For the ninth stop of the season the circus moves to Austria, Red Bull's territory. After Hamilton's victory in France, Formula 1 needs fresh air and the Austrian Alps are the best place to find it. Spielberg, one of the most beautiful tracks of the Championship, is a high speed circuit, and in addition to being one of the shortest on the calendar, a lap can be covered in just over a minute, it has nine curves, three of which require a strong braking reaction, and most importantly, long straights, which match Ferrari's characteristics, provided that it is able to exploit them. This is a great opportunity for the Scuderia Ferrari. The Austrian circuit is perfect for an attempt at redemption and hopefully a first victory of the season. Sebastian Vettel has not been on the top step of the podium since the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix, and the Austrian circuit is missing among his victories:
"Never won in Austria, no doubt it's a track on which I'd like to win, I've been on the podium before but never on the top step. I would like to try. Everyone in the paddock likes this race and so do we drivers. After all, this track is unique, nestled in the mountains where, with a bit of luck, you can even see some residual snow. To be thrown behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car and see cows grazing all around you is certainly not something you do often. On this track you have to do everything perfectly, even though it is very short and you can turn in just over a minute. Also here it is important to guarantee a good starting position in order to have a good race".
The last edition of the Austrian Grand Prix was won by Max Verstappen, the fourth career victory for the Dutchman and the first of 2018. This season the Red Bull youngster has not yet had the opportunity to climb the top step, but after the two third places he was only able to fight for the fourth position as the car is not allowing him to go further:
"Repeat myself? I don't think I have much of a chance. It will be difficult, it would take a lot of luck, but I still hope for a good result on Sunday. I wouldn't say it's frustrating, I'm not miles away from my rivals. Of course I want to win races and not fight for fourth place, but the Mercedes are never too far away. Of course we have to work hard to extract a bit more from both the chassis and the engine. Compared to them we lack speed in the corners, while compared to Ferrari we lack something on the straights: we have to improve".
Regarding the question of 2020 Verstappen does not dwell at length, but he says he is focused on the current project, however, hinting that he is demanding improvements:
"I'm not worried about what will happen next year, now I'm focused on this project - I think Red Bull has a lot of room for growth. It will be important to see what the team brings to the next races. I certainly don't want to keep driving until I'm 35 for fourth place".
The boredom and monotony of the races is by now an increasingly common topic in the paddock, and we are not just talking about the last few months, but already a few years ago. So the discussions about the new 2021 regulations continue. This season, more than any other, is a hymn to the obvious: eight races out of eight won by Mercedes, six of which ended in a one-two. A championship that has very little of a championship. The comments from the drivers are getting louder and louder: Vettel talks about burning the regulations, Verstappen follows him, Hamilton wants the old competitions full of adrenaline back. It's very simple: the drivers want to race more freely.
A meeting is therefore convened in Spielberg on June 27th 2019, which sees the ten team principals, the FIA, Liberty Media and Pirelli come together. In 2018, work was already underway with a view to the future: one of the changes, later confirmed and made during the current season, is that concerning the tires. The change included a reduced tread and was tested in Spain, France and Great Britain after several complaints caused by tire blistering. However, six out of ten teams want to return to the 2018 tread (0.4 millimeters higher), maintaining the compounds now in use. Approval from at least seventy percent of the teams is required to meet this request, but obviously not everyone finds an advantage in this.
Mercedes has managed to make the most of the change thanks to the right aerodynamic load, while other teams, such as Ferrari and Red Bull, are having much more difficulty adapting. For now the vote is still in progress and only one vote in favor is missing for the new tire to be approved. Ferrari, Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Renault, Haas and Alfa Romeo are voting in support, and as the naysayers are Mercedes, McLaren and Williams, the deciding vote is up to Racing Point, which has yet to speak. The drivers have been involved in the discussion as confirmed to us by Vettel
"We drivers have also been involved in the discussions and that's good. I think that at the end of the day we are very similar to the fans, because we are only interested in racing and having fun, without politics or other interests. Our opinion, therefore, can be important".
While the paddock is buzzing with anticipation waiting for the verdict, the engines are revving up for the new race weekend. For the Austrian Grand Prix, Pirelli, the sole tire supplier, is providing the C2, C3 and C4 compounds, which were already used in the previous French Grand Prix. This season, the grand prix is sponsored by myWorld, an international business company. As established in 2018, the FIA sets three zones where drivers can activate the Drag Reduction System: the first zone is set between the Castrol Edge and Remus curves, with the detachment point between the drivers set before the Castrol Edge; the second zone is set between the Remus and Schlossgold curves (the detachment point is set before the Remus); the third zone is on the pit straight, with detection point before the Red Bull Mobile. Finally, Tom Kristensen is appointed assistant commissioner by the FIA; the Danish driver has also served in this capacity in the past, most recently at the 2018 Japanese Grand Prix.
Magneti Marelli becomes a new sponsor for the Formula 1 Championship; the Italian company will provide telemetry services, which will then be broadcast to viewers on live television. The Scuderia Toro Rosso mounts on Alexander Albon's car, in two days, two new power units, supplied by Honda. The Thai driver is penalized 60 positions on the starting grid, as he mounts new components. Renault also mounts on the car of Nico Hülkenberg and on the McLaren of Carlos Sainz Jr. the new power unit specification. Both drivers are penalized 5 and 60 positions on the starting grid respectively, as they mount new components. As mentioned earlier the Austrian circuit matches Ferrari's characteristics and this brings confidence to the drivers. Leclerc fresh from a third place in France is ready to fight for a higher result:
"The Spielberg circuit is always a nice location to return to. In general the atmosphere is very pleasant and there are many activities on the track to entertain the public that sometimes also see us drivers as protagonists. The track is quite interesting: it is a very short lap where it is fundamental not to make mistakes in order to gain a good position on the starting grid. In the ability to adapt myself and the car from Q1 to Q3 I think I made a lot of progress in France. The goal is just to restart from the good things done in Le Castellet to continue to improve".
Mattia Binotto, after two weekends submerged by the events of the Canadian Grand Prix, is ready for redemption, and Austria could be the best place:
"We are happy to be back on track right away because it is the best way to have a new confrontation and try to understand what didn't go according to plan in France. We'll have several test items and we'll do some testing, especially to get a better picture of why some of the new elements we brought to Le Castellet didn't work out. Austria is a track with different characteristics from Paul Ricard: the first part has long straights and straight braking while the second one is more driven, with a mix of low and medium-high speed corners. Very high temperatures are expected so it will be a challenging weekend from the point of view of cooling both the engine and the brakes and consequently also very difficult in terms of tyre management".
Ferrari's objective at the start of the Championship was to contend for the title with the best and certainly not this desperate pursuit. The problems presented were more than what was expected, and it was Mercedes itself who gained, as it simply took a pebble off its shoe. The development and innovation of the German team has been unstoppable year after year, the results are the proof and Hamilton completes the package. The British driver is helping to make this stable a destroyer and avid record accumulator. Leading the way, however, is the modesty of the British driver, who never pays attention to numbers, statistics and rankings:
"Obviously it's great to break a record, but it's never been a priority. It's extraordinary, of course, in Mercedes' 125th year to be part of their most successful period. I'm here to do the same thing I did in France, hopefully stay in front because the Ferraris will be closer. It will be interesting to understand the balance of power between us, them and Red Bull".
The challenge has been set and Scuderia Ferrari is aware of the difficulties they will face. Leclerc states:
"At the moment it is difficult to close the gap to Mercedes. We will believe until the end: we are aware that the gap in the standings is very large and it will be complicated to recover, but we will give everything while we have hope. The Mercedes are also very fast on the race pace and it is very difficult to reach their level. As the second part of the last race in France showed, everything is possible, but if they don't have any problems it's difficult to challenge them on equal terms. On our side we are trying to do the best possible job: in France it was a good weekend for me, now I have to keep on improving, I love this track, it is one of my favorites: I enjoy driving here".
"I believe that in the team there are the skills, the talents and the ideas to react to the current situation that sees us chasing. Clearly every race that goes by without being able to put wheels in front of our rivals is not good for us, but I am convinced that we can recover. We hope it happens as soon as possible for us but also for the good of the show. We are giving our best every Sunday, trying to develop our car as quickly as possible and to put it in a position to exploit all the components available, including the tires that this year have quite different characteristics than those of last season".
The tyre issue comes to an end on Friday morning. During the previous weekends, some team principals had taken a strong stance and unfortunately for them things did not go as they wanted. Among these, of course, is Helmut Marko, who had already been accusing Pirelli of favoring Mercedes, the only team to really benefit from the current tyres, according to him:
"Mercedes, right now, has a huge advantage thanks to this stupid change on the tyres. There are nine teams struggling and only one benefiting. Now the lap to warm up the tyres is more important than the qualifying lap. If you don't reach the ideal temperature, you're ruined. We might have the fastest car on the track at that moment, then the Safety Car comes on, the tyres cool down and we're screwed. The request to reduce the tread was made by Mercedes, which has always suffered from blistering. But it ruins the sport. In general our performance has improved, you can't see why Gasly has had some unfortunate races. But we are still not fast enough to win, at the moment there is only one winning car and that is Mercedes".
There is no shortage of comments of praise for his protégé and consequently of disapproval towards their second driver, who has been starting to feel the weight of pressure not only from the press but also within the team for a few weekends now:
"Gasly is not at Max's level, but how many drivers are?"
Also in Canada, to speak out against Pirelli and its way of acting was Gunther Steiner, creative as always in his statements:
"You make progress, but it's not progress you can see and replicate somewhere else. Every time there's something new. What you learn in one weekend doesn't mean you can apply it 100 percent in the next. That's difficult. Every time it's a new surprise, like the Kinder Surprise: what will you find inside?"
And he supports Marko's idea of a new tyre:
"Last year's tire was not perfect. I wouldn't say last year's tire was great and now we want to go back to that. I would argue that it's worth looking into trying to make a tire that doesn't always get us talking about tires. We talk about race cars, accidents and so on".
The verdict, however, taken on Friday morning itself, is negative: the tires will not change. The decisive vote was cast by Racing Point, which sided with Mercedes. It's a categorical no. Once again it seems that the change is much acclaimed, but in the end not put into practice, even if Mario Isola communicates that in the future there could be some turning points:
"New ideas for the second part of the season emerged from the meeting: the regulations allow us to use two additional sets of prototype tires on Fridays, but it was also discussed whether to slightly change the rules to use them on Saturdays and Sundays as well. In 2018 the drivers complained about overheating and blistering, we found a way to avoid them. For 2020, the goal is to make compounds with a wider window of use. For the future, we can consider parameters that are better for the show".
And so, the leader of the first Friday free practice is still Lewis Hamilton, with a time of 1'04"838. Despite the difficulties of the Mercedes at the beginning of the session, with Bottas late due to problems on the car and Hamilton initially not present in the pits, it is just the latter to take once again the best performance, leaving some minutes to Ferrari to hope to be able to do it. In fact, before the Mercedes entered the track, it was the Ferrari that was fighting for the first two places. Hamilton is back fifteen minutes before the start of the free practice, but without getting into the car yet.
Verstappen is the one who takes the lead, the first one to go under 1'06"0 and to keep on improving, while the two Mercedes drivers, once on track, don't go beyond the fifth position. The situation calms down towards the middle of the session. While Vettel stops at the pits for a change of the bottom, going back to the old one for some comparison tests, Leclerc starts to be competitive. The Monegasque takes the lead, only to see it slipped away by Bottas; between the two it becomes a fight for the best time, with the Mercedes driver dropping under 1'05"0 on soft tires, while Leclerc follows on medium tires. But then, the championship leader comes back to bring order and takes the lead.
However, the performance doesn't seem disappointing for Ferrari, as Vettel takes the second position at only 0.144 seconds and with one compound difference. Despite FP1 ending with Hamilton's best time, there seems to be some problems in Mercedes. In fact, during this hour and a half the two drivers showed some difficulties in the corners: first Hamilton in turn 4 and finally the Bottas' cross. To close this first session is Hulkenberg, who in a close collision with the external kerbs, present in turn 9, breaks the front wing and ends up off the track causing the neutralization of the tests.
In the afternoon the temperatures rise at the Red Bull Ring: 34 °C for the air and 55 °C for the asphalt. And to add a pinch of difficulty, strong gusts of wind arrive. The second free practice session is characterized by many tailbacks and two red flags, one after the other, caused first by Verstappen in turn 10, and then Bottas in turn 6, breaking respectively the rear and the front of his car.
Charles Leclerc takes the lead, with a time of 1'05"086, putting behind him not only his teammate, in eighth position, unable to improve due to Bottas' exit and a spin, but also the two Mercedes, three tenths faster than the Finn and four tenths faster than the five-time World Champion.
Red Bull also put in a good performance, but with Gasly in third and Verstappen ninth due to his accident. Nevertheless, seeing the Frenchman among the top three is a good sign both for him and for the team itself, considering the big gap that usually divides its two drivers. Despite the final results of the session, it's always Mercedes to dominate with the best race pace. Bottas, victim of an off-track, ends anyway in second position and thus concludes his first day in Austria:
"I'm fine. Unfortunately, I lost the rear at the entrance of turn 5. I tried to make a correction to try to recover the car but it had an unexpected reaction and my maneuver came too late. This afternoon there is a bit more wind than this morning and this penalizes any mistake on track, it can happen".
Confirming these good performances of the Mercedes is in fact Hamilton, who despite the fourth place is very satisfied with the time spent on track:
"The day was clean for me and without any major problems. Although I damaged the front wing a couple of times on the kerbs, like many other drivers. We go at full throttle for most of the lap, even corners like 6, 7, 9 and the last corner are very fast in these cars and we worked improving the set-up all day".
However, there remains the unknown of Ferrari and Red Bull, which have shown a lot of competitiveness on this particular circuit:
"Ferrari and Red Bull seem fast, especially Ferrari. It will be interesting to see how tomorrow will go. This is one of those circuits where the times are always very close and small margins make the difference. This is a track where you can follow the other cars, so hopefully the tires will be strong as well".
In Red Bull's home the performances were good, but not very good considering the type of track. As said, shortly after the start of the afternoon session Verstappen lost control of the car, causing several damages to the rear, coming out fortunately unharmed:
"My feeling in the car was positive and we were pretty competitive. Of course, you always want to do more, but the laps were good before the accident. There was a lot of wind and it was not constant, it caught me right in the middle of the last corner. I lost the rear end and hit the barrier pretty hard. Fortunately, everything is repairable and it's Friday, so we're not in race trim yet".
So the sensations are good, even if the Austrian team is not able to say with certainty where it is with respect to the two main adversaries. Gasly, third in the afternoon ahead of the Dutchman, is of the same opinion:
"Since this morning, during FP1, I felt good in the car and I could push, so it was a positive day. I felt much better than in France, and I think we are going in the right direction. A lot happened during FP1, but we managed to complete all the tests we had planned".
The time that separates the Austrian team from Ferrari is still considerable if you want to fight for the top positions, so there is still a lot of work to do. Qualifying will be fundamental. Otherwise, Ferrari's objective is to fight with Mercedes, and the results and data collected from these free practice sessions are considerable. The track conditions were not the best, but the performance of the car did not disappoint. Charles Leclerc states:
"Overall I would say that today was a productive day, where we completed a series of useful evaluations to understand in which direction to go with the developments and in which we managed to find the right way to fine-tune the car. In the car I had good sensations today, even if the wind that changed direction often disturbed us, especially in the corners during the second session. As in France, here in Austria I will have to concentrate on adapting my driving style and the car according to how the track will evolve in qualifying. I think that today we did our best, but let's see in which position we will be tomorrow".
Vettel, on the other hand, did not finish in the lead but in eighth place, after a spin, and flattened a set of Soft tyres:
"My excursion off the track didn't have a big impact on my day. The only disadvantage is not being able to do the long run on Soft tires, but if nothing else I was able to stop before the barriers. We are still trying different things to get closer to our rivals and I hope that tomorrow we can do better than today. In the afternoon it was quite difficult, also because of the wind. We didn't test new things, rather we tried to understand what happened in France with some parts we had brought. I think it was useful because we were able to understand in which direction to move with the future developments of the car".
"At the level of balance in the corners we are not going badly, but I am convinced that we can still improve, something that we have already started to do in the afternoon. Maybe the characteristics of this track help us but it is still a tricky track where it is vital to feel at ease in the car. This is the aspect on which we are concentrating most".
The third and last free practice session on Saturday morning sees Leclerc dominating once again, 0.143 seconds ahead of Hamilton. Ferrari is showing great determination and speed on this circuit, but unfortunately Vettel is having some more difficulties. The German driver is in fourth position, behind the two Mercedes. The small gap between the top teams could be a good prediction ahead of qualifying, which will start at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
Among the twenty drivers taking part in qualifying, as many as four are penalized: three of them will start in the last row due to engine replacement (Alex Albon, Hulkenberg, Sainz), while Magnussen will relegate five positions for fitting a new gearbox. The last pole scored on this circuit is by a Mercedes, as well as all the others since 2015. Despite being a circuit favorable to Ferrari, the last pole scored by the Maranello team dates back to 2003 with Micheal Schumacher, more than a decade ago.
The first to enter the track are the two Alfa Romeo drivers, followed by Magnussen and Lando Norris, who after some excellent free practice sets the pace in Q1 as well. A few minutes before the start there is already tension on the track, with Hamilton disturbing Raikkonen's flying lap. Ten minutes from the end of Q1 Leclerc is in the lead, with a time of 1'04"302, followed by Gasly, Vettel, Norris and Magnussen. No shadow of Mercedes in the top five: Hamilton and Bottas, in fact, occupy only the tenth and eleventh place, while Verstappen is still without time and therefore in the elimination zone. At his first attempt the Dutchman takes the third time, behind the two Ferraris that improve further.
Hamilton launches himself again just to take the fourth position. Gasly reveals some power problems, unlike his teammate who instead sets the best time in the central sector. Behind the two Ferraris separated by Verstappen, McLaren rookie Lando Norris rises to fourth position, author of a great pace. Towards the end of Q1 the Dutchman manages to oust Leclerc, even if only by a few thousandths; it will certainly be difficult to keep the first position, but the Red Bull driver should not worry, given the race pace he can keep.
The driver at risk is Perez, and behind him, in the elimination zone, are Raikkonen, Kvyat, Stroll and the Williams. Kvyat launches his lap to pass in Q2, but finds a lot of traffic in turn 9 and among the curses he is forced to go wide because he has three cars in front of him, in particular a Williams in his out lap. The Russian loses a lot of time in the third sector and does not improve, remaining excluded. In the back of the field there are no improvements; the only ones who improve their time are Albon and Perez. The Thai manages to reach the thirteenth position, while for the Mexican there's nothing to do and remains excluded together with Kvyat, Stroll and the two Williams of Russell and Kubica.
In Q2 the Mercedes cars start immediately with Medium tires, while Ferrari tries with Soft ones. Botta and Hamilton start together, with the former taking the time away from the latter, but the pace is set by Verstappen who, accompanied by the roar of his fans, sets the best time. The two Ferraris join the party: the two drivers of the Maranello team compete for the best time, but it's the Monegasque who gets the better of them with two tenths of advantage, setting a time of 1'03"459. In the meantime, the marshals announce that the Q1 incident between Hamilton and Raikkonen will be analyzed at the end of the qualifying session after hearing the version of both drivers, so for now no penalty is given to the Englishman.
With seven minutes to go, the standings see Hulkenberg, Albon, Grosjean, Ricciardo and Sainz Jr. in the elimination zone, who is in 15th position. Meanwhile, his teammate occupies seventh. Mercedes continues its laps with Medium rubber, being intent on starting the race with this compound, while in Ferrari they keep the softer rubber. Norris manages to improve further, while Magnussen - following a blockage - cuts the track and passes on the grass. Raikkonen and Giovinazzi also manage to set a best time, moving up to sixth and eighth place respectively.
While Hamilton moves up to third position, Leclerc once again asserts his leadership, lowering his time even further. Sainz, Hulkenberg, Albon and Ricciardo fail to improve and remain excluded. Vettel and Verstappen, on the other hand, do not return to the track, but still manage to maintain the second and fourth position. Alarm signals are raised, however, in the Ferrari box. In the following minutes there seems to be an argument about the German driver's car, which would explain why he did not return to the track. The mechanics surround the driver's car looking for the problem, hoping to repair it before the end of Q3. The attention is all on Vettel's pit, where tiyres are being mounted on the SF90, but at the same time repair work continues.
The only ones on track at the start of Q3 are the two Alfa Romeo drivers, both in the top ten. In the meantime, in the Ferrari box the drama continues: Leclerc is told to switch off the engine, alarming all the fans, and then to switch it on again a few minutes later, probably to perform a check. Without sure information, it is believed that the problem related to the single-seater number 5 is a bottom damage or a hydraulic leak, but nothing is confirmed yet. The only thing that is certain is that Vettel will not take part in the last qualifying session, starting from the tenth position. The German driver gets out of the car and, despite his disappointment, thanks the mechanics for having tried until the last moment to fix the problem.
In the meantime, all the drivers come out of the pits at the same time and leading the condolences is Lewis Hamilton, who immediately complains about the situation via radio. The top teams are very competitive, and it's a fight for the pole between Bottas and Leclerc. The latter sets the provisional pole time of 1'03"208. Behind the Monegasque driver are Valtteri Bottas, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. Despite the disappointment for Vettel, the Italians can still rejoice. In fact, both Alfa Romeos are present in the top ten, and with very good results: Raikkonen sixth and Giovinazzi seventh.
With two minutes to go all the drivers are ready to make the last attempt, which will decide the poleman of the Austrian Grand Prix. Hamilton and Verstappen come out in order, and both improve, while Leclerc fails to improve in the first sector. Hamilton finishes his lap, but only sets the second fastest time; the only ones left who can take pole from Leclerc are Bottas and Verstappen. The two cross the finish line in third and fourth position. So it is Charles Leclerc who takes the best time, also setting the new track record of 1'03"003. This is the second pole of his career for the Monegasque. And they celebrate in the Ferrari box, after the bitter disappointment for the incident that stopped the German driver. Passing the checkered flag behind Bottas are Magnussen, Norris, his best starting position of the season, the two Alfas and Gasly, only ninth.
Three different constructors in the first three positions, not seen for a while: therefore, now the expectations for Sunday's race are higher and higher. This is the third pole start this season for Ferrari, a small but important result for Maranello, given the difficult year. Leclerc opens up on the radio enthusiastically, shouting.
"Come on baby".
It's a great achievement, and sharing it with the Ferrari men is even more special. Leclerc is showing a lot of potential, despite the difficulties the team is facing. The Monegasque can only say he is happy for the pole, but he also spends two words of encouragement for his teammate:
"I'm happy for the pole, although I feel sorry for the team, for what happened to Sebastian".
Handing him the prize for pole position is Niki's son, Lucas Lauda:
"The car gave me fantastic sensations. In FP1 we made some changes for FP2 and they worked. It gave me great sensations to drive this car to the limit. I am very happy to have taken home pole position, but tomorrow is the day that counts. Tire strategy? Yes, for what we tested in FP2 we are pretty happy with the choice we made. We'll see tomorrow. It will certainly be physically very tough because the car is so hot inside, but it will also be difficult for the car. It will be a matter of managing all the aspects and we hope to do a good result".
Unfortunately, Vettel was left in the pits in the last session, so he starts ninth given the relegation of Mgnussen:
"I'm not angry with anyone, there's no reason to be. It's a pity because the car was worth the pole, I was finding my rhythm. Something broke and we have to understand why. Happy for the team, I hope that Charles will keep his position in the race and I can get as close as possible".
Binotto confirms that the problem encountered was related to the engine's air supply line, a silly thing according to him, but one that they were unable to fix in time. However, the Team Principal rejoices on the other side of the box, the young pupil brought home a second pole position, he couldn't ask for better:
"It is a result that is the result of Charles' evolution and the commitment and work of the whole team".
He crossed the finish line in second position Lewis Hamilton, but for the penta-champion it doesn't seem to be a favorable weekend. In fact, he will start fourth after being penalized two positions due to the incident with Raikkonen:
"Congratulations to Charles because he was great all weekend. We were never able to keep up with them this weekend. The track position was very difficult to find. I was trying to stay up front because I didn't want to give anyone a slipstream. On the last lap I found myself in a pretty good position and at the end I didn't really know where I was going to start the lap because I found myself three cars behind. I panicked a little bit but in the end I managed to do a good lap. Max has also been driving well all weekend so it will be great to see three different teams in the top three positions tomorrow. I'll finally be able to fight with the kid, we'll see how it goes. We're all adults now clearly but I'm very happy to be racing against such talented youngsters like Charles and Max and hopefully have a good race".
So third at the finish line, but second on the grid is Max Verstappen. Absolutely a great position for Red Bull at their circuit. In addition, it will be open fight between the two promising youngsters from the first lap:
"I am very happy, it is a fantastic result on this circuit that is not easy for us. All weekend with this support from the fans the car seems to have got energy from it, it went even better than usual so I'm happy with this position. I hope I can give them a good result tomorrow".
For the first time this season Hamilton will start in fourth place due to a penalty:
"I deserved the penalty and I have no problem accepting it. It was my mistake and therefore I take full responsibility, but it was not intentional. However, tomorrow is another day and I will have the opportunity to make up for it. One must have the ability to overcome obstacles, never giving up".
On Sunday, June 30th 2019, with all drivers positioned on the starting grid, after the reconnaissance lap, just wait for the lights to go out to kick off the Austrian Grand Prix. For the drivers, the race will not be easy at all, as there is 58 °C of asphalt. Verstappen surprisingly starts very badly: the Dutch driver is forced to see several competitors parading alongside his car, trying to avoid contact.
It's an open fight since the first corners: Norris has a better cue than Hamilton and is already in front at the start, but the Englishman doesn't give up and takes back the position at turn 1. The young rookie doesn't give up and tries again on the inside; between the two it's wheel to wheel, but unfortunately Hamilton is faster and keeps the position. Among the two quarrels the third one enjoys, so Raikkonen takes advantage of it and, once Norris is definitely passed by Lewis, takes in turn the position at the expense of the nineteen year old McLaren driver.
Leading the race is Leclerc, the creator of an error-free start and determined to bring home that much longed-for victory; just as he did in Bahrain, the Monegasque driver begins to create a gap behind him. Both Ferrari drivers start with determination: Vettel recovers three positions and is now sixth. The German driver continues his chase to the first positions attacking the McLaren rookie. After Hamilton and Raikkonen, Lando now has to defend himself against Vettel: the three lions of Formula 1 against the young man who has just arrived.
Norris is not an easy driver to pass: the Briton tries to resist to his opponent's attacks, but Vettel attacks on the inside in turn 3. Norris doesn't give up, between the two it's wheel to wheel, but there's nothing to do and the Englishman goes back another position, while Vettel soon reaches Raikkonen. It is now Verstappen who is in his slipstream. One goes away and another comes in. The British driver was lucky enough to qualify sixth for the first time in his career, which means he has to contend with the fastest teams on the track. Norris managed to keep the Dutchman as far behind as possible, but with DRS made available, it became easy for the Red Bull driver to overtake before chasing down the leading pack.
Vettel takes little time to overtake his former teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, who now has to deal with Max Verstappen. Meanwhile, Leclerc has created behind him a gap of 2.5 seconds on Bottas and a good ten on Vettel. The weekend looks quite ominous for Kevin Magnussen as well since, after a five position penalty due to gearbox replacement, he is investigated due to an alleged off start. Verstappen passes the Finn in turn 3 after a failed attempt on the main straight, and is now in fifth position.
Another start to be commended is that of Sainz. Jr., who started penultimate due to the penalty, as after a few laps he is already fourteenth. In the back of the field, Albon is fighting with Grosjean: the former tries to attack on the inside, forcing the French driver off the track, but in the attempt to regain his position, the fight goes on wheel to wheel, with the rookie having the better of it. Pierre Gasly, instead, remains stuck behind Norris, without being able to advance as his teammate did. In the first ten positions there is a lot of movement. While Leclerc continues his race undisturbed, the situation behind between Norris and Kimi is reversed, with the Briton who at every corner tries every kind of overtaking, finally managing to get ahead. This time it was the new generation that mocked the old one. In the meantime, Kevin Magnussen is informed of the penalty to be served with a drive-through.
While Verstappen snatches the fastest lap from Leclerc, his teammate is struggling with Raikkonen, having witnessed the duel with the rookie now on the run. Vettel makes a comeback, takes the best time away from the Dutchman and chases Hamilton, gaining almost a second per lap. Around lap 20 the stops begin. Between the two Mercedes, Bottas was the first to stop, on lap 22, but Ferrari - with a sudden response - called Vettel back to the pits. The stop, however, is a disaster: the German returns to the pits, but does not find the mechanics ready. The mechanics, not informed of the stop, arrive unprepared, and for Vettel the comeback starts again from the eighth position. For the Finnish driver, however, there are no problems, and he calmly finishes fourth, behind Verstappen.
The next lap Leclerc also pits, fortunately without further problems, and resumes the race in third place. In the meantime Vettel wastes no time and immediately passes Gasly. Then he gains the position on Kimi, taking advantage of his pit stop. In the lead of the race there is now Hamilton, seven seconds behind the Monegasque: the British driver takes advantage of this to create a gap that he can then exploit during the stop.
For Norris and Gasly the pit stop is made only on lap 26, together with almost all the rest of the competitors. At the moment the classification is led by Hamilton, followed by Verstappen, Leclerc, Bottas, Vettel, Perez, Hulkenberg, Sainz Jr., Ricciardo, Albon, Norris, Raikkonen, Gasly, Giovinazzi, Grosjean, Kvyat, Stroll, Russell, Magnussen and Kubica. But Hamilton complains of some problems with the front wing, probably some stuck debris, and in fact he loses almost a second a lap to Verstappen.
On lap 30 Lewis Hamilton returns to the pits: the British driver takes eleven seconds before restarting, due to the replacement of the nose, and returns behind Vettel. The head of the race goes to Verstappen, who still has to make his stop. After this he drops to fourth position, and the leadership goes back to Leclerc. But now the real race starts. Leclerc immediately sets the fastest lap time of 1'08"344, and is five seconds behind Bottas.
In the meantime, Norris puts himself in Ricciardo's slipstream. The rookie gets closer and closer, tries to overtake on the outside, but is unable to overtake the Australian driver. The pursuit continues. The Briton tries again the attack on the inside, but the Australian doesn't give up. In the meantime, however, the constant attempts to overtake allow Gasly to get closer. Norris doesn't give in, and even if the meters separating him from the Austrian driver increase, he immediately reduces the gap to a few tenths of a second. With Gasly's pressure behind him, Norris tries one last time and finally manages to pass the former Red Bull driver, moving up to seventh position, and immediately afterwards to sixth thanks to the pit sop made by his teammate.
In the meantime Verstappen comes in Vettel's wake: the Dutch driver tries to overtake at turn 4, the two are dangerously close, but without any change of position. After several attempts, the Red Bull driver succeeds in his feat with an inside overtaking that ends in turn 4, accompanied by the roars of the crowd. Vettel immediately returns to the pits for a second stop, and this time he mounts Soft tires. Only twenty laps to go to the checkered flag and the race is still fully open. Verstappen gives an impressive pace to the race, and without too many problems he manages to reach Bottas. for Leclerc it looks bad in case the Dutchman should recover all the delay. A more than likely possibility. Another driver showing great competitiveness is Sainz Jr., who started nineteenth and is now ninth after a comeback that was nothing short of perfect. The Dutchman comes within a few meters of his rival's Mercedes, but right at this moment he radios in a message that alarms all the fans in the stands.
"I'm losing power".
However, the pits immediately give indications on how to solve the problem. Alarmed Verstappen calls for a second time almost to make sure. While grappling with Bottas, the Red Bull driver now finds himself frantically fiddling with the steering wheel. Then, shortly after, he overtakes Bottas as if nothing had happened. Verstappen doesn't give himself a break and starts to pick up the pace. The Dutchman driver has five seconds to make up to Leclerc, but this doesn't seem to be a big problem for him. With eleven laps to go, the gap drops to 1.5 seconds. The Dutch driver also sets the fastest lap time. Leclerc has to start pushing if he wants to keep the lead and win his first career race. While in the rear the situation seems to have stabilized, the fight is all concentrated in the first two. Three seconds separate them when there are only eight laps left. Another lap and the gap drops to two seconds.
Leclerc can now see his opponent in the mirrors, only a lapped car divides the two. Blue Flag and Russell moves off. He has arrived. Less than two seconds between the two. Leclerc finds himself in front of Gasly and has some difficulty passing him; he is warned that the gap is under a second. Verstappen uses the DRS on the straight and comes dangerously close, gaining until he cancels the gap. Then he tries to overtake on the outside and immediately on the inside, but he has to be patient. Third to last lap, he tries again on the inside, the two are wheel to wheel, Verstappen gets the better of them, but Leclerc does not give up his victory and takes the lead. Between the two it's an open fight.
They pass the straight once again, the two keep their foot on the gas without ever lifting it. They reach turn 3 and Verstappen tries again on the inside, they accompany each other on the way and Leclerc is pushed slightly out. This is where Verstappen aggressively takes the position, while Leclerc lets loose some expletives on the radio. The loudest shouts, however, are those of Max's fans, who see their driver leading the race, while in the Ferrari box the enthusiasm dies down. Vettel lifts the spirits and takes Hamilton's place in fourth position. For the first time this season, the Englishman could end up behind two Ferraris and his teammate.
Last Lap. Verstappen had few expectations of this race, but instead here he is leading the race. In the stands they prepare to cheer. Max Verstappen wins his sixth career race amidst the orange tide and the screams of all the spectators, a driver so young, but already so acclaimed. Behind him, Leclerc, disappointed and angry about his rival's move, Bottas, Vettel, Hamilton, Norris, the great protagonist of this Grand Prix and the best finishing position in his career, Gasly and Sainz, after an extraordinary comeback, the Spaniard is in fact very satisfied with his performance:
"I had never had a car with which I had climbed in this way, I am very satisfied with the car, I made the fastest lap, I saw it on the screens, which motivated me and I continued to progress with the clean overtaking. I think they didn't show on television, every time I went forward I looked at the screens to see if they repeated it, but it never happened... What a shame, from last to eighth, I can't ask for more, I could have passed Gasly and Lando... but I can't complain... It was one of those days when me and the car were one".
In the Red Bull pits they celebrate heedless of the investigation involving the race's first-place finisher. In his young career, he has already had three victories taken away from him and this could be his fourth. Not yet aware of this detail, the Dutchman gets out of his car and leaves himself to a cry of joy and then throws himself into the arms of his team. Max Verstappen took the victory by force against a dominant Ferrari on this circuit, following a disastrous start and after giving a beautiful fight between two rising stars of the sport. Unfortunately, we have seen in the not-so-recent past that the FIA does not favor such aggressiveness and in fact the Grand Prix winner's maneuver is being investigated. In all the cases we've seen so far, Verstappen has been a big proponent of free-for-all hand-to-hand fights and he can't help but be so in this case as well:
"It was an incredible race and I'm so happy to get my second win in my team's home Grand Prix. After the bad start I dropped to seventh place, but from there on the pace was really good, I stayed calm and kept pushing hard. The second stint was really decisive for us. Once I passed Valtteri, I thought I could win because our pace was strong, but until you get to the finish line you never know, so I kept pushing and I didn't give up. It was a normal fight, I think the result should be confirmed. In his place I would be disappointed too, but there was nothing wrong. We fought with the knife between our teeth. It was tough but, with the tires, we have something more. It was all regular, if you can't make these overtakes, then it's better to close Formula 1".
Leclerc, who once again saw the victory slip from his hands, is obviously of a different opinion:
"The whole race was very good, we had a little bit more degradation than we thought so Max caught me, but the stewards will decide about the final episode. To me in the car it seemed pretty clear, I don't know what it seemed on the outside. Let the stewards decide. I was on the outside like the lap before, I think the lap before was perfect. He left the pace for another car coming out of the corner, in the next lap he didn't do it anymore so I had to go outside and wide off the track and I had absolutely no chance to catch him so it was a pity".
This time it is not Leclerc who justifies himself by saying just an incident, but he is the one who suffers. The two do not even congratulate each other, Charles even walks away from the podium still angry, and comes back only at the champagne moment. Bottas' podium went almost unnoticed, however it was not enough to recover the points on Hamilton.
"I think I got the best possible result, it was a more difficult race than expected, especially because of the engine overheating. We could not race as we would have liked because we always had to manage the temperatures. Defending was very difficult and I couldn't really attack. Good points anyway after this difficult weekend, now let's think about the next one. In terms of pure race pace there wasn't much difference but I had to manage all these temperatures, so we lost ground".
To wait for the FIA's verdict it will be necessary to wait almost four hours, and during the wait the crowd that has come to Austria to support Max Verstappen is getting heated. The confusion is such that at a certain point a seemingly official press release is shown, announcing the victory to Leclerc and a five second penalty to Verstappen. A simple fake news that only cheered up the Ferrari fans for a few moments. The real verdict is exposed only at 8:00 p.m.: Verstappen is and remains the winner of the Austrian Grand Prix. The communiqué is accompanied by the roar of Verstappen's fans, who remained in the stands until the end in support of their driver.
The FIA seems to have finally favored the kind of wrestling that was condemned until some time ago, but ardently requested by the drivers. At the end of the day it was indeed pure competition, two drivers acting in the exact same way to get the better of the other, with one prevailing as happens in normal racing. However, Ferrari's team principal, Mattia Binotto, responds a little hot after the news:
"From our side the decision is not correct. Charles left as much space as possible, Verstappen pushed him off the track. But it doesn't matter, we don't want to fall back into the usual discussions, we want to turn the page".
To then correct himself at a later date:
"I think it's time for Formula 1 to turn the page and look forward. These are race incidents, we should leave the drivers free to fight. So, bravo Verstappen, congratulations on the win, and I think he had a fantastic race today, as did Charles. We could appeal, but we won't, because we believe it's good for the sport".
This misunderstanding between Vesrtappen and Leclerc, however, should not distract from the real issue, which is that Ferrari once again disappointed expectations. The Austrian circuit was the most in line with the car's characteristics because of the stop-and-go curves and the long straights, but something went wrong. The problem on Vettel's car in qualifying, the mechanics not being told when to stop and finally Leclerc, who was expected to have more speed than the Red Bull, and instead saw victory slip away. It looked like a dominant Ferrari and instead all the limits were seen again.
The fight for the title can be forgotten; the only way to get back into the race would be to completely eliminate mistakes, even the most trivial ones, but if even on a circuit that should be favourable to the Maranello cars, and with the Mercedes in trouble they are unable to maximise, then there is a problem at the base. A week earlier, in France, Ferrari had experimented with modifications to the car in order to find the right aerodynamic load, but only some of these worked: the wings did, but not the underbody, as this flexed excessively at the sides, not allowing the right aerodynamic load. In fact, the more loaded front wing helped a lot, especially on this track, but it wasn't enough. Mattia Binotto states:
"I think the main variable to play in our favor was the characteristic of the track. We knew the weekend at Paul Ricard would be difficult, just as we knew we would have different possibilities here, but we are also aware of the improvements, so I think it's the combination of the two factors. The updates have gone in the right direction: the car responds more to the drivers' requests. Will we be able to fight on all tracks? Not yet, there are circuits where the conditions will be difficult for us, but we will continue to bring developments and we will see the feedback race by race".
There are twelve Grands Prix left to the end of the Championship, but Hamilton's dominance seems unbreakable even after a weekend like this one. The English driver commands the ranking with 197 points; the Ferrari driver closest to him is Sebastian Vettel, with 123 points. One should therefore hope for a miracle.