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Dutch Delight In Austria
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen prepares to go racing
After the severe traffic woes afflicting access to and exit from the French Grand Prix at Le Castellet just a week ago all was much better for the teams, media and above all the fans at this weekend’s Austrian Formula 1 race at beautiful Spielberg where Max Verstappen claimed the victory spoils for his Red Bull team in front of so many of his travelling Dutch supporters.

Early on the Friday practice day it made me wonder just how many people were actually still at home in Holland after seeing the massed ranks of orange clad fans of Verstappen everywhere. It seemed more like a home race for the young charger.

Before the ontrack action began Lewis Hamilton had joked about wanting to scare his Ferrari and Red Bull rivals about just how much better the newly upgraded Mercedes car was and so it proved to be as both Friday free practice sessions were dominated by the team from Brackley with Hamilton topping the time sheets on each occasion ahead of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

In the second period Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel proved to be the best of the rest, if unable to trouble Mercedes, and was closely followed by the Red Bull duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen plus the driver of the other red car, Kimi Räikkönen.

Thousands of Dutch orange clad Max fans cheer their hero on
Final free practice on Saturday gave everyone hope that the Mercedes dominance could be challenged as Vettel went quickest, outpacing Hamilton and Bottas, but normal service was resumed in qualifying when the Mercedes duo again led the rest.

This time though Bottas outpaced his multiple champion team-mate and Vettel had to settle for third on the grid alongside Räikkönen. Subsequently the German received a three place grid penalty for accidentally impeding the Renault of Carlos Sainz during the second part of qualifying and dropped to sixth for the following day’s Grand Prix, with Verstappen fourth, Romain Grosjean a highly impressive fifth for Haas and Ricciardo only seventh.

It was hot and sunny when the red lights went out at the start of the Grand Prix and after a typically frenetic opening lap it was Hamilton who led from Bottas, Verstappen and Räikkönen, with Vettel down in eighth position. The German soon made amends though and by the third tour was up to sixth place behind Riccardo.

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas may have claimed pole position, but mechanical failure ended his race prematurely
There was drama on lap 14 when the unlucky Bottas' Mercedes stopped at Turn 4 with a gearbox problem. This caused a Virtual Safety Car period to recover the stranded car and the Red Bulls and Ferraris instantly took a strategic decision to make pitstops.

Surprisingly the sole surviving Mercedes pedalled by Hamilton did not do likewise, a mistake the team were soon to rue. When Ricciardo then swept past Räikkönen for third the massed Dutch fans were elated.

The race entered a crucial stage when frontrunner Hamilton made a pitstop on lap 25 and emerged back on track having dropped to fourth position behind Verstappen, Ricciardo and Räikkönen. Suffice to say the Red Bull fans were understandably ecstatic.

As Ricciardo started to suffer with excessive left rear tyre wear he was usurped for second position by Räikkönen exiting Turn 3 on lap 38, prompting the Australian to make a second pitstop.

Vettel swept past his championship rival Hamilton on lap 39 and the leading trio comprised of Verstappen's Red Bull and the Ferraris of Räikkönen and Vettel before Hamilton made a second pitstop to change tyres again. Ricciardo was to retire from fourth position two laps later as his Red Bull ground to a halt at Turn 1.

Towards the end of the race Hamilton was running fourth, well adrift of the front three, but worse was to follow for him when, like Bottas earlier, his Mercedes stopped on track, this time with a loss of fuel pressure.

This left the Dutch fans biting their nails as the leading Verstappen, who continued to manage his tyres superbly, was constantly chased by the two Ferraris, but he held on to reach the chequered flag first and the 16,000 fans from Holland erupted with joy.

Unlike for Mercedes, it was a pretty decent day for Ferrari as Räikkönen and Vettel claimed the second and third steps on the podium respectively.

Verstappen en route to the victory spoils
The result meant Vettel leapfrogged Hamilton back into the lead of the Drivers’ Championship and also Ferrari overtook Mercedes on the Constructors’ front.

British Mercedes reserve driver George Russell also deserves a special mention as he won the weekend’s opening Formula 2 race in Austria and fished second next time out, whilst British drivers Callum Ilott and Jake Hughes should also be praised for sharing the brace of GP3 victories.

So now we move on to the final part of Formula 1’s first ever triple header of three races over three consecutive weekends, which takes place at our very own Silverstone circuit in just a few days time. Hardly as scenic as Spielberg, but full of history and a real high speed challenge for the drivers. Time to head back to the UK where a massive and enthusiastic crowd is always guaranteed.

It was a good day for Ferrari as they ended up leading both championships

2018 Formula 1 Austrian Grand Prix

1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1hr21m56.024s
2 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) +1.504s
3 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +3.181s
4 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Lapped
5 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
6 Esteban Ocon (Force India) Lapped
7 Sergio Perez (Force India) Lapped
8 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) Lapped
9 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) Lapped
10 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) Lapped
11 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) Lapped
12 Carlos Sainz (Renault) Lapped
13 Lance Stroll (Williams) Lapped
14 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) Lapped
15 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) Retired
16 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) Retired
17 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) Retired
18 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) Retired
19 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) Retired
20 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) Retired

2018 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship (after 9 of 21 Grand Prix)

1 Sebastian Vettel 146
2 Lewis Hamilton 145
3 Kimi Räikkönen 101

2018 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship (after 9 of 21 Grand Prix)

1 Ferrari 247
2 Mercedes 237
3 Red Bull 189

Also by Graham Read...
Hamilton's Singapore Sling
18 Year Old Lando Norris Announced As Britain’s Next Formula 1 Driver
Hamilton Ignores The Boos As He Wins At Monza
Vettel Strokes It Home At Spa
McLaren's Spanish Succession


Dutch Delight In Austria, 2nd July 2018, 7:59 AM