2023 Austrian Grand Prix Roundup
After four Grand Prix’s in a row that offered changeable weather conditions, with one of those even being cancelled due to the rain, the unpredictability has at least offered a bit of drama as to who will fight it out to finish behind Max Verstappen each race. The Dutch World Champion has been in a league of his own recently and won each of the last Four races, so would the Red Bull Ring provide a Fifth consecutive victory for the Red Bull driver.
With the chance of rain on the cards again this weekend, as well as it being a ‘Sprint Race’ weekend, there was at least some degree of uncertainty as to which team or driver would prove to be the strongest. With Qualifying, Sprint Qualifying, the Sprint Race and the Race itself spread out over 3 days there was sure to be differing conditions for at least some of the weekend’s action.
If any theme was to emerge from the whole weekend it was the constant use of the term ‘exceeding track limits’. The larger run off areas and long straights followed by tight corners mean that the Red Bull Ring is synonymous with drivers pushing the limits a bit too far in order to ‘straighten’ the track as much as possible. But once all four wheels cross that white line, the stewards are keen to make sure the drivers aren’t taking liberties with their corner cutting or over-running.
From the off during Friday’s (Race) Qualifying there was an abundance of lap times being deleted due to exceeding the track limits at one point or another meaning that many drivers were having to complete more laps than usual in order to try make the cut at each stage. The majority of drivers, even Verstappen, were falling foul of the limits with laps deleted at some point Q1 and Q2.
Teammate Perez, who has failed to reach Q3 for each of the past 3 races, felt under pressure to perform this time around, especially with Verstappen taking pole each time in the same car. It wasn’t to be for the Mexican however, with all three of his Q2 times deleted due to exceeding track limits and with no time posted, P15 is the best he could hope for and a lot of catching up to do for the race.
Verstappen would take pole position for the race with the Ferrari pairing of Leclerc and Sainz behind. Norris showing optimism with the McLaren upgrades to line up in P4, ahead of Hamilton, Stroll, Alonso and Hulkenberg making up the top 8.
Saturday saw the ‘Sprint Race Shootout’, basically Qualifying for the Sprint Race, and a chance for those who exceeded the track limits in Qualifying to redeem themselves for the Sprint Race. With damp conditions a theme for the session it was anyone’s guess as to who would excel or manage to keep within the lines at least.
Verstappen picked up where he left off to take pole position for the Sprint Race later in the day, with Perez managing to avoid deleted times and making it a Red Bull front row. Norris continued his impressive weekend by finishing the session in P3, followed by an impressive Hulkenberg in his Haas. The two Ferrari’s of Sainz and Leclerc were P5 and P6 (Leclerc would be later penalised for impeding Piastri in SQ1 resulting in demotion to P9), with Alonso and Stroll behind. Ocon saw himself moved up to complete the top 8 ahead of Leclerc after his grid place penalty. A disappointing Shootout for Mercedes saw Russell line up in P15 and Hamilton a lowly P18. Work to be done for the Silver Arrows.
The Sprint Race itself began in wet conditions and the grid started on Intermediate tyres, save for a brave Valtteri Bottas who decided Medium tyres were worth a gamble. They weren’t. Perez started the best of the front row and took the lead from Verstappen briefly, but the pace of the Dutch driver was always going to be too much for the man in form in a car he can get the very best out of, and he quickly took the place back. Perez’s squabbling with Verstappen meant that Hulkenberg could take advantage and the Haas driver found himself splitting the Red Bull pair.
Norris, also caught up in the Red Bull foray suffered a slow exit to Turn 3 resulting in a drop from P4 all the way down to P10 by the time he’d got up to speed. Hamilton found himself going in the opposite direction, climbing from his P18 starting position to P13 in the same amount of time.
With the Intermediate tyres making the most of the damp but drying conditions, there was hope by some of the drivers that they may be able to switch to Slick tyres, but by halfway of the 24 laps no one had taken the plunge so far. Hulkenberg’s exceptional drive was dealt a blow by Perez on Lap 12 as the Mexican used the pace of the Red Bull to fly past, with Sainz taking advantage a lap and a corner later. Verstappen, left to his own devices had extended his lead to a dominant 10 seconds.
With 8 laps to go the drying conditions caused Race Control to clear the DRS to be activated whist Russell became the first to take their chances with a set of Slick tyres. His quickening lap times caused a rush to the pits for most drivers other than the front runners. Although lap times were quicker for most on the Soft tyres, it wouldn’t be deemed enough to make up the 20 or so seconds lost during a pit stop for the top 5 to decide to make the change.
Verstappen took the Sprint Race chequered flag 20 seconds ahead of teammate Perez for the 8 points available, with Sainz making up the final podium place. The Aston Martin pair of Stroll and Alonso took P4 and P5, while Hulkenberg managed to fight his way back up to P6, the best of those who switched to Slick tyres. A sprint to the finish saw Ocon finish marginally ahead of Russell, taking the final points positions for the Sprint Race, with a disappointed Norris and Hamilton just missing out.
Race day was cloudy but dry and Friday’s Qualifying set the order for Sunday’s Race. Verstappen got a cleaner getaway this time and ensured he remained in P1 into the first corner ahead of Leclerc’s Ferrari, fending off the Monegasque driver into the following sequence of corners before getting into his stride. Hamilton slotted into P4 behind Sainz passing Norris in the process, while Alonso and Hulkenberg competed the top 6.
Tsunoda clipped Ocon losing part of his front wing, whilst Bottas locked up and slid off the track causing a safety car before the first lap was completed. The restart on Lap 3 was executed perfectly by Verstappen keeping Leclerc at bay again and ensuring he was firmly out of DRS range within the resuming lap.
Sainz quickly became frustrated by teammate Leclerc yet team orders wouldn’t allow them to switch positions. Perez and Russell had a tussle of their own whilst fighting their way up through the order, the Mexican proving the quicker of the two as they searched for the points places. Norris’ pursuit of Hamilton was given a boost as the British driver was given black and white flag for, you guessed it, exceeding track limits for a change. Hamilton quickly blaming the performance of the car rather than his inability to keep within the lines.
Hulkenberg’s promising weekend came to an abrupt end on Lap 12, parking a smoking Haas on the side of the track and triggering a Virtual Safety Car for the rest of the field. This resulted in a pitting frenzy over the next couple of laps with most of the field changing their tyres whilst Verstappen continued out front. The Dutch driver extending his lead over Leclerc to 18 seconds in the process, with Perez now P3 ahead of Hamilton, Norris and a frustrated Sainz once again, not happy with the ‘double stacked’ pit stop costing him time and places.
Sainz began his fight back with an overtake on Norris into P5, whilst Hamilton, still struggling with those track limits, earned himself a five second penalty for his troubles. Sainz’ anger obviously paying dividends after passing both Hamilton and Perez in quick succession to find himself in P3 and bearing down on teammate Leclerc once again. Leclerc himself had cut Verstappen’s lead to 15 seconds and now lapping a second a lap quicker, questioning Red Bull’s one-stop strategy with a nervous pit wall. The team deciding that by Lap 25 it was time for a set of Hard tyres to see if they can make the one-stop plan work.
After rejoining the race behind the Ferrari’s, it brought to an end his streak of 249 consecutive laps led, again showing the dominance of the reigning World Champion. Clearly not used to having to follow anyone, he set off in hot pursuit of Sainz, taking no time at all to pass the Ferrari and now six seconds behind Leclerc in P1. Norris meanwhile showed how much the McLaren upgrades have helped, passing the Mercedes of Hamilton to move up to P4.
With further time penalties being dished out for the dreaded track limit infringements, this time to Carlos Sainz, McLaren made the message clear to Norris that he can benefit from making sure he stayed within the lines for the remainder of the race. Something they would wisely take advantage of later in the day.
Ferrari meanwhile attempted to change tactics to keep the chasing Verstappen at bay at the front, with a three-stop strategy suggestion soon quashed by a determined Leclerc at the front. Lap 35 saw Verstappen retake the lead of the race however, nothing the Ferrari driver could do no matter how many stops they decided to take.
As the race passed halfway, the number of time penalties being dished out was ever growing for the troublesome track limit difficulty. A further round of pit activity saw Gasly promoted to P6 after deciding to resist temptation initially, only for the Alpine driver to also be given a five second penalty prior to his pit stop.
Sainz joined the pit stops activity on Lap 46, serving his five second penalty in the process, and rejoined the race behind Norris providing an exciting engagement between the two former teammates for a brief moment. The Ferrari power proving too much despite the improvements to the McLaren, maybe more improvements necessary to compete at the front for them. Teammate Leclerc soon followed suit with a set of Hard tyres to see him to the end of the race, as Ferrari waited to see how the two Red Bull’s upfront would respond in the closing stages of the race.
With 20 laps left Verstappen pitted for a set of Medium tyres and rejoined the race remaining in P1, Perez also pitting a lap later yet returning to the action in P5, although just 13 seconds from Leclerc in P2. Norris was the first to be despatched after a lock up caused the McLaren to run wide and the resulting DRS zone was all the Mexican needed to make up a place, followed by several attempted passes before taking P3 from Sainz on Lap 61. All the on track exchanges meant that Leclerc was still 13 seconds further ahead in P2, surely too far for the charging Red Bull driver to do anything about it now.
Verstappen meanwhile had enough of a gap to switch to a fresh set of tyres purely to ensure he also took the extra point for fastest lap of the race. Something which in true dramatic fashion he managed to complete on the final lap of the race as he took the chequered flag. With Verstappen’s late pit stop, Leclerc took P2 just 5 seconds later, with Perez a further 12 seconds back in P3. Sainz held on to P4 whilst Norris took P5, a vast improvement in his fortunes so far this year.
Alonso couldn’t add to his podiums in 2023 as he crossed the line in P6, while Mercedes took a disappointing P7 and P8 with Hamilton and Russell after their resurgence in recent weeks. A fantastic day of driving from Gasly saw him finish in P9 whilst Stroll in his Aston Martin secured the final point and a double points finish yet again for Aston Martin this year.
The results however would only be temporary as a protest lodged by Aston Martin ensured the stewards would be busy watching over 1,200 instances where a car had been reported to have left the track. The resulting penalties issued after the race mean that 10 second penalties were dished out for Sainz, Hamilton, Gasly, Albon, Sargeant and de Vries, the latter also receiving a further 5-second penalty to total 15 seconds, whilst Tsunoda also received a 5 second penalty. Ocon, however, received two lots of 10-second penalties and two lots of 5-second penalties to receive 30 seconds in total.
All of this meant that the final race positions became Verstappen in P1, Leclerc P2, Perez P3, Norris promoted to P4 as well as being awarded driver of the day, Alonso promoted to P5, Sainz now dropped to P6, Russell moved above Hamilton to finish in P7, with Hamilton dropping to P8, Stroll in P9 and Gasly taking the last of the points in P10.
Red Bull managed to stay out of trouble and took their 10th consecutive win, only McLaren have achieved one better with 11 wins in 1988. Verstappen took his fifth win at the Red Bull Ring, the most he has achieved at any track in his career so far, it also means he overtakes the late great Ayrton Senna with 42 career wins.
Leclerc’s second place was not only Ferrari’s best result of the season so far, but also their 800th podium finish in Formula 1. Norris’ 4th place finish was also McLaren’s best finish of the 2023 season and hopefully a sign of thigs to come for the British team.
The result means that Verstappen extended his lead at the top of the standings, now 229 points compared to Perez’s total of 148 points. Alonso remains in third place with 131 points, with Hamilton in fourth with 106 points. Sainz, Leclerc, Russell and Stroll make up the top 8 ahead of Ocon and Norris in tenth.
Red Bull extend their lead on the Constructor’s Championships to 377 points over Mercedes 178 points, themselves just 3 points ahead of the battle with Aston Martin and 24 points above Ferrari. Alpine are some way back but the best of the rest, now being chased by an improving McLaren and Haas the only other team in double points.
Next up is Round 11 on July 9th for the British Grand Prix at the iconic Silverstone circuit. Who would have thought that with all the changeable conditions at recent races it could be the British race that could offer the best weather. Plenty of time for that to change however.
One team that will be bringing the brightness no matter what the weather decides to do is McLaren, who have unveiled a return to fan-favourite Chrome livery for the British Grand Prix. A nod to their 60th anniversary celebrations this year but also the livery they ran for 8 years when a certain Lewis Hamilton was to provide them with their last World Championship in 2008.
Find out more about the race and the calendar for the 2023 season here: F1 – The Official Home of Formula 1