By: Sergio Álvarez
Did Mark Webber know something before the weekend that the rest of us still had to discover? His words against grid penalties for mechanical troubles seem now premonitory. “There have been so many ridiculous penalties over the last five years that the driver has had nothing to do with, and it’s had a big impact on how the weekend would have been in terms of entertainment,” said Webber before suggesting that dropping constructors’ points from the team would be a more sensible measure.
It is amazing how Lewis Hamilton escaped questions about his views on this quote during another frustrating weekend for the Englishman. However, in the light of Austrian GP’s Sunday, Webber might be willing to change the second part of the statement, the one that talks about “entertainment”. The 5-place grid penalty imposed to Hamilton developed into a fascinating battle in the final laps of the race, against Daniel Ricciardo for the last place of the podium.
Meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas defended his win from Vettel’s last-hour attack. Many people see a new candidate for the title in the shape of the Finnish driver from Mercedes. So far, he has played to perfection the role of a golden nº2, a safe pair of hands always ready to limit the damage when Hamilton or his W08 come to fail. Nonetheless, fact is that Bottas is closer to his team-mate in the Drivers’ Championship, than Hamilton to Vettel (difference of 15 points to 20).
Free practices provided with an indication for the shape of things to come: the Mercedes guys described them as their best Friday of the year. Does it sound like the Silver Arrows may be better placed for summer’s development war? At least Ferrari still can rely on their better understanding of the Pirelli tyres. If the first third of the season showed the difficulties of their German rivals with the Ultra Softs, it was the Super Soft compound which caused them the most headaches this weekend.
This was made evident in the race, when Bottas lost all his advantage in the last stint with Super Softs and Hamilton did not make enough ground in his first phase. The three-time champion had opted to use the red Pirellis in Q2, in an attempt to make something different from the cars expected to be around him on the grid. He succeeded in making the cut, but in Q3 we had to witness what probably amounts to the worst qualifying lap of the season for the British driver, with a slight slide in Turn 1 and a disappointing third sector.
Bottas’ was neither a beauty, with a couple of almost imperceptible errors here and there but, thanks to the double yellow flags caused by Grosjean’s electrical glitch, the first runs decided the starting order. A special mention goes to Romain Grosjean’s qualifying lap, that put him fifth on the grid once Hamilton was demoted to eighth.
Fortunately for them, the incident at the start happened behind their backs: after the slow first metres of Max Verstappen, Daniil Kvyat tried to perform an over-optimistic move on Fernando Alonso that ended up with the Spaniard out of the race and the Dutchman having to cope with the fifth retirement out of seven races.
Anyway, the clutch problems that forced him down the order in those first metres would have ended up in retirement, regardless of the bowling hobbies of their mates, to put it as Alonso did to the journalists.
However, there was a bit of self-infliction, as Verstappen has adopted the habit of looking for space on the outside of the first corners of the championship, and this preference has made him a casualty of first lap carnages with surprising frequence.
But, what would you make of an F1 race without a bit of polemics? Vettel and Ricciardo quickly accused Bottas of jumping the start, and reaction times were thoroughly revised by the stewards. If the FIA considers that a human time of reaction to the five red lights starts at 0,200 secs, Bottas had registered… 0,201 secs!!! Not guilty then, but nobody would be brave enough to grant him the verdict of innocent.
With regards to the support categories, GP3 was busy with the merge plans with F3 and the enormous debate that the idea has generated. But a (three-pointed) star was born on Saturday with the first win of George Russell. It was an ART 1-2-3-4 and a train behind Tveter from fifth downwards, with Boccolacci taking a risk on the exterior of the last two corners, losing the bet and falling to ninth. Things did not get better on Sunday for the French driver of Trident, who received a penalty to be served on Silverstone’s grid, for causing a collision with Alessio Lorandi in the final lap. By the way, Boccolacci got also the rolling part of the shunt.
In Formula 2, Leclerc keeps cutting the mustard… notwithstanding the sprint race, where he retired in the worst posible way: crashing against your team-mate, the also Ferrari-supported Antonio Fuoco. The feature race consisted of a close fight between Leclerc and Albon (ART), where they copied times lap after lap and kept a distance around 1 sec during most of the race.
But above everything else, it was a pleasure to watch how Hamilton found the way to drive around the problems that kept him busy when the team decided to change some settings, like the front wing angle, in order to optimize the Ultra Softs.
If he had to defend from Räikkönen after exiting the pits, by the final laps he was fighting with Ricciardo for the podium around the outside of the corner that this year was considered to be Turn 4. Those three potential points could make a big difference at the end of the year, considering how things are looking in this new era of Formula 1.