Austrian GP 2017: Bottas from pole to victory after a tight battle with Sebastian!

Since the chaotic Azerbaijan GP all eyes have been on Sebastian Vettel, who had deliberately collided with the title rival Hamilton at Baku. Last Monday, on Sebastian’s 30th birthday, Sebastian attended the FIA’s meeting at Paris headquarters. During the meeting, it was discussed whether there should be further action over Sebastian’s clash with Hamilton. There had been a lot of talk about the 10-second stop-and-go penalty and three penalty points not being a penalty harsh enough for his infringement. However, Sebastian took full responsibility for his actions and apologised publicly for his mistake. He was very much aware of the fact that he hadn’t been setting a good example. Sebastian also committed to devote personal time for educating younger drivers. In the light of these developments, FIA decided that the case was closed. Personally, I was quite satisfied with this decision. For a true fan of Sebastian like myself, admitting his mistake and a public apology was the most important thing. I can definitely look up to with admiration and respect to this kind of a role model, who takes full responsibility for his mistakes and apologises for them publicly! I was impressed by the apology letter that Sebastian wrote on his website. In my opinion, Sebastian handled this difficult situation on his best behaviour. He has definitely learned from his mistake, so now it’s time to move on.

There was an intense and electrifying battle between Mercedes and Ferrari in the qualifying. Q2 saw Hamilton run the red-marked super soft Pirellis, whereas everyone else came out on the ultra-soft tyres. Hamilton had been given a 5-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, so the tyre strategy was to guarantee the best possible race strategy for the Briton. Hamilton’s pace was impressive in spite of the harder compound. However, Q3 saw teammate Bottas take the provisional pole. Sebastian was extremely close, as the German was only four hundredths of a second down on the Finn. Hamilton was unable to match the pace of these two and came third after his first run. Kimi was fourth, followed by the Red Bull duo of Ricciardo and Verstappen. Unfortunately, the end of the decisive session was a bit of an anti-climax, as Grosjean’s late on-track stoppage and Verstappen’s off brought out the yellow flags, which prevented all improvements in the dying seconds of Q3. Consecutively, it was the second career pole for the cool-headed Finn Valtteri Bottas! Sebastian came impressive second. Hamilton’s third place meant that the Briton dropped down to P8 due to his penalty. This definitely benefitted Sebastian, who had every chance to fight for the victory at the Red Bull Ring.

Pole-sitter Bottas’ start was beyond perfect! It was so incredible that Sebastian and many others thought the Finn had taken a jump start! Valtteri’s reaction time was 0.2 seconds, which is quite an unbelievable performance. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Kimi’s start. The Iceman lost positions both to Red Bull’s Ricciardo and Haas’ Grosjean, dropping down to P5. There was also a first-lap incident between three cars. Toro Rosso’s Kvyat braked desperately late, which made him hit McLaren’s Alonso. The contact made Alonso crash into Red Bull´s Verstappen, and both of these were out of the race. Nevertheless, Verstappen had had a clutch failure already at the start, so it would have been extremely unlikely for the flying Dutchman to finish the race even without the collision; this made it the fifth retirement in seven races for the unlucky Dutchman.

I was happy to see impressive driving from Kimi, who snatched fourth place back from Haas’ Grosjean. Hamilton was also making his way through the field. With determination, he soon made his way up to P5. However, Bottas in the lead seemed to be in a class of his own, as Sebastian turned out unable to match the Finn’s pace. Kimi was also having a difficult race, as he had an issue with one of the sensors in his SF70-H. The team gave instructions on the team radio on how to fix the problem, but it turned out to be not an easy one to fix.

Tyre degradation was high on both compounds. It was a bit surprising to see that in spite of the harder compound, Hamilton was the first top driver to make his one and only pit stop. Race leader Valtteri drove an amazing 42-lap stint on his already blistered ultra-soft Pirellis, and Kimi’s first stint was even a couple of laps longer. After the pit stops, the battle for podium got tightened towards the end of the race. Sebastian had passionately closed the gap to Bottas lap by lap; starting the final lap the German was right at Valtteri’s tail. The Finn’s rear-left tyre was badly blistered, which affected his pace. The other fighting couple was Ricciardo and Hamilton. Hamilton had gotten within DRS distance from the Australian as well. The British Mercedes pilot did everything he could to make it on the podium, but the "Smiling Avenger" was not going to surrender.

The battle between Valtteri and Sebastian brought me a flashback of Sochi; and, just like in Russia, Valtteri took victory with a tiny margin! However, I was so happy to see such strong performance from Sebastian. Ricciardo was extremely happy about his fifth consecutive podium finish. In spite of the massive fight, Hamilton had to settle for P4. Kimi finished the race in P5, which left little to hope for, as the Iceman had started the race from P3. Grosjean in his Haas drove an excellent race, finishing sixth. Once again, the pinks scored valuable points, as Perez finished 7th and Ocon 8th. Williams teammates Massa and Stroll rounded out the top ten.

Sebastian is now 20 points ahead of Hamilton in the drivers’ championship standings. Worth noting is the fact that Bottas is only 15 points down on his teammate. I’m convinced that Valtteri will be a serious contender in the fight for the championship this year. Things are definitely getting exciting! At the beginning of the season it seemed that Ferrari was the number one team in terms of the pecking order. Now Mercedes seems to have turned things around and have the upper hand on the red team at the moment. Luckily, the British GP will take place already this week! A new chance for the red team to challenge the Silver Arrows. Oh, how I love these back-to-back race weekends!

With passion for racing red, 

Iina Huhmarniemi

Jul 13, 2017