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Young Guns put on a dramatic show in Austria


Whisper it, ever so softly, but today's race could be a little bit special.

After the tedium of Le Castellet we certainly deserve a bit of entertainment, and not only on the final lap.

Also, as it is revealed that Turn 1 at the Red Bull Ring is to be named in honour of the late, great Niki Lauda, and 60,000 red caps have been given out in order that fans can pay their own tribute to the three-time world champion, surely the man deserves a race rather than a procession.

Certainly, the basic elements are there. A fast, flowing circuit that encourages risk but punishes errors, weather that can change almost on a whim, a young buck on pole and numerous drivers out of position for all manner of reasons.

Then there's tyre strategy. Toto Wolff has described Ferrari's decision to start its drivers on the softs as "risky", and while we know the Austrian is prone to making a certain amount of BS comments, one must admit that in terms of strategy Ferrari's track record doesn't exactly fill one with confidence.

Courtesy of the various penalties meted out this weekend, Charles Leclerc is joined on the front row by Max Verstappen, with Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton right behind. Lando Norris starts a superb fifth, ahead of the Alfa duo, with Pierre Gasly just ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Kevin Magnussen.

As if this wasn't enough, behind these we have Grosjean, Ricciardo and Perez.

While the sheer grunt of the Ferrari should see Leclerc out-drag Verstappen to Turn 1, the Mercedes pair aren't exactly slow out of the starting block, and providing they all get through Niki Lauda Kurve (Turn 1) without issue - which cannot be taken for granted - we can expect another drag race to Turn 3.

Furthermore, starting on the softs, while the Ferrari(s) will have pace in the opening laps, they will not enjoy durability, while the Mercedes, and Verstappen, who start on the mediums can look forward to a long opening stint.

The stewards have been busy enough as it is this weekend, and once the lights go out and the red mist descends we can expect drivers to continue to keep them on their toes as they explore the track limits to the maximum. However, other than penalties, running wide here can also incur car damage, as any number of drivers can tell you, step forward Messrs Bottas and Verstappen.

Then there's the wind, which has caused problems for a number of drivers also.

Of course, many want to see Leclerc take his maiden win today, and following his superb performance in qualifying he is clearly capable. However, he is still prone to errors - remember Baku - and let's not forget Ferrari's form in terms of strategy.

Teammate Vettel really needs a boost, but starting from ninth, despite having the fastest car on the grid, means he faces a difficult afternoon. Indeed - and we grit out teeth when we write this - the German could benefit from a strategic gamble, though this is Ferrari we're talking about.

While one can never write-off Hamilton, the Briton hasn't appeared fully at ease this weekend, no doubt mindful of last year's double DNF for his team. That aside, few would really bet against another win today, indeed another 1-2.

Week after week we bang on a bout the midfield battle, and courtesy of that crazy mixed up grid - in all, 18 drivers are starting out of the position they qualified in - we have some added spice today, what with the McLaren pair at either end of the grid and the Alfas starting ahead of the Haas pair. Then there's the Toro Rossos and Hulkenberg.

In terms of tyre strategy, the optimal is a one-stopper, starting on the mediums for 14 to 20 laps and then taking on hards to the finish. Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen are likely to do this, having set their best Q2 times on the medium.

The second-quickest strategy, which is very close in terms of pace, is to start on the softs for 12 to 16 laps before then switching to the hards.

A two-stopper is slower and to be avoided unless the circumstances of the race make it inevitable. In which case, several permutations are possible using all the compounds, with a similar combined race time.

Overnight, Williams opted to change the front wing on Russell's car, so rather than starting 18th, having qualified 19th, and despite a 3-place grid penalty for impeding Kvyat, he will now start from the pitlane.

The pitlane opens and the drivers begin making their way to the grid. Air temperature is currently 33.5 degrees C, while the track temperature is 51.8 degrees.

Other than the Mercedes drivers and Verstappen, Grosjean, Ricciardo, Perez, Stroll, Hulkenberg, Kvyat, Kubica, Albon, Sainz and Russell, all start on the mediums. Like the Ferraris, Norris, Gasly, Magnussen and the Alfas all start on the softs.

They head off on the parade lap.

The grid forms.

They're away.

A good start from Leclerc, but Verstappen barely moves, the Mercedes pair sweeping by on either side of the Red Bull. Norris and Raikkonen also pass the struggling Dutchman, with Vettel following through in T1.

In T3, Norris goes through on the inside of Hamilton, as Gasly is alongside Verstappen. Hamilton and Norris are wheel to wheel on the run to T3, but the Mercedes is too quick for the McLaren. Indeed, exiting T3 Raikkonen also gets by the struggling Briton.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Leclerc, Bottas, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Norris, Vettel, Verstappen, Gasly, Giovinazzi and Magnussen. No significant incidents on the first lap, other than Verstappen's poor start, which was seemingly down to his anti-stall.

A strong start from Sainz who is already up to 16th. Grosjean has dropped five places.

Verstappen is all over the rear of Vettel as the German harries Norris.

Out front, Leclerc is setting a blistering pace, as Vettel barges past Norris in T3. The McLaren driver subsequently fights back but Vettel appears to have it covered. Now Verstappen closes on the British teenager.

"Is everything OK with the car, because I have no grip," complains Grosjean. "We're checking," he is told.

After 4 laps, Leclerc leads Bottas by 2.250s with Hamilton a further 2.3s behind.

Russell, who started from the pitlane, is up to 18th having passed his teammate and Kvyat.

Vettel sweeps past his former teammate to take fourth.

On lap 7, Verstappen nails Norris at T3, and sets about hunting down Raikkonen.

"This feels like the hottest race I've ever had," says Hamilton. The Briton is told that it is indeed very warm.

Perez is up to tenth, as Magnussen slips down the field. To add to his woes the Dane is under investigation for being out of position at the start.

Verstappen passes Raikkonen at T3 and sets about closing the 3.5s gap to Vettel. The crowd erupts.

As the Haas pair slip to 15th and 16th, it appears they are in for another tough afternoon.

As Albon battle with Grosjean, Russell has a look at the pair. The Thai driver passes the struggling Frenchman as Russell also closes in.

Having dispatched Grosjean, Albon now deals with his Haas teammate.

"We are going to Plan A, Plan A," Leclerc is told.

Magnussen pits at the end of lap 11, rejoining in last on the hards.

The Dane will be stopping again as he has a drive-through for being out of position at the start.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spielberg, here.


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1. Posted by kenji, 01/07/2019 4:06

"Whilst we all enjoy a wheel to wheel race this was truly a farce. The rules are clear and Verstappen should've received a penalty. He went too deep and he couln't control his car without hitting Leclerc and forcing hiim off the track. This is patently clear with the stop frame visuals.The real reason that it took three hours to arrive at a decision was, IMO, quite clear. This decision was not about the technical interpretation of the rules but largely a 'political' decision. Either they, the FIA, declare that it's an open season on passing, irrespective of the outcome, or play to the rules. They can't have it both ways. Truly ridiculous."

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