drove narrowly to the top hairpin, allowing Leclerc to get a run on Lando and overtake him. If it had not been for Sainz behind trying to overtake and making Lando go defensive, he would have passed Perez sooner, and likely would have closed the gap to Leclerc. Not all was lost, a scintillating final lap secured a maiden podium by .198 of a second.

Sainz

Sainz seemed to struggle compared to his younger team mate all weekend. In qualifying he was 3.5 tenths away from Norris, and throughout the race looked like he didn’t have the pace that Lando did. The pit stop crew did a fantastic double stack, but unfortunately in the second pit stop they were too close together and couldn’t manage it. Sainz dropped down the order, but made up ground quickly against the lesser cars to stick behind Lando, Although it took Lando only a couple of laps to build the final 3.5 seconds gap across the finish line.

Positives

Far and away, they exceeded their expectations for the weekend, which is always the primary goal of the team. Their pace this weekend shows that on such a power heavy track, Racing Point didn’t dominate them as they feared. Lando showed that their quali and race pace was better than Racing Points, securing them arguably as the third best car this season. As to negatives, the only one I could clutch straws at was Lando’s faulty left rear during the first pit stop, but ultimately, an amazing first weekend.

Ferrari

Charles Leclerc really salvaged this weekend for the prancing horses. Ferrari said before the weekend that they knew that they weren’t going to be fast, but I don’t think anyone expected this. In qualifying, Charles was .920 tenths of his pole lap from last year. They estimated that they were losing 7 tenths in the straights, so to be honest, they should probably skip Monza. The car looked sluggish all afternoon, if it wasn’t for a good drive from Leclerc they would’ve been nowhere near the top positions.

Leclerc

Is it a good drive when cars in front retire and make mistakes in which you capatilise? Because, that’s all Charles did. He was getting gapped by Lando and Perez before the first two pit stops. He got passed Lando because he went too deep up the hill, meaning Charles had the run to get through, then he passed Perez on old mediums. If Lando had got passed Perez first, Charles would have been nowhere near him. But to finish on the podium, first you must finish and take advantage of those opportunities.

Vettel

I’m not going to make any jokes about him spinning, because if you give an onboard lap of his a whirl, you will see a revolving cycle of oversteer, understeer and a loose backend. He said in an interview that he thought something had changed on his car so drastically that it completely altered how his car performed. Any driver without the ability of Sebastian Vettel would have dropped that car more than him. In his post-race interview he stated how he was “happy he only span once”. I thought that was humour, after watching his car, he spoke truth.

Positives

Only three teams had both cars finish the race, and whilst the Ferrari may be slow, it at least is reliable. They have two elite drivers which can handle their cars inconsistencies and capitalise on other teams’ misfortunes.

Negatives

Their car is slow. Their car is unstable. They are going to be desperate that the updates that they are bringing this weekend are going to do something to lift them up. But it is going to take more than a few updates to make up 9 tenths of a second. They can effectively write off this season already.

Racing Point

Give whoever designed this car a raise! Racing Point have grown leaps and bounds since last year, fully establishing themselves as a serious threat to the F1.5 crown. The Racing Point was 9 tenths quicker than they were last year, which is an outstanding achievement. They might have been slower than what they were expecting, however, this is a huge positive.

Perez

He was running a very consistent pace in the beginning of the race, although, he was slowly being dropped by the quicker lead McLaren. However, at the first pit stop the Racing Point was the only team to go onto the mediums, this was a great strategy call, something I expect teams will do next weekend. He was able to gap Lando by 3.5 seconds, and was gaining on Alex Albon in third before the second safety car caused everyone to pit. They chose not to pit Perez, who then struggled on old mediums until the end, combined with a 5 second penalty for speeding in the pitlane, what could have been a podium, turned out to be a sixth place finish.

Stroll

Stroll’s main weakness is his qualifying pace, hopefully he has been able to reduce the gap because this weekend he only was slower than Perez by 1.5 tenths. In the end, it is hard to judge Stroll when he retired early and had to manage a struggling engine all race.

Positives

It is clear that they are going to be contenders this year, hopefully to challenge for podiums on pace alone and not just when chaos happens. A brilliant strategy call to put Perez on the medium tyres meant that he leap frogged Norris and was on target to reel in Albon for the final podium position before the safety car came out.

Negatives

The Racing Points need to find a bit more race pace in the following race in order to properly compete against the McLaren’s. With no tyre advantage Perez was getting dropped by Lando, and Sainz was making his way through the field passed Stroll. They will also need to find resolution for their issues in reliability. All weekend the back of the pink car was smoking, which consequently led to the decline of Stroll. It might not be fixable in the few days that they have off between the two races in Austria, which would cause real problems for the pink outfit. Thirdly, it was a poor decision not to pit with everyone else for fresh rubber, it left Perez open to overtakes by everyone behind him, when a podium was a serious opportunity.

Alpha Tauri

The new look Toro Rosso didn’t have that much screen time to show off their beautiful new livery. However, the only time I can actually remember the Alpha Tauri be on TV was when Kvyat’s tyre exploded on lap 67. They have easily established themselves as the sixth best car, easily beating the Alfa’s, Williams and Haas cars. But, the cars just kind of… lingered.

Kvyat

The experienced Russian was just a tenth of a second behind Gasly, which I think the team would be very happy with. He was in the mix to pick up a handful of points before a puncture took him out, likely to be from Raikkonen’s failure on the last corner.

Gasly

Alpha Tauri just might be Carlos Sainz this year, because I just can’t remember seeing them on TV that much. I think he might have got divebombed by Vettel, but so much of how boring their races were that’s kind of it. He finished in 7th place, so will be very happy with coming home with 6 points.

Positives

They kept to a nice, clean race, barring a freak puncture which ruined Kvyat’s race. Thankfully he picked a good place to park the car at the top of the straight so there was no need for a safety car which would have certainly stopped Lando’s podium.

Negatives

There isn’t really a negative, because Kvyat’s retirement was a freak accident. They were comfortably fighting for the points positions all race, all together a good weekend.

Renault

The team the week before arrived at the Red Bull ring to do practice for the upcoming season. For so much time they spent there, they would be bitterly disappointed by what they came out with. In qualifying both pilots said that they were disappointed in their final results, with Ocon in 14th and Ricciardo in 10th, as in practice they were nearing the top of the timing screens. In the race, Danny had to retire on the 17th lap, whilst Ocon had an up and down race, ultimately walking away with 4 points.

Ricciardo

Ricciardo was disappointed in his final qualifying time, which in the end, I quite agree with. His Q3 time was 2 tenths slower than his Q2 time. If he had improved by just 1 tenth, he would’ve jumped to 7th place.

Ocon

I predicted that Ocon would be off pace due to the lack of driving he has done, and that really was the case. In the Q2 battle where Ocon got eliminated he was 6 tenths off of Ricciardo. On a track this short, that is an unbelievable difference. Ocon was fighting towards the back and was off pace for much of the race. After all the retirements he came away with some points, but without the retirements he would’ve languished well outside the points.

Positives

Practice showed that pace is there, if Ricciardo put the proper lap in in Q3 he could’ve been much higher on the grid.

Negatives

For all of their preparation, they will be very disappointed this weekend. It still seems that they have been unable to work out the unreliability that always plagues the engine. They will be disappointed with how badly Ocon was all weekend. Yes, it is his first weekend back. But Daniel had him comfortably in his back pocket for the whole weekend. A second race in Austria will truly see if the potential was always there or whether it’s a pipe dream.

Alfa Romeo

Another team that has suffered due to Ferrari’s engine troubles. The team suffered all weekend in quali and race pace, and arguably the second worst car on the grid at the minute. In qualifying they were 1.1 seconds slower than last year! They were at the back of the field for the whole race, with very little hope of pushing forward. Giovinazzi got lucky with other retirements to snatch 2 points.

Raikkonen

This was a weekend to forget for the iceman. All weekend he seemed off pace and was being beaten by his younger teammate all weekend. I predicted that Kimi would be quicker this year in basically every race, but this was a bad start for him. In the first few laps of the race he moved passed a few cars, and when cars retired, he moved up to a decent position and would’ve been on for points. Until a loose wheel nut meant his tyre fell off and he was forced to retire. Kimi was on track for 2 laps with a loose wheel, it was only at the safety car restart where he was starting to go fast and put some weight on the wheel that meant it fell off. It was lucky there was no crowd as that wheel could have gone anywhere.  

Giovinazzi

The car might have been terrible, but I think this is a good weekend for the young Italian. He showed all weekend that he can hang with the more experienced teammate, and has really shown that he is growing into his role in the Alfa. He was under a tenth from getting into Q2, which shows how competitive the back of the field is this year. All race he seemed like he was fighting against Ocon, climbing from 18th to 14th in a scintillating first lap. Battling against Ocon shows that they had a better race pace than quali pace, but then again the Renualt didn’t seem that great either.

Positives

In the end with other cars retiring Gio managed to pick up 2 points, which could be very important if Haas and Williams don’t pick up any points all championship. There race pace was better than there quali pace which shows that they can climb up the field even if they qualify badly.

Negatives

A 1.1 second deficit in qualifying compared to last year is very worrying when the track is as short as Austria. If Ferrari are losing 7 tenths in the straights, Alfa are going to be losing a lot more. So it may be less slow when they get to more technical tracks like Hungary, but with another race in Austria, its not looking good.

Williams

This must be considered a great weekend for the British outfit. Last year they languished in last every race, this year they almost got out of Q1, and wasn’t dropped immediately once the race started. Another retirement and Latifi would have received a point in his racing debut.

Russell

I predicted that George Russell would be quicker than Latifi every race this year, I’m very confident in that statement. In qualifying he was 6 tenths quicker than the Canadian, even Kubica last year was only 3 tenths slower than Russell. He was under a tenth from getting into Q2 for the first time in a long time, this is significant progress! At the start of his race, he unfortunately dropped back, showing that their race pace isn’t matching their quali pace. Had Russell not retired, he could have been in the mix for a point.

Latiffi

I think that Williams will allow this weekend to be a write off, it’s going to take time for him to grow into the seat, but he will be disappointed to be so far back to Russell this weekend. Running at the back, there isn’t much to talk about as he didn’t have a sniff of moving up the grid.

Positives

Williams will be very, very happy this weekend because they were 8 tenths quicker in qualifying this year. This is an insane amount of progress for the team, with Russell spearheading this growth up the field. Last year the Williams car had far too much drag, going 8 tenths faster means they have solved that issue, so it will be interesting how it fairs on more technical tracks. They have clearly made significant progress, and will be battling Haas all year as there looks like it is a dog of a car.

Negatives

Last year, the car was very reliable. The car was terrible, but at least reliable. It would be a bit of a worry that Russell retired in the first race. Is it fair to say that they may be disappointed that they didn’t receive a point? Had it been Russell instead of Latifi in that final position, he would’ve definitely given a go. That point could be vital not knowing how many races there are going to be, and that Haas doesn’t look like it could score a point.  

Red Bull

In their home race, this is a weekend of “what if?” The whole weekend, they looked like they were the second fastest car. With Hamilton dropping down the qualifying order, and Verstappen being on a different strategy, it looked like it could have been a great race had he not conked out early. Albon on the other hand, when he bolted the softs on, I had no doubt that he would have won the race. They came away empty handed, but will look forward to another race in Austria where a podium will look likely.

Verstappen

Verstappen was the only driver at the front to try and go for a different strategy, had it worked out, he could have caused a lot of chaos for the final few laps of the race. However, his retirement early on meant this didn’t materialise. Had he not retired a podium would have been a certainty.

Albon

Albon looked like he struggled this weekend, he was 4 tenths off his teammates pace in qualifying. But in the race it was a different story. He quickly got passed Norris and Perez, and was keeping a nice distance between them, and then to the Mercedes out front. When he came in for the soft tyres near the end. He looked clinical overtaking Perez, and then nearly got passed Hamilton. It’s unfortunate he got hit, because he would’ve been leading the race, before he himself retired.

Positives

There car is the second fastest, but they will be very disappointed in this result. However, there isn’t that many positives to take apart from that.

Negatives

The Honda engine failed in both cars, this was be seriously worrying for the Red Bull’s when last year it wasn’t the most reliable either. Max could have been a serious title contender this year, however, already 25 points behind, this season title is a no hope. They have also given away their medium to soft strategy they tried to do with Verstappen this weekend. Meaning that every team is going to be aware they may try it again, or they stick with the pack and follow suit.

Haas

Haas will be happy with Grosjean escaping Q1, but above all else, this was a bad weekend for the American team. Both cars suffered with brake issues, and both were towards the back of the field all race before they both retired.

Grosjean

He will be very happy that he made it into Q2 when the back field was very tight. As the race went on he was missing from the TV screens except for two occasions, both times were him going the long way round the downhill hairpin after not being able to brake enough, eventually retiring.

Magnussen

He was slower than Grosjean for most of the weekend, and again was towards the back of the field before his spectacular retirement. Going full speed up the hill, his brakes failed causing him to spin at the top of the hill. The onboard at the time showed Ocon diving down his inside, only for Magnussen, unable to stop, breeze straight back past and off into the gravel.

Positives

None, both cars retired, both cars had the same issues and were towards the back of the pack all weekend.

Negatives

Brake issues will be a worry for the team, which I think they had issues with last year. They’re the final team running a Ferrari engine, which meant they were significantly slower than last year. Magnussen last year stole a great finish in qualifying, this year they were 6 tenths slower in qualifying.

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