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Verstappen wins Austrian GP as Mercedes suffers mechanical meltdown


God's Scalextric, that's what it is.

Surely, if the Almighty were to sit down and put together his ideal layout for a Sunday afternoon of Scalextric the Red Bull Ring would be the result, or perhaps Spa-Francorchamps, or, if feeling a little bit devilish, the Nordschleife.

Not for a minute would he consider plonking his track in the middle of the desert or a vast metropolis where the locals would only rush to protest the event.

As he goes about his work, assembling his track in a verdant valley in the Styrian Alps he ponders the great names that will race there, the cars they will drive and the thrills and spills the world will enjoy as a result of his labours.

Even going to the trouble of finding a way around the grid girls ban, in the form of young ladies in traditional garb, not for a minute does it occur to him that all his magnificent work will be rendered almost useless by a couple of short bursts of (F1) blasphemy.

As the first cry of "overtaking isn't easy here", the Almighty begins to wonder if his creation has been in vain, while "one-stopper" and "grid penalty" leave him seriously doubting his own existence.

And talking of grid penalties, rather than even hint at bias by claiming that the grid penalty handed out to Sebastian Vettel was pointless, we'll simply quote the legendary Mario Andretti - surely a god in his own right - who last night tweeted: "Dear stewards, a penalty that could affect a championship should not be imposed unless it's flagrant. In this case it clearly was NOT! #shame."

Bearing in mind that we have been endlessly advised over the last couple of days that "overtaking isn't easy here" and "one-stop" appears to be the way to go, Vettel's penalty looks to have taken the shine off what could have been an interesting opening today's race.

With the Ferraris starting on ultrasofts and the Mercedes and Red Bulls on supers, the German and his Finnish teammate would need rocket-like starts in order to take full advantage of their tyre choice.

With the German now sandwiched by the Bulls and the Haas' things can either go one way or the other, however, unless Vettel wants to lose even more ground to Lewis Hamilton in the title fight he would be best advised to play the long game.

A win for Valtteri Bottas would be best for everyone today.

In the wake of his previous run of bad luck it would give the on-form Finn a much needed boost. It would also, add a little more spice to the title fight at a time Mercedes looks to be in danger of running away with it again.

However, for Bottas to convert pole into a win here for the second year running, he will have to make a strong start and hope that Hamilton doesn't seek to grab all the glory and leave the Finn riding shotgun.

Vettel's demotion means that Kimi Raikkonen starts third, and will therefore have the best chance of making those ultras work. However, first he will need to get by the Mercedes pair while holding off Verstappen and Grosjean.

All weekend the Haas pair have looked strong and surely nobody would begrudge them, especially Romain Grosjean, a good result. However, we must never forget that.... "to finish first, first you have to yadda, yadda, yadda.

Hopefully, Grosjean will make the best of starts and not succumb to that Gallic red mist he falls prey to from time to time.

Though the air has been cleared, it remains to be seen what after effects there might be at Red Bull following yesterday's 'difference of opinion' over strategy between Daniel Ricciardo and the team. Whether this proves to be the Multi-21 that causes the Australian to re-think his future remains to be seen.

Though he's compromised by that penalty, France showed us that Vettel doesn't take no for an answer, and providing he keeps out of trouble on the first lap he could still make good use of those ultras on the opening stint.

As he bids to add further to his growing points tally, Kevin Magnussen will have his hands full keeping the Renault pair at bay, with Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly also likely to be mixing it in the battle for midfield supremacy.

Demoted from 13th to 18th, expect another strong performance from Charles Leclerc. The youngster gets better with every race, but makes no secret of the fact that he is still learning and openly admits to every mistake. Though he faces a tough afternoon what better way to further prove himself.

An overnight wing change for Fernando Alonso means the Spaniard will start from the pitlane, which means he will either mount one of those typical bravura charges through the field or opt to park the car early under some pretence of poor reliability and prepare for his next Grand Prix or WEC event.

For the second successive weekend Brendon Hartley has received a new power unit overnight and as a result the full complement of 35-grid places. Anyone else get the feeling that the kiwi is actually a guinea pig?

At a time McLaren is at sixes and sevens, so too is Williams, while Force India is also a team that appears to be heading towards the slippery slope. Poor old Sergio Perez has never looked so uncompetitive.

Of course, as we have seen so many times over the weekend, as beautiful and serene as it may appear, the Red Bull Ring is a track that demands respect and bites back if you fail to do so.

A number of drivers have come to grief on the kerbs over the course of the weekend, with noses, wings and even suspensions wrecked. Consequently, it isn't just hard chargers like Magnussen and Grosjean drivers will have to look out for on the opening laps, for any bids to further explore the track limits will almost certainly result in tears.

In terms of strategy, the quickest is a one-stopper (groan), but there's a wide pit stop window. If starting on ultrasofts, stop between laps 8 and 28 for softs to the end. If starting on supersofts, stop between laps 12 and 30 for softs to the end.

Slightly slower is the following one-stop strategy: start on ultrasofts then stop between laps 8 and 28 to put on supersofts to the end. All three compounds work well, but a two-stop strategy is definitely slower.

Talking of the creator and supreme being, while there was much talk earlier in the week or rain, it looks very much as though the weather gods have opted to take a rest this weekend, no doubt saving their fun and games for Silverstone.

The pitlane opens and the drivers start heading out.

"I've got a leak of water," says Hamilton.

The drivers gather for an anthem we don't hear so often these days.

As they head out on the warm-up lap, the air temperature is 23 degrees C, while the track temperature is 48 degrees. It is warm, the warmest it's been all weekend. and sunny. All get away cleanly.

Hamilton is told the temperatures have "plateaued".

Bottas, Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Ocon, Gasly, Vandoorne, Perez, Sirotkin, Leclerc, Hartley and Alonso all start on supersofts, while the rest start on ultrasofts. That said, Ericsson, who starts eighteenth, is on softs.

They're away. A brilliant start from Raikkonen who dives in between the two Mercedes on the run to T1. Hamilton has the inside line but Bottas is on the outside which allows Raikkonen to take third.

Bottas loses ground as he runs wide and is passed by Grosjean, who has made a great start, and almost by Ricciardo, while Vettel also runs wide in the first corner.

In T3 Raikkonen attempts to go around the outside of Hamilton while Verstappen holds off Bottas who comes through on the inside of Grosjean with Ricciardo. Again, Vettel runs wide, this time appearing to be forced off by Magnussen.

Bottas passes Raikkonen and Verstappen as they battle on the run to T4 to re-take second. The Finn's double-overtake draws applause in the Mercedes garage.

Verstappen subsequently passes Raikkonen to take third behind the two Mercedes.

Further back there appear to have been a couple of incidents, with Gasly hitting Vandoorne at T3 and Ocon tangling with Sainz.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Vettel, Magnussen, Hulkenberg and Ocon.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spielberg, here.


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1. Posted by Tardis40, 02/07/2018 14:33

"Shame is right, Mr Andretti. Cost Vettel 10 points and a race win."

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