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.

Vandoorne pits having damaged his front wing. It's a bad stop which costs the McLaren driver a heap of time.

Leclerc goes off through the gravel and drops to 19th in the process.

Hamilton reports debris (a piece of Vandoorne's front wing) at T3.

Vettel barges his way past Grosjean to take sixth.

After the frantic action of the first two laps, it settles down, the gaps more spread out, though Hulkenberg is all over Magnussen with Ocon and Sainz in hot pursuit.

Out front, Hamilton is setting a blistering pace as he builds a 2.477s lead.

Just six laps in and Vandoorne is being lapped. Teammate Alonso is currently nineteenth having been passed by Leclerc.

Raikkonen reports that there is still debris in T3.

The Haas duo are currently best of the rest, in seventh and eighth ahead of Ocon and Sainz.

The T1 incident involving Sainz and Ocon has been noted, as has the Vandoorne/Gasly clash. So too a previously unseen incident involving Raikkonen and Verstappen.

At the start of lap 12, Hulkenberg slows on the main straight as his engine detonates, smoke and flames fill the air.

"Think about the strategy please, I am not doing 71-laps here," says Alonso who is currently 19th of 20.

No further action re Gasly and Vandoorne.

Ricciardo is warned of possible oil at T10 following Hulkenberg's failure.

More drama as Bottas slows with smoke appearing from the rear of his car also. "We've lost hydraulic pressure," he is told as he parks the Mercedes. More wretched luck for the Finn who makes clear his frustration as he throws his headrest.

The VSC is deployed as his car is pushed to safety.

The Ocon/Sainz incident is to be investigated also the Raikkonen/Verstappen incident.

Verstappen, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Vettel, Grosjean, Ocon and Sainz all pit, as do Stroll and Leclerc.

Hamilton, who does not pit, still leads as the VSC is withdrawn moments later. Vettel catches Magnussen - who did not pit - half-asleep and passes the Haas for 5th having lost the place when he pitted a lap earlier.

Hamilton leads Verstappen, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Vettel, Magnussen, Perez, Grosjean, Ocon and Sainz. However, of those, Hamilton, Magnussen and Perez have yet to pit.

"Let's look after the left-rear tyre," Verstappen is told.

"Hamilton did not pit, and we are in his pit stop window," Verstappen is told.

The leaders are now lapping the backmarkers, who happen to be a pair of McLarens.

Ricciardo makes surprisingly easy work of Raikkonen to take fourth. The Australian posting a new fastest lap (8.201) in the process.

No further action to be taken over the Raikkonen/Verstappen incident.

"I haven't got much... I've got no life left in theses tyres," warns Hamilton. "The Mercedes driver is told the team made a mistake in not pitting him.

Nonetheless his times are none too bad, though Verstappen is currently quickest.

Lap 24 sees Hamilton post a PB (8.343) as he maintains a 13.057s lead over Verstappen. In fifth, Vettel is 22s down the road.

Sainz is given a reprimand for that first lap clash with Ocon.

Hamilton pits at the end of lap 25. He rejoins in fourth sandwiched between the two Ferraris. The second of which (Vettel), has just posted a new fastest lap (7.989).

Verstappen now leads, ahead of Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Vettel, all are on softs and all have stopped. Magnussen is seventh but has still to stop, ahead of Perez, who must still stop also, Grosjean, Ocon and Sainz.

Leclerc and Stroll are side-by-side as they battle for 14th, both drivers taking advantage of the inside line at corner after corner. Stroll manages to hold off the Sauber, but just when he thinks it's all over the Monegasque strikes back.

"It's entirely on us that problem," Hamilton is told, the Briton making it clear that his is very unhappy.

Sainz complains of a vibration from his right-rear.

Though he is 2s clear of Vettel, Hamilton is unhappy that he is unable to do anything about Raikkonen in front.

"I feel like I'm running out of power," warns Hamilton.

Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Hamilton now running as one, as Vettel ups his pace.

Magnussen has pitted and now passes Sainz to take 8th. All but Ericsson and Hartley have now pitted.

Raikkonen reports blistering to Ricciardo's rears.

"One of my rear's has got a big band down the middle," reports Ricciardo. His team confirms that it is aware.

Verstappen is told to look after his tyres in the traffic.

Sainz makes his second stop of the afternoon, dropping to 17th in the process.

As Raikkonen continues to stalk Ricciardo, Hamilton has dropped back a little and into the clutches of Vettel.

Alonso passes Stroll for 14th.

Raikkonen attempts to go around the inside of Ricciardo at T3 but the Red Bull driver holds him off. However, the Finn doesn't give in and is soon past the Australian.

At the end of lap 38 Ricciardo pits. He rejoins in fifth on supers.

Meanwhile, as Hamilton complains that he cannot pass the drivers ahead, Vettel appears to catch the world champion by surprise and passes him for third.

"I don't get it," complains the Briton. Strategist James Vowles once again admits to the failure to pit being his responsibility. "I've lost this race for you, I've thrown away the win" he admits, but Hamilton remains unhappy. "You can still do this," urges Vowles.

"I've got blistering too," says Hamilton.

Magnussen is now hunting down Ocon as the Dane eyes seventh, a place behind his Haas teammate.

Ricciardo, currently 19.9s behind Hamilton, is told of the Briton's tyre issues.

After 44 laps (of 71), Verstappen leads Raikkonen by 6.5s with Vettel a further 2.3s behind and then Hamilton just 0.8s down on the second Ferrari.

"He's got no blistering," says Hamilton of Vettel, "but I've got blistering. I've got to stay on it now and find a chance to get past this guy."

Blistering or not, Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (7.923), but this is subsequently eclipsed by Ricciardo who stops the clock at 7.591.

"My rear tyres are delaminating more and more," claims Hamilton. A subsequent slo-mo shot of the offending tyres reveals that they don't look too good.

"Everyone is nursing to the end," Verstappen is told. "OK, I feel good," replies a chipper youngster.

Hamilton has fallen 2.4s behind Vettel who is 1.6s down on his Ferrari teammate.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spielberg, here.

Unseen, Magnussen has passed Ocon to make it a Haas 6-7.

Activity in the Mercedes garage indicates another pit stop.

"These rears are not going to ******* last," warns Hamilton.

At the end of lap 52 he makes his second stop. Switching to softs he rejoins in fifth, 0.729s down on Ricciardo.

"Losing gear sync," reports Ricciardo as he slows on the run up to T1 and pulls to the side of the track. Not the birthday present the Australian wanted today... or deserved.

On his fresh rubber, Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (8.062), but remains 21.7s down on Vettel.

"We're OK," Hartley is told as he slows. "No, we're not OK, not OK," he replies before subsequently parking the Toro Rosso.

After 56 laps, it's: Verstappen, Raikkonen, Vettel, Hamilton, Grosjean, Magnussen, Ocon, Perez, Gasly and Leclerc.

Raikkonen is just 4.6s down on the leader with Vettel 2.5s behind.

Vettel posts a 7.301 a new fastest lap as Ferrari appear to turn up the wick in a bid to force Verstappen to ruin his tyres. Hamilton responds with a 7.241, but he's 21s down on the second Ferrari.

A great move sees Perez pass his teammate for seventh, surely a lot more than the Mexican imagined over an hour ago.

Alonso is all over the back of Leclerc as the Spaniard sense a point for tenth.

Ocon is told that if Perez cannot pass Magnussen he will get the place back.

Seeking reassurance, Verstappen is told the team is happy with his tyres.

As Leclerc struggles on his tyres, Alonso passes him for tenth.

"Lost power," says Hamilton as he visibly slows. "OK, stop, stop, stop, stop," he is told.

A disaster for Mercedes in a race they were expected to walk away with.

Bottas was the team's first DNF of the year, now it's a double DNF.

With seven laps remaining, Verstappen leads by 3.4s as Raikkonen goes quickest in S3. Vettel remains 1.4s down on his Finnish teammate.

All of which promotes the Haas duo to fourth and fifth, while Leclerc moves back up into the points. However, his Sauber teammate is all over his rear.

In one sweet move both Saubers pass Gasly to go ninth and tenth, the Toro Rosso driver's tyres clearly shot.

A late stop for Stroll as Verstappen posts a PB (7.558).

"Fantastic job," Alonso is told, "you are P8, focus to the end. Fantastic job."

Ericsson passes his teammate for ninth as Vandoorne is told to pit and retire his car.

Verstappen begins his last lap and his fan club is already beginning to party like its 1999.

On the final lap, both having failed in the appointed tasks, Ericsson and Perez both hand their positions back to their respective teammates.

He takes the flag, 1.504s ahead of Raikkonen who posts the fastest lap of the race. Vettel is third, ahead of Grosjean, Magnussen, Ocon, Perez, Alonso, Leclerc and Ericsson.

Gasly is eleventh, ahead of Sainz, Stroll, Sirotkin and Vandoorne.

"Yes, this feels so ******* good, oh yes" shouts Verstappen over the radio, "this is amazing, in front of all those fans and at the Red Bull Ring with Red Bull."

As he climbs from his car, among the first to greet the youngster are his father, Jos, and Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz.

"Amazing, but it was very hard to manage the tyres as well," Verstappen tells Mark Webber in the post-race grid interview, "we had a lot of blistering, but we managed to hang on until the end.

"Of course, it's amazing to win here, at the Red Bull Ring, and so many Dutch fans here, it is incredible."

"Yeah I had to back off a little bit," says Raikkonen of his start, "because I was scared we would hit together. After that, I run wide and lost places but the car came very good, we just ran out of laps. It is a shame, we had a great car today in the end. It was a good result for the team."

"Very good, very consistent, very good race," says Vettel of Verstappen. "We were chasing him down at the end but couldn't quite make it.

"Obviously it would have been nice to start further up," he adds, "but I tried to get some back at turn one at the start, but it didn't quite work. I was left with no place to go and then lost momentum and then it was the same thing a little bit in turn three. So I had to fight with the Renault and the Haas' at the beginning of the race.

"It was pretty damage limitation but I think the pace was very good, tyre management was very good, so a positive day, could have been better but a well-deserved win for Max."

"A lot of retirements," says Verstappen to Vettel as they study the timing screen in the ante room before the podium.

All in all the Almighty's Scalextric track didn't do a bad job today, for other than a mature performance from the winner, and a strong performance from Ferrari, we saw impressive performances from a number of others, including the Haas duo, the Force India duo, the Sauber pair and good old Fernando.

Not quite the birthday that Daniel Ricciardo would have wanted, while Mercedes will leave here in shock, the team suffering its first mechanical double-DNF in living memory.

But as we head to Silverstone for the third part in a tripleheader which has very much sprung to life today - and as Vettel and Ferrari take the lead in both championships - spare a thought for James Vowles tonight, a man who very publicly acknowledged his mistake. Kudos.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spielberg, here.

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Published: 01/07/2018
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