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A disclaimer appeared loud and bold ahead of two vital F1 teams as the Formula One caravan descended at the Red Bull Ring, nestled between the picturesque Austrian hills for the 31st installation of the Austrian Grand Prix.
Ferrari hadn’t won a race here upon the circuit’s return on the roster starting 2014. Nor had the Scuderia evidenced both its drivers on the podium at the completion of any Grand Prix. More importantly, however, Red Bull, the home team at Spielberg hadn’t won their home race. How embarrassing a statistical anomaly was that?
Well, nearly all of it changed by the time a thrilling slug-fest was completed and the checkered flag was waved at the end of the 71 laps.
A Kimi Raikkonen flanked by teammate Vettel- yes, on the podium for the first time since Canada- assumed the 2nd and 3rd spots respectively, as one man exulted on the centre-stage- Red Bull’s race winner- Max Verstappen.
But amid guts and glories, there was a massive setback for arguably the fastest and most powerful team of the pack.
As Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas clinched his maiden pole position for 2018, also his fifth overall, it appeared that he was slated to finish as the back-to-back winner at Austria, having first clinched the Grand Prix in 2017. Followed by Hamilton, in P2, you couldn’t be doubted for thinking that it was all set for a strong Mercedes weekend.
How often has a team as strong as the Silver Arrows lost the plot having locked out the very front of a grid?
But Formula 1 isn’t what transpires on the paper and math. Mercedes, having fought off a flying Kimi Raikkonen, were looking safe as houses ever since Hamilton clinched the lead and Bottas fended off his fellow Finn inside the opening lap.
But how could there have been a race without some drama?
By Lap 15, the Grand Prix turned on its head as Bottas ceded his place to Verstappen, who would move ahead. What unfolded during the latter stages would be more drama as we saw a thrilling battle between race-winner Verstappen and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. The gap, between drivers 1 and 2 that had been well over 7 seconds with only 10 laps to go, reducing drastically to under 3 seconds in the fighting stages.
But what were the key lessons that the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix unfurled?
Grosjean often comes good at Austria
It may not be the homeland of Frenchman Romain Grosjean, but it appears that there’s a bit of a chemistry for Romain here at Spielberg. If you rewind back to the events of the 2017 Austrian Grand Prix, then it was here at Red Bull Ring that the Haas driver secured his best place all season- a fighting P6.
Just that Grosjean, who hadn’t opened his account in 8 previous Grands Prix, went two places better, ending on a brilliant P4. In earning 12 valuable points, Grosjean’s 2018 season finally went underway, after conceding a disastrous start all year. Although, there was a near certain chance to enter the top ten at his home race at Paul Ricard, a week earlier, but Romain would have to contend with some heartbreak, as he’d finish on eleventh.
Propelled by thrill, Vettel v Hamilton is indeed becoming the showreel of 2018
The 2018 season has seen some of the best drives already from arguably, two of the best drivers in the grid. But it could be said, both Hamilton and Vettel have ensured that the world championship fight lingers on the knife’s edge, the duo winning 3 races apiece.
Who will prevail at Silverstone can only be answered at one’s own peril, such feisty and thrilling has been the level of competitiveness between the two.
Here’s some interesting bit of trivia in case you had forgotten. While upon winning two back-to-back Grands Prix at Australia, followed by Bahrain, just when it seemed that this was going to be an out and out Vettel advantage, Lewis came in to reverse the German’s fortunes and won the Azerbaijan and Spanish Grand Prix.
But at Austria, however, there would be utter heartbreak for Hamilton and his pole-sitter teammate Bottas. By Lap 15, Bottas, who’d reclaimed P2, a place he had conceded to Raikkonen on the opening lap retired, losing hydraulic pressure in his Mercedes. A gearbox problem had done in the Finn.
There would be more heartbreak for the man who’d entered Spielberg as the championship leader, Lewis Hamilton. Pulling along at the side of the track, Hamilton retired due to a mechanical anomaly, this is when he’d been mounting enough pressure on Vettel, ever since pitting for a second stop.
Don’t forget about Fernando Alonso
We’ve seen in the past the likes of Vettel and Verstappen, holding the fort and fighting back places having begun from the pit-lane. This time, however, it was the turn of the grand old-hand of F1 to unfurl some magic, albeit in a seemingly struggling McLaren.
Just when it had seemed that Alonso’s Austrian Grand Prix couldn’t have any worse, the Spaniard lacking serious race pace in the qualifying runs, Fernando produced some magic, fighting back several places to conjure an eighth. You read that right: P8 having begun from behind in the pits. Let’s just leave it to El Nino’s brilliance.
Austrian Grand Prix produced a stunning contender for the pass of the year
While clearly the most beautiful moment of the race came in the form of Verstappen- supported by hundreds and thousands of his Orange Army stacked in the grandstand- crossing the checkered flag to claim his 4th Grand Prix win, the most thrilling moment, however, involved the titans- Vettel and Hamilton.
In perhaps making the most audacious move all season, on Lap 39, Vettel, approaching the run to Turn Three, came into the outside of Hamilton to corner the Briton for space and made a bold move to move up into third. Leaving no space for Lewis or margin for error whatsoever, the German fought back brilliantly. This may not have earned Vettel a win, but it did ensure that even stalwarts like Lewis had to contend with some strong resistance from the rival camp.
Was this among the moves of the year- only fans can decide better?
There’s fight left in Raikkonen
Called laggard a few times, that too inside the Ferrari camp, perhaps the Austrian Grand Prix served just another idea why Kimi’s hailed as the Iceman. If there was a race that indicated signs of the old Kimi; the one as seen in the halcyon days at McLaren and in that championship-winning Ferrari; then it was the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix.
In making inarguably the most audacious move inside the opening lap, within seconds of the lights turning green, Raikkonen- beginning P3- would jump into the middle of the two Mercedes, going as far as moving up on Bottas by Turn 1. Although, approaching a stiff right-hander on Turn 2, Raikkonen, who’d jumped into the left of Hamilton, in a bid to pass would lock up and cede the place back to the Briton, only to be passed by his Fellow Finn.
With such dramatic scenes transpiring inside the opening lap, one wondered what lay ahead for Raikkonen in the 71-lap contest and boy, did Kimi answer his scathing critics!
Making a stellar move on a struggling Ricciardo, the Australian running a forgetful race, Raikkonen dived into the inside of Daniel by Lap 38, to jump into second. From thereon, his task would be to catch Verstappen, an effort, that according to the ‘Iceman’ would’ve paid off in the end, had he not run out of laps to make a move on the flying Dutchman.
But the biggest highlight of Raikkonen, who clinched a vital P2 for Ferrari (keeping a chasing Vettel well at bay) wasn’t just ensuring a Ferrari 2-3. Apart from the fact that the Finn collecting the 5th podium in 9 races this year, taking his tally to 96 overall, he set the new fastest lap record at Spielberg, a belter of a lap in 1:06:957.