“In a weekend where everything that could have gone wrong for the Mercedes, did go wrong.”
Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel entered the Austrian Grand Prix 2018, trailing championship-leader Lewis Hamilton by 14 points. As the Italian stable leaves the Spielberg circuit, upon completion of a thrilling, rather surprising Grand Prix, the German holds the lead of the 2018 world championship by 1 point.
In F1, you predict outcomes at your own peril.
A weekend that was slated to unfurl a near-certain Mercedes 1-2 saw pole-sitter Bottas retire, with teammate Lewis Hamilton following later before the closing stages as Red Bull and Ferrari exulted at Spielberg amid thousands of ecstatic fans.
In making most of a double mechanical DNF by Mercedes, Raikkonen and Vettel led a strong Ferrari resurgence- perhaps unexpectedly- finishing behind the flying Dutchman, Max Verstappen.
By clinching his fourth Grand Prix win, in as many racing seasons, since debuting in 2015, Verstappen led the proceedings to break the strange Red Bull jinx; that of having not won a single Austrian Grand Prix ever since the track returned on the roster since 2014.
Here’s how the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix panned out
With Bottas, clinching his maiden pole of 2018, starting ahead of Hamilton, Mercedes’ looked set to dominate the weekend at the Australian Grand Prix 2018.
Fans eagerly expected a dominant weekend from the Silver Arrows. This expectation, however, changed suddenly as immediately after the five red lights turning green, third-placed Raikkonen (benefitting from Vettel’s grid penalty, German beginning P6) jumped into the middle of both Mercedes drivers.
By demonstrating his grittiest opening start of the season, the experienced Finn, on the ultrasofts, would lunge ahead of his compatriot as Hamilton quickly clinched the lead.
However, at Turn 2- a sharp right-hander- Raikkonen jumped onto the left of Hamilton, in a bid to move ahead but locked up. In doing so, he ceded the place back to Hamilton, only to be passed later by Bottas, by which time Verstappen got into the groove.
The Ferrari driver, Kimi Raikkonen was coming increasingly under pressure from Max inside the opening lap.
By the time the duo battled around the exit on Turn Three, Verstappen, making slight contact with Kimi, drove the Finn wide and launched ahead, having originally started fourth. Raikkonen had dropped back a place in fourth.
Meanwhile, Vettel dropped down a place with Ferrari’s race looking in disarray as the other Red Bull of Ricciardo began looking dangerous, picking up some pace.
The pecking order changed, Hamilton began chipping away from Bottas
The opening few laps saw Lewis mount a serious challenge as the stakeholder of the top step of the podium, a place he’d last occupied in 2016 Grand Prix. Two of the quickest drivers on the grid from the onset of Lap 2-15 were Ricciardo and Lewis with 29-year-old Ricciardo producing some impressive lap times, although Hamilton ruling the roost, clocking a 1:08:7 in the opening stints.
Meanwhile, there was no dearth in action further down the grid with Fernando Alonso, beginning in his McLaren from the pits competing with the likes of Magnussen, Hulkenberg and both Force India’ competing for points.
The action at the front would stay unchanged with Lewis continuing to set pacy lap times, increasing his lead to second-placed Bottas as an interesting battle for third saw Verstappen interested in displacing the Finn.
By Lap 10, Ricciardo was eight-tenths of a second behind fourth-placed Raikkonen
The next few laps, however, would see Raikkonen, coming under increasing attack from Ricciardo, the gap between the two under less than half a second.
The duo would battle for another ten laps.
However, by the 20th lap, Raikkonen struggling for grip, had a big lock-up in successive turns 3 and 4 and would concede the place to Ricciardo, who moved up into fourth. From thereon, it seemed, it was all over for Raikkonen, who had begun from a respectable third, but was it?
At this time, Vettel upped his pace and was contesting to break into top five.
Could there’ve been a racing weekend minus a drama?
Hamilton, who had stayed out for the longest stint than most others pitted by lap 25, and around Lap 30 the order of the race completely reversed.
Heading into Lap 31, Bottas was leading and was seemingly impeccable, being pursued by Verstappen. Meanwhile, the battle for third was beginning to grip viewers with Raikkonen, in pursuit of third-placed Ricciardo, who was being chased by Hamilton, who as luck would have it, emerged ahead of the Ferrari of Vettel.
The race positions remained unchanged for a further seven laps as the Austrian Grand Prix produced a back-bending change by Lap 38.
Reversal of fortunes
Entering Lap 39, Daniel Ricciardo, who had brilliantly held on to a third, was struggling for grips, with Raikkonen breathing heavy on the tail of the Red Bull. On the extended straights, however, Kimi would jump into the inside of the Australian, making a fine move to reclaim third, that he had been robbed off by Daniel.
Easily, the unluckiest driver on the grid, Bottas, looking poised for his second Austrian win, retired dramatically, losing hydraulic pressure in that Mercedes.
This would hand the lead of the race to Verstappen, the eventual winner
A few laps later, around Lap 55, Ricciardo would face his biggest nightmare when he pulled along the side of the track, having lost power in his car, leaving only the Red Bull of second-place Verstappen to run into contention for a strong finish.
With 16 laps to go to the checkered flag, with Ricciardo and Bottas having retired, Vettel would jump into third, pursued by Hamilton, who had stopped for another change in the waning tyre compounds.
Even as the gap between the two Ferrari drivers was around 2.5 seconds, Raikkonen, seemingly distant from Verstappen, lagged behind the Dutchman by well over 7 seconds.
With close to 10 laps to go, Mercedes would suffer their second heartbreak of the weekend. On Lap 64, Hamilton, who was only beginning to mount a serious charge over Vettel, who had passed him earlier, parked his Mercedes at the side of the track, following a loss of fuel pressure. Both drivers stifled with mechanical anomalies meant this would be the first non-finish for Lewis in 33 Grands Prix, his last retirement coming at Sepang, 2016.
With under 10 laps to go, Raikkonen, then on second, kept Vettel easily well at bay.
But, at the same time, the “Iceman” kept up the pressure on Verstappen.
What had hitherto been a clear 7 point lead at around Lap 65 between 1 and 2 drivers would tinker down to just over 3 seconds with Raikkonen increasingly closing the gap to Max in the finishing stages.
As Verstappen blasted past the checkered flag, clearly struggling with tyres, he would clinch Red Bull’s maiden win at the Spielberg, unfurling an imperious performance ahead of the heartbreak for Mercedes.
Ferrari, however, completed a dominant 2-3, their first in the season with Kimi Raikkonen finishing a brilliant second, easily 1.5 seconds ahead of Vettel. Big gainers were Haas, whose Romain Grosjean not only opened his account finally, even if so in the ninth race of the year, the Frenchman made a race out of the contest by clinching a fourth.
Ferrari on top
That said, Austria brought a complete overhaul to what had been a Mercedes advantage as both Ferrari and Vettel lead the constructor’s and driver’s standings respectively.
With second of the first of its kind tripleheader clinched by Ferrari, having lost out to Mercedes earlier at France, it only heightens the prospect of seeing what might clearly be a thrilling contest at Silverstone, the next racing weekend.
Fastest lap: New track record for Kimi: 1:06:957