Brought to you by TheJudge13 Technical Analyst Lorenzo De Luca
Formula 1 returned to Austria after 11 year absence. After the debacle of Canada, the former A1-Ring track gave us another Mercedes double even if it was not without some concern. For the first time Williams shone throughout a race weekend, with Massa earning pole position on Saturday.
Behind the Grove team, Ferrari finally managed to run with their latest package, but the F14-T never seemed fast enough to compete with either Williams nor Mercedes, and the gap of almost 20 seconds at the end of the race suggests that there is still much to do; both Force India and Mclaren delivered a relatively good performance thanks to the latest updates introduced in Austria.
Of more immediate concern for the engine manufacturers is we once again had Mercedes-powered cars dominating the race. With all the PU106 equipped cars amongst the first eleven positions (with only Button out of top 10) Ricciardo was the only Renault powered representative to finish in the top 10.
With one Red Bull and both Toro Rosso retiring, the remaining Renault powered runners finished the race at least one lap behind. If Renault had shown some progress in the previous races, there is no doubt that at Viry Chatillon there will be worries about the reliability and performance of their power units.
Strategy: Ferrari, was a podium possible?
Top 10 Race pace chart
The Red Bull Ring track layout is very short with only 9 corners and due to less demands on fuel consumption this leveled the differences on the field, so that the race was decided by strategy.
Once again the first stint was crucial and that is where both Williams and Mercedes built their gap, with an average lap time faster, at least, by half of a second . Looking at the stint times, we can say that a podium for Ferrari, with Alonso, was possible. Indeed , during the first stint with Supersoft tyres, Alonso, and also Raikkonen, lost a lot of time.
Which makes it unexplainable then to choose to leave Fernando and Kimi on their supersofts for fifteen laps – an unfortunate choice that, possibly, cost Alonso a real chance to fight with Massa and Bottas. This also prevented Kimi the chance to score more points – seeing that he was sixth before pitting but due to the pit strategy lost eight positions to competitors who had pitted on lap 10. To emphasize the performance delivered by Perez, who started with the soft compound and set the fastest 2nd and 3rd stint .
Mercedes perfection creaks ?
Despite another win, for the first time in the season, Mercedes seemed unable to exploit its true power, although the Mercedes advantage is such that it could not be bridged this season because of the rules. In Austria, the W05 showed a few cracks in an otherwise almost perfect car.
After the ERS related issues in Montreal, the engineers preferred to take no risks, therefore they chose a more conservative aerodynamic choice. This was highlighted when they dropped the Red Bull-esque engine cover, which assured a cleaner airflow management and instead ran with a larger solution.
Mercedes W05 engine cover comparison
At Brackley they know they have a large enough gap to be able to sacrifice some performance for some reliability, but things will become very interesting over the rest of the season, when points will weigh like stones in the fight between Nico and Lewis.
Williams : FW36 first win seems close enough
Since the first pre-season tests Williams impressed everyone and now, after some races with poor strategies or drivers involved in racing shunts, the FW36 finally took the role of Mercedes’ first challenger. But, although many people believes it’s all due to the PU106 breadth of advantages, the truth is that the development is now paying off.
Williams FW36 suspension arm
The picture above, show us the suspension arm, which in its proximity to the brake ducts, takes the shape of a flap to clean the airflow in very crucial area for a car and generates extra downforce. The updates received from Mercedes also gave the boost which allowed the FW36 to be so competitive in Canada and here in Austria.
Ferrari still need some pace
In Austria, Ferrari finally ran the new aero package which had been introduced in Canada. The F14-T showed some good pace throughout the weekend, and without taking into account the final 5th place achieved by Alonso, we need to underline some facts.
First, Ferrari struggled at the start on a full fuel load irrespective of which compound Pirelli bring to the race weekends. This is easy to pick out when we take a look at the 1st stint average time.
Second : An 18,5 seconds gap to the winner – on a track like the Red Bull Ring – is an eternity. There were mistakes made with the strategy but essentially Ferrari never seemed to be able to close the gap once the top cars had clean air ahead. Having said that, it is undeniable that the new aero package has given the car a boost that allows the F14-T to be able to fight for the positions just under the podium.
Ferrari F14-T engine cover with no louvres (new)
Ferrari F14-T engine cover with louvres (Canada)
In addition to the updates we saw in Canada, Ferrari introduced other upgrades during the Austrian weekend, such as a different version of the engine cover with no louvres on the spine to maximize the flow management at the rear.
Also tested were new turning vanes under the chassis and on the side pods
Ferrari F14-T turning vanes
Ferrari F14-T side pods turning vanes
As it has been said, the upgrades seemed to have restored the F14-T’s vitality, but it needs to be tested on a more demanding track – like the upcoming Silverstone – to confirm if Ferrari can aim to score some podiums or not. Even if, Mattiacci’s words seemed to have put an end to the development of the F14-T.
Force India and Mclaren : The PU106 is not enough
We talked a lot about the great advantages of the Mercedes power engine, and most people believe that having that power unit will be enough to be very competitive. Obviously it’s not true, as Mclaren and Force India have proven.
Despite a great start in Australia it is hard to tell why Mclaren struggle so much. The MP4-29 with its revolutionary rear supension does not pay in terms of performance despite the updates introduced on the car .
Mclaren MP4/29 new fron brakes duct
Mclaren MP4/29 under chassis turning vanes
Mclaren MP4/29 new front wing
We can almost say the same things about the Force India VJM07 which alternates between good and poor performances but unlike Mclaren, the VJM07 seems to be approaching the light at the end of the tunnel. After a good race in Canada – ruined by the shunt of Perez – they repeated their upturn in form again in Austria, introducing a new nosecone to force more air under the car to feed the diffuser
Force India VJM07 new nosecone
And a new tighter engine cover, to better manage the airflow at the rear end
Force India VJM07 new engine cover
Once again, the VJM07 proved to be lighter on its tyre usage than anyone else which allowed them to run a longer stint and to compensate for their not so satisfying qualifying performances.
Red Bull : Renault crisis
It was expected to see the Red Bull fighting the Mercedes in Austria, their home GP, but after the enormous progress made with Renault in the previous races – which allowed Ricciardo to take his first victory – here we are again, talking about the fragility of the French power unit with a warning bell that forced Vettel to retire from the race in order to save the mileage on the power unit.
It will not be easy to finish the season without avoiding sanctions proving to be a nasty blow for Red Bull and for Renault too. At Viry Chatillon, the engineers will need to work really hard in order to fix the issues for next season.
After two ‘stop & go’ track, F1 gets back to a real track. Silverstone will be a very challenging track for the cars; not only for the engine but also from an aerodynamic point of view. It will also be a great challenge for the tires ( we still remember the bad impression Pirelli made here last season).
Then, it will be a good chance for teams to test their latest upgrades, we’ll see if Mercedes really have some weak points – if Williams will continue to surprise us – if Ferrari have really made some progress, and if Renault can provide and issue-free weekend to Red Bull.