Highs and Loews: Austria

Highs

Valtteri Bottas – 1st
Even before teammate Hamilton’s grid drop, Bottas had taken pole in Austria, and that must be a huge boost for the Finn as he tries to force himself into the championship battle. For someone with limited experience of winning races, Bottas has shown both here and in Russia that he isn’t fazed by the likes of four time world champion Vettel breathing down his neck. Is surely on course to be given an extended stay at Mercedes past this year, as his points tally is allowing the team to top the constructors championship despite not leading the drivers version. So far it looks a smart move from the Brackley based outfit.

Sebastian Vettel – 2nd
Claims needed just one more lap to pass Bottas, which is perhaps optimistic given the Mercedes pace in a straight line, but even still 2nd extends his lead over Hamilton in the championship, which he needed after the circus that followed him post-Baku.

Daniel Ricciardo – 3rd
Five podiums in a row is a stellar effort in the 3rd best car. Has rode his luck at times in previous races, but in Austria was simply quicker than Raikkonen and did a great job holding off a charging Hamilton at the end.

Romain Grosjean – 6th
Grosjean himself claimed he had finished 1st in the Formula One Grand Prix 2, which is a more positive way of saying the oft used best of the rest. Haas had the pace this weekend and Grosjean delivered, he just needs to do so more consistently.

Lance Stroll – 10th
This was an important weekend for Stroll, after the highs of the last race it was important he didn’t give any of his detractors ammunition again. Qualifying 18th and finishing 10th may not be in the same league as his 3rd (it’s a full 14 points shy, in fact), but it was more his performance relative to his teammate. Massa himself only qualified 17th and finished 9th, so it shows that Stroll has come on from earlier in the season, where he was often a huge distance behind his teammate. He’ll take a 3rd points finish in successive races, too.

Loews

Lewis Hamilton – 4th
The gearbox issue that led to the grid penalty is of course out of his control, but this was a second race in a row where he lost ground on Vettel. He now trails the championship leader by 20 points, but the most concerning aspect will be Hamilton’s morale coming out of the weekend.

Prior to the race Hamilton gave interviews off the back of the issues with Vettel in Baku, where he alluded to exposing a weakness in the German’s temperament, the evidence in Austria though was that we are seeing one of Hamilton’s weaknesses coming to the fore. The three time world champion is one of the best around, of a generation, but there always has been questions regarding his response to adversity that is out of his control.

In Azerbaijan and then in Austria he was penalised by technical issues that he himself had no influence over, the post-race interviews were that of dejection and almost resignation. Hamilton is quoted as saying that it’s going to be very difficult from here to catch Vettel, which if he were to look at it realistically, isn’t the case. Mercedes were quicker than Ferrari yet again in Austria, it would only take three races of Hamilton winning and Vettel 2nd to cut the 20 points, two, if Bottas can make it a 1-2 for the team. So why such pessimism this early in the season? Vettel is someone who leads well from the front, if these are mind games, they seem misplaced.

Where he might now have problems though is Bottas’ emergence once again as a title contender, but an in-form Hamilton should still prevail in this inter-team battle. However he’ll need to first show the kind of resolve that his recent public appearances imply is absent. Vettel will relish any sniff of submission.

Kimi Raikkonen – 5th
Raikkonen has come in for criticism from senior Ferrari officials, and It’s hard to argue with it on current form. Having been jumped at the start by Ricciardo, he never threatened to challenge the Australian, and this must be a huge worry for those in Maranello. He was so far off the pace in fact that Ferrari once again used him as a blocker to attempt to push Bottas into Vettel, but even then he was unable to keep Bottas behind for any length of time. There are times when he is competitive with Vettel, but for the Ferrari cause, these are simply too infrequent. As mentioned above, Mercedes currently lead the constructors championship despite not leading the drivers equivalent, Bottas can take credit for the job he’s doing, but Raikkonen must take blame for the lack of support to Vettel.

Nico Hulkenberg – 13th
Finishing behind Jolyon Palmer was never going to garner praise.

Daniil Kvyat – 16th
Kvyat’s explanation for the accident at turn one seemed a little amiss, as he suggested it was a domino effect of errors made in front of him. Unfortunately replays show that he just carried too much speed into the corner and wasn’t prepared to stop in time. It’s errors like this that fuel the rumours that perhaps Kvyat’s time is up at Toro Rosso with no obvious future at Red Bull, and with Pierre Gasly waiting in the wings, pressure must be mounting on the Russian. It would be a shame as there is obvious talent there, but he may be left hoping other teams have also noticed this unless he can turn his fortunes around soon.

Carlos Sainz – DNF
In a week in which Sainz hinted that he might need to leave Toro Rosso to realise his ambitions, a DNF wasn’t on the agenda to impress potential suitors. It is perhaps all irrelevant though, as Christian Horner’s response very much indicated Sainz is staying put, for the next season at least. Red Bull will welcome ambitious drivers, but it’s important they deliver and tow the media line. Sainz should be cautious when tackling the famously ruthless Red Bull hierarchy.

Kevin Magnussen – DNF
Haas had real potential in Austria as Grosjean showed with his 6th place, so after his 7th in Baku this was a huge disappointment for the Dane. His chance to get into Q3 was ended by a suspension failure in Q1, and his race ended after 29 laps with further technical issues. His colourful language over the radio left no one in doubt that Magnussen also saw this as an opportunity wasted.

Fernando Alonso – DNF
A good start for the Spaniard put him into 10th going into the first corner, however we’ll now never know what he could have achieved in a McLaren that had more potential here than we’d seen at many of the races. A bad weekend got worse as rumour has it Ferrari and Mercedes have declined the option of Alonso for 2018, it might be that McLaren turns out to be his best option. He’ll be delighted.

Max Verstappen – DNF
Unlike Alonso, Verstappen was a victim thanks to a poor start. Not at fault in any way for the accident, but without his tardy get away wouldn’t have been near the collision that prematurely ended his race. That’s five DNFs in the last seven races whilst his teammate has five podiums on the bounce, and the two he did finish were in 5th. Verstappen now sits below Sergio Perez in the driver standings in 7th, Red Bull need to up their game.

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