This weekend the Formula One circuit lined up at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. The schedule featured a sprint race that set the starting grid for the Grand Prix, and fans were pleased when home favorite Max Verstappen left all the other cars in his dust.
While the race weekend was negatively marked by unsportsmanlike and hateful behavior by some fans, the racing itself was quite entertaining. Home field advantage ultimately wasn’t enough to get a win for Red Bull as Verstappen had to settle for second behind Charles Leclerc.
Immediate reaction: Ferrari didn’t mess it up!?
Austria was a great example of what an F1 race can be: lots of different strategies continuously mixed the field up, and we weren’t entirely sure how the race was going to play out until the end. Turned out (at least for Leclerc) Ferrari actually put having speed together with making competent decisions and had a mistake-free race, allowing Charles to get the win.
Driver of the race: Mick Schumacher
A sixth place finish gave Mick his best ever F1 result and he definitely earned it. Mick had an exciting day battling in the mid pack that gave us lots of action to watch all day. I mean, at one point on lap 24 he was battling in a group of five cars. At the end of the day Mick did what he was supposed to do, drove a brilliant race, and was rewarded with a career best.
Moment of the race: Sainz engine issue
Ferrari was having one of their best overall GPs in a while, but on lap 58 Carlos Sainz had an engine issue. Last week’s winner was looking at another podium and likely a second place finish on the day, but Ferrari’s persistent engine issues showed up again. This also brought out a virtual safety car and allowed another strategy shakeup for the end of the race.
Thoughts moving forward: Parity?
It’s still Ferrari and Red Bull at the top, but Mercedes had another pretty quiet but solid day and the mid pack was as exciting as ever in Austria. As an example, on lap 24 we saw drivers in positions 6-12 all racing one another, and at one point you could have thrown a blanket over Norris, K Mag, Mick, Zhou and Alonso. I’m hoping Austria was just the beginning of what could be a great second half of the season, having constant competition throughout the field.
Yet another very entertaining race! While the sprint race qualifier made it look like Max Verstappen might drive away from everyone, the Ferraris were the class of the field on Sunday. We got some excellent racing between the championship contenders Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, with Leclerc overtaking Verstappen three times. Some exciting racing also came from the middle of the pack. With the top five on the lead lap by themselves by the end of the race, that left the rest of the drivers in fierce battles for the remaining points. The stewards added some extra drama by calling an extremely strict race. Many drivers across all teams and positions received warnings and penalties for crossing the racetrack boundaries. The inconsistent officiating of races has been a topic of contention already this F1 season, so it will be interesting to watch these warnings going forward.
Driver of the race
Leclerc went into this race feeling confident, saying after the sprint qualifier that he thought they would get Verstappen on race day, and he backed it up. He had never won before from a position other than pole. Leclerc not only bested Verstappen on multiple occasions, he fought equipment problems and kept the handle on his car long enough to finish in first. The poor guy must get flashbacks every time he leads a race, given how many issues he’s run into from the front of the field. The rest of the Ferrari team, for their part, handled tire and pit strategy successfully. Additional shout to the Haas gang for getting both cars in the points for a second straight race, building on Mick Schumacher’s first F1 points last week.
Moment of the race
Ferrari looked to be on the way to a solid team finish, possibly taking two spots on the podium, until Carlos Sainz’ engine caught on fire, causing a safety car to come out and bunch Verstappen back up to Leclerc, who around that time also began reporting issues with his throttle pedal sticking. The last laps of the race became more tense than they’d been all day for Ferrari, who have alternated between snake-bitten and shooting themselves in the foot this season. At that moment it looked like it all might fall apart.
Thoughts moving forward
At this point, Ferrari reliability issues feel like a Bond villain. Even when you defeat them as Leclerc did today, will they be back? It’s got to feel good in the Ferrari garage that Leclerc is back in second in the driver’s championship — 38 points behind Verstappen — but they cannot afford more mechanical issues if he is going to make a real challenge for the title. Sainz was fortunate that Red Bull’s other car of Checo Pérez also had to retire from the race so he did not lose any ground to him. Today was a reminder that Ferrari can make a car run as fast as the Red Bulls. But it was also a reminder that it has to hold together for that speed to matter.