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Bottas opens up title fight with Austria win

NEWS STORY
09/07/2017

While today's race has some way to go if it is to prove even half as entertaining as the recent Azerbaijan race, one has to admit that a lot of the elements for it to be a corker are in place.

First off, we have Baku 'villain' Sebastian Vettel starting alongside Valtteri Bottas, while Lewis Hamilton, courtesy of his gearbox penalty starts from row 4.

Directly behind Bottas and Vettel we have Kimi Raikkonen and the Red Bull duo, a combination that promises great fun and games at the first corner, think Spa, think Spain, think...

And then you have Hamilton, who is surrounded by Grosjean, Perez, Ocon and Sainz.

Think about that for a minute. Surely if there are four drivers you would want to steer clear of at the start of a race - any race - at least two of those names would come to mind.

Throw in Fernando Alonso starting from sixth row... and that's only Turn 2 (what was Turn 1).

Then there is the question of the weather. Though it has rained quite a bit this weekend, it has never hit the track during an F1 session. Between them yes, but not during, indeed, mostly at night.

With that in mind, though the race will start dry, a heavy storm is expected soon after. And while one thinks of the hills as being green and filled with music and sunshine, spare a thought for how they got so green in the first place.

Then there's tyre strategy. According to Pirelli there are three options: one 26-lap stint on supersofts and one 25-lap stint on softs being the quickest, followed by an 18-lap stint on ultrasofts and 33-laps on softs or alternatively, a 29-lap stint on ultrasofts and then supersofts.

However, with unexpectedly warm temperatures this weekend, combined with good track grip, there has been very little running on the yellow-banded tyres, with some drivers, namely Vettel and Bottas, not running them at all thus far.

And with Pirelli believing that the minimal difference in performance between the tyres could lead to some (Hamilton and the Bulls?) favouring the softs, this could prove interesting over the course of the afternoon.

Of course, with the weather gods expected to play a part this afternoon, this could all go out the window.

Having been given his final warning by the FIA, Vettel will need a clean afternoon, and already the Mercedes duo have said that will not play games by trying to back him up. On the other hand, Raikkonen could cause Hamilton some issues.

Then there's those feuding Pink Panthers, will Esteban and Ocon trip over one another for the third successive race or will common sense prevail.

At their home race the Red Bull duo will want a good result but perhaps the situation - despite Ricciardo's win in Baku - was best summed up last night in the Fanzone, when the Australian said it was Verstappen's turn to win. "But first I have to finish," said the teenager, only half-joking.

Haas has had a strong weekend thus far, and but for that broken suspension Magnussen might have been right up there with his teammate. All that remains is for the Frenchman to have no brake issues and an expletive free afternoon... a hard call on both counts.

Despite reverting to the Spec 2 engine, Alonso still qualified ahead of his teammate, though only just, and will hopefully add to the points he claimed in Baku.

Renault faces another tough afternoon, but it should still be a doddle compared to Williams where both drivers have struggled since the opening session, the much anticipated updates appearing to result in the team taking a step backwards, and all this after a monumental afternoon in Azerbaijan.

As ever, Red Bull has put a lot of effort into this event, and at a time Chase Carey talks of Super Bowls, it's refreshing to see a race where we get a glimpse of the local culture, even if it does edge towards going a little OTT at times.

The pitlane opens and the drivers begin making their way to the grid. Air temperature is 28 degrees C, while the track temperature is 47 degrees. There is also a strong wind.

Though it is currently bright and sunny, there are dark clouds in the distance, a fact that will delight some drivers but not all. Race Control warns that there is a 60% chance of rain.

As the field heads off on the warm-up lap, Wehrlein is starting from the pitlane, Sauber having changed his engine overnight.

A real mixture of rubber, while most are on the ultrasoft, Hamilton is the only top ten starter on supers. Hulkenberg is also on the red-banded tyre, as is Magnussen, Stroll and Wehrlein. Palmer and Massa are on softs.

The grid forms.

They're away. Great starts from Bottas, Ricciardo and Grosjean, while Verstappen loses a number of positions as he takes ages to get off the line.

On the run to the first corner, Hamilton is trapped between the Force Indias, the Briton using the full width of the track to stay out of trouble.

Ricciardo almost has Vettel in T2 but the German holds him off and in the process Raikkonen almost takes advantage.

While the leaders head off towards T3, there is carnage behind, Verstappen is off into the gravel and dust fills the air.

Alonso, who had passed Kvyat at the start, is hit from behind by the Russian, the Spaniard spins and hits Verstappen in the process.

Is there any damage," Alonso is asked. "Yeh, a lot," he replies. "A lot of damage to the rear end. I don't know why they push so hard, this isn't bowling."

At the end of lap 1, it's: Bottas, Vettel, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Raikkonen, Perez, Hamilton, Ocon, Sainz, and Massa.

As Verstappen slowly makes his way back to the pits, Kvyat and Alonso pit. His car in serious trouble, Verstappen is told to park his Red Bull.

"I think he jumped the start," says Vettel of Bottas.

As Raikkonen passes Grosjean, Hamilton is caught between the Pink Panthers.

While Kvyat has rejoined the race, Alonso's race is over, the irony being that the driver who caused the incident continues while his two victims are out.

The Stewards are investigating Bottas' start.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spielberg, here.

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