Austrian GP 2018: Sebastian snatched back his championship lead!

The second part of the inaugural triple-header took the F1 circus to Spielberg, Austria. In qualifying, the battle for pole turned out to be between Mercedes and Ferrari, as Red Bull seemed unable to match the top two's pace despite spite of driving in front of their home crowd. Once again, Q2 saw variety in tyre strategy, as both Mercedes and Red Bull sent their drivers out on the red-walled super-soft Pirellis, whilst the Red Team opted for the purple-marked ultra-soft compound. Although Sebastian was the fastest man on track in the second segment, the decisive Q3 belonged to Mercedes. The Red Bull Ring seems to suit the Finnish Mercedes driver Bottas, as the Finn made it the second consecutive pole in Austria by 0.019s to teammate Hamilton. Sebastian was three tenths down on the pole-setter Bottas in 3rd, but unfortunately the German was handed a 3-place grid penalty for impeding Renault's Sainz in qualifying. So, Sebastian dropped down to P6 on the grid. Kimi benefitted from his teammate's penalty, moving third on the grid. Verstappen was fourth for Red Bull, Grosjean stunning fifth for Haas, whilst Ricciardo in the sister Red Bull had to be content with a tame P7.

What a drama-filled race the Austrian GP turned out to be! The start was absolutely electrifying. Kimi on P3 got the most amazing start of the top three, challenging both Mercedes drivers, going into Turn 1. Hamilton had been able to snatch the lead from his teammate, but for a moment Kimi was second. The Iceman ended up going wide, and Bottas was able to snatch P2. After that Kimi had an intense and hair-raising battle with Red Bull's Verstappen. My heart jumped into my mouth, as Kimi's SF71-H went slightly sideways, and the hungry Verstappen attacked the Iceman. Their wheels even touched, but, all in all, the battle was tight but fair. Verstappen managed to make it past Kimi, who dropped down to P4. For a moment Sebastian had lost ground to the Haas duo of Grosjean and Magnussen, but soon the German Ferrari ace made his way up back to sixth.

The Mercedes duo controlled the pace, and it seemed an inevitable 1-2 on the way for the Silver Arrows. However, something dramatic happened on lap 14. Without a warning Bottas' FW09 was hit with a hydraulic issue, and the Finn's Mercedes stopped on the track. Bottas' retirement brought out the virtual safety car, which was a turning point in the race. Race leader Hamilton stayed out on his worn super-softs, whilst all other top five drivers, including Verstappen, Kimi, Ricciardo and Sebastian, pitted for a fresh set of soft Pirellis. Hamilton's gap to Verstappen was 13 seconds only, which meant trouble for the Briton. Unfortunately, Kimi made a mistake on lap 20, losing the third place to Red Bull's Ricciardo.

What a tactical mistake it turned out to be that Mercedes hadn't called Hamilton in during the virtual safety car! Hamilton lost three places during his wrong-timed pit stop. Verstappen snatched the lead, with his teammate second and Kimi third. Who would have predicted, that Red Bull was going to have a double lead in the race!?

Tyre degradation played a major role in the race. At the halfway point of the race Ricciardo's rear-left tyre was badly blistered, which affected the Australian's pace. Kimi smelled Ricciardo's blood and attacked the vulnerable Australian. Kimi made his move and passed Ricciardo, claiming P2! "The good old Kimi" was definitely back, and the Iceman was absolutely on flames! Ricciardo had no choice but to pit for a second time. Meanwhile Sebastian attacked Hamilton, making a staggering overtaking move and climbing up to P3 already. Hamilton, too, had to pit for the second time, but, to my joy, Ferrari weren't suffering from such high tyre degradation.

There were more dramatic retirements to come. On lap 54 the birthday boy Ricciardo was hit with a power unit failure, and the Australian's RB14 stopped on the track. On lap 64 it was Hamilton's turn to face a catastrophic setback. Suddenly the Briton lost fuel pressure, and Mercedes' day turned pitch-black, as both cars were out of the race. Mercedes haven't suffered from reliability issues like this for a long time!

In the end Kimi got extremely close to Verstappen but the Iceman simply ran out of laps. Max took his fourth career win, which was well-deserved. Kimi was the impressive runner-up, and teammate Sebastian completed the red-coloured podium. Kimi set the fastest lap time on the penultimate lap, setting the new track record. The Austrian GP was an extremely strong race from the American-based Haas, as Grosjean finished fourth and teammate Magnussen fifth.

More importantly, Sebastian snatched back his lead in the drivers' championship standings! Now he has a one-point lead to Hamilton. Thanks to Kimi's superb P2, he moved third in the standings. Really eye-catching is the fact that Ferrari is now the team to beat in the constructors' championship standings, with 247 points to Mercedes' 237. The situation couldn't be any more exciting, as the final part of the triple-header will take place already this week, when the F1 circus moves to the legendary Silverstone. Forza Ferrari!

With passion for racing red, 
Iina Huhmarniemi

Jul 09, 2018