Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 28° Track 44° Humidity 37% Wind 2.6 m/s
Massive black clouds roiled about the sky, punctuated with piercing shafts of deep blue sky as the pitlane roared into activity at Spielberg, with optimists setting the chance of rain during the race as high as 80%. Which may not be the news Lewis Hamilton was hoping for, as Mercedes had set him up with the strategy that Pirelli considers optimal, 26 laps on the Supersofts and the rest on the Softs. Of course, that presupposes that he will get through T1 unscathed…
Not facing that particular problem was Pascal Wehrlein, starting from the pitlane after an engine change was required for his Sauber which had cropped up during yesterday’s qualifying. Also dancing on the edge of grid penalties were all the Renault engines save Toro Rosso, as an MGU-H problem had them all on their 4th iteration of that part. It’s not as bad as all that as being outside the purview of the FIA regs locked in parts, the previously used units can be updated and reused.
Looking thoroughly confused yestereday afternoon was Williams with Paddy Lowe comparing this weekend to Singapore ’15 for Merc, in terms of it being a weekend to learn some lessons, likely about the tyres.
In terms of strategy(according to Pirelli), outside Hamilton the rest are looking at running 18 or so laps and then switching to the Softs, or the Supers, for the rest of the race, depending on what your tyre data said. Force India were quite confident of the Supers but then they are generally quite kind to their tyres. With differences in compounds less than expected, it’s going to be a bit of a guessing game for the teams.
For Lewis fans it will all be about staying close enough to take advantage of extra laps in free air as the leaders pit, whilst for Ferrari fans the first few laps will offer Vettel an excellent opportunity to rock by Bottas as the Scuderia get their tyres up to temps faster and according to Sky analysis, Ferrari are faster through the turns and crucially through most of S2, which leads to the popular overtaking spot into T9, site of the infamous Hamilton/Rosberg clash in the late stages of last year’s race.
For Red Bull fans, it’s all about the rain, with occasional drops hitting the asphalt as the cars were readied for the installation lap. Max fans in particular will want a deluge, but given his torrid history perhaps just crossing the finish line is a more sensible expectation.
Lights Out!!!! It was a brutal start by Bottas, rocketing off the line, shelling Vettel into oblivion as they approached T1. Contact in the back saw Verstappen spinning and Alonso off as well. Hamilton was through safely and into battles with the Force Indias as Grosjean rocked up to P5 and Ricciardo P4. Verstappen was less than stellar off the start, having dropped several positions and the sound of his engine told the story as he plummeted through the field and attempted to use a gravity assist to return to the pits. It was not to be and the first victim of of the Red Bull ring was Max Verstappen.
Alonso, too,was out as he was the other player in the Versstappen drama, with Alonso having been punted into Max by a charging Toro Rosso, piloted by Danii Kvyat, eager to make up places on his teammate who had outqualified him.
Raikkonen took the stuffing out of Grosjean lap 3 getting him for P4 and Race Control announced it was looking into a potential jump start by Bottas. Hamilton rocked by Perez as the duo had been battling for several laps as the start was being dissected.
Hamilton continued to knife through the field, with the HAAS of Grosjean being his next victim on Lap 8, into T5 up the inside neat as a pin. The Kvyat-Alonso incident was also announced as being investigated whilst slightly further back it was the pair of Williams and Palmer who had made the most progress, split by Magnussen who was attempting to make good on the pace of his car. Both Williams in the points and Palmer P12, ahead of his teammate for the first time this season perhaps.
Lap 10 and a drive through for Kvyat, who had already cycled through the pits once, to repair his missing bodywork. Hamilton was tearing chunks out of Kimi Raikkonen at several tenths per lap, but the gap was still a fairly large 4.9s. By lap 13 this had been whittled to 3.5s but the crucial measurement was the time to Vettel, which was in the neighborhood of 11s. AS long as Lewis could stay inside Vettel’s pit window his strategy was on. The looming pass on Raikkonen was shaping up to be critical, as being slowed by Kimi could free Vettel from Hamilton’s grasp.
Lap 15 and bad news from Lewis as he was complaining of oversteer and his tyres starting to go, with the rears starting to overheat. Vettel, meanwhile was trying to limit the damage to Bottas and Valterri got a call to extend, maybe in anticipation of staying outside the undercut from Vettel.
Tyres or no, by lap 18 Lewis was staring at Raikkonen’s gearbox, lingering just outside DRS while sizing up his chances as the Ultra’s entered their pit window. A blister on the front left for Kimi was doing him no favours and the following lap Hamilton was inside the window.
The question for Ferrari was just how much of Kimi’s race were they willing to sacrifice to hold up Lewis. Slightly further back, Magnussen was putting Stroll under intense pressure for the last points paying position, with both on the same compound so no pit advantage for either driver.
Lap 21 and suddenly purple S1 for Lewis who had clearly decided that the time was now to make his move. No sooner was the pace lifted than he was warned that his front brakes were marginal for heat and he was asked to keep them cool. this forced him to drop temporarily out of DRS but brought immediate praise from the team.
At the front, Bottas was now extending his lead, out to nearly 8s and the tyre strategy for Lewis was now at issue with his track position, as he was well placed for undercutting Raikkonen, but the traffic behind meant he still had 4 more seconds to gain, in order to clear Grosjean behind from his pit window.
Also potentially complicating the issue would be the weather, as if rain was in the area all the leaders would be loathe to pit and be saddled with an extra pit stop. Race control officially cleared Bottas of wrongdoing lap 26 as he lapped Hulkenberg, who was lolling about in P17.
Magnussen continued to chip away at Stroll, who was mounting a solid, multi-lap defense with the HAAS loitering 0.5s or less behind the Williams. Hamilton continued to lap around a second off Raikkonen as the thermal limits of the Mercedes appeared to have been reached, and Mercedes appeared to have concluded Vettel would not escape Lewis before Kimi had to box.
Magnussen’s race was suddenly and viciously ended when he received a call from the team to box with no shifting of gears. It didn’t take a race engineer to conclude his day was done, especially with the plume of smoke that had emerged from his PU.
Mercedes saw their chance lap 32 as Lewis was 21s up on Grosjean and in and out of the pits he went, clearing the HAAS on the brand new set of Ultras he had saved from Quali. And it wasn’t just the sidewalls that were purple, as he lit up the leaderboard in an attempt to reel in Vettel a bit and clear Raikkonen.
It took nought but a lap for that to happen and in recognition of who they were racing it was Vettel in and out, but with his margin down to 9s over Hamilton. A long running and somewhat lonely Ricciardo was no doubt happy about the brief companionship, before Sebastian streaked off into the Styrian hills in pursuit of Bottas.
Stroll kicked off the midfield pit stop battle, running in P11 as Carlos Sainz had finally recovered from his poor start and was making good progress. Palmer was in and out as well, onto the Ultras. Ricciardo followed suit, despite not being in the midfield, emerging roughly 3.5s ahead of Hamilton and it was Vettel, Ricciardo and Hamilton all within 8s on lap 39.
Force India had once again decided to forestall tragedy by pitting Perez out of the way of Ocon, which dropped him directly in front of Bottas, who he promptly held up. But not nearly as egregious as Vandoorne, who was being investigated for ignoring the blues as he ruined a corner or two for Raikkonen.
Lewis radioed in bad aero with too much Front Wing and troubles with the rears as Bottas was finally boxed lap 42. Slow stop and as a result it was Raikkonen grumpily leading the race for the moment as Valterri slowly reeled him in. Ocon chose the same lap for his stop and it was job done for Force India as he emerged almost 8s adrift of Perez.
It only took 2 laps for Bottas to retake the lead and that was job done for Kimi, in and out just behind Hamilton with a new set of Supers and a 10s gap to close. Clutch problem was the problem at the start for Verstappen, if you ignore the whole getting punted from behind thing and a drive through penalty for Vandoorne’s ignoring of blue flags.
Sainz, rocking about in the points was the next victim of the Austrian track’s brutality, the sudden call to retire coming from the pitwall on lap 45. That retirement put Stroll back into the points and left Palmer in P11, roughly 3s back. Massa finally boxed lap 48, ditching his Softs for a set of new Ultras, all the better to chew up Force Indias with.
Also making progress was Palmer, who by lap 53 had churned up to within a second of Stroll, fantastically enough. Raikkonen too had closed inexorably on Hamilton with the gap down to 7s and the Mercedes paying the price for its seemingly incorrect setup.
Boom!! Kimi aced a fast lap the following go round and it was a record according to 5live. Despite his struggles over the radio, Hamilton was actually lapping quicker than the top 3, and as a result Raikkonen actually made precious little progress. And then just like that the progress he made was binned with a single mistake the following lap as he lapped Palmer and then had an off as his tyres picked up a load of debris and lost their grip.
That reset the gap and then out it went even further as Kimi ran into issues clearing the lapped traffic of Massa and Ocon. That wasn’t the only reason as Lewis had also set fast lap and trimmed his deficit to Ricciardo down to 2 seconds.
Masterful tyre management or deceptive radio subterfuge would be the question to ponder as the suddenly resurgent Lewis began eating massive chunk out of the gap with 9 laps to go. The likeliest explanation was an ever lightening car (due to fuel burning off) had come into proper balance as would be expected, if the engineers were being clever about set up (and with the clear understanding, set up is always about compromise). Mercedes in this instance having chosen to give Lewis speed later in the race. Or they got lucky, as also happens from time to time…
Traffic suddenly became Hamilton’s friend as it compressed the gap even further and with 5 laps left, it was 1.5 between Lewis and Ricciardo. Vettel meanwhile had been slowly chipping away and as reports of spits of rain were broadcast, he slid under 2 seconds to Bottas.
The stage was set for a thrilling conclusion to what had become a very slow burn. Palmer, 1 second out from Stroll and Mass a similar distance from Ocon along with the battle at the front.
Lap 69 and it was half a second between the Red Bull and Mercedes and the same between Vettel and Bottas. Oh down to T3 and again it was a fast lap all over him into T4 and still the robust defense. Bottas too was shutting down all options as the last lap approached.
Purple S1 for Lewis as the last laps of the race ticked by. Into T4 on the final go round and Bottas held his ground from Vettel, who was churning through his tactical handbook. Hamilton had dropped back a bit and then Bottas firmly shut down Vettel through the last 2 turns to claim the race win. Further back it was both Stroll and Ocon holding on to their spots as well and it was a tough shout whether Bottas or Ricciardo should be happiest. Maybe it should have been Palmer, just 0.5s off the points (and let’s be honest, with a Renault PU he was only getting round the Williams if a mistake was made) and 10s up the road from Hulkenberg.
Or perhaps it should be Williams, who came from nowhere to claim double points and a second straight top 10 for young Stroll. Grosjean, too drove a quietly fantastic race to finish where he started, P6, ahead of both Force India’s.
In contrast it was heartbreak for Sainz and Magnussen both of whom were on the move when their cars gave it up. Also entirely forgotten were Verstappen who has to be experiencing the worst run of luck in the modern era, having not finished 5 of the last 7 races. Not the way he’d want to make it into the record books. Kimi’s P5 too was the result of having been left out forever, possibly to forestall the possibility or rain or maybe to try and slow Bottas. Regardless, it was a clear sacrifice by Ferrari and decidedly cost them their shot at a double podium.
The championship lead extended for Vettel, but with a big fat 4 sitting over the TC column under PU elements used this season, it would be unthinkable that he wouldn’t have a grid penalty in his future, bringing with it the chance to even the score a bit for Mercedes. Still a bad day for morale if you’re Lewis Hamilton as continued niggling mechanicals see you falling behind your rival at venues where you’d expect to make some ground up.
Thus it’s off too Silverstone, with the WDC still raging as the midpoint of the season comes hurtling up…
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