All the talk, as we went into the Austrian Grand Prix weekend, was of the two title contenders and how the latest instalment of their Championship battle would play out. In the end, it was Valtteri Bottas who stole the headlines and very much forced his way into the fight. If it really was a two horse race before, then the Finn produced a timely reminder not to count him out.
As it was in Sochi when he picked up his maiden win, Bottas had to survive a late charge from Sebastian Vettel, and once again, he showed that he’s a man who doesn’t crack easily.
His start was excellent, lightening reactions that were rightly questioned but proved to be totally fair and above board. I’ve had a fair few tweets on the subject, some of you it seems have been playing the start back over and over again and think that Valtteri did move before the lights went out. But to me, it was only when Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo raised the question of a jump start over the team radio that there was any doubts of his getaway.
Anthony Davidson examined it frame by frame at Sky Race Control and concluded that it was on the exact same frame that the lights went out and the car moved, before moments later the Stewards, using the telemetry they had available to them, concluded that Clatter had done nothing wrong.
Helpfully, the FIA clarified their regulations when it comes to the start procedure and revealed that their system, which has been in operation for 20 years now, has a very small tolerance level that allows for minor movements between the point when the 5th light goes on, and the lights go out, just in case a driver has to make a clutch adjustment. In their statement they declared that Bottas had made ‘an exceptionally accurate and fortuitous judgement call, anticipating the moment the lights went out with great precision.’
Fortuitous it may have been, but that good fortune came after the Finn had spent time practicing his reactions in preparation for moments just like this. If practice makes perfect, then this surely was the proof.
Sebastian Vettel said he didn’t believe that it wasn’t a jump start, for me, that wasn’t a malicious statement from the Championship leader, only that it was so quick he didn’t believe it was possible. ‘Unhuman’ he called it.
Lewis Hamilton lost time in the opening laps as he battled to move through the field. But showed great pace in the middle and latter stages to set up that terrific fight with Daniel Ricciardo for 3rd. Ricciardo drove superbly to keep that Red Bull ahead of the Mercedes whilst his team mate watched on from the Paddock. I had plenty of reaction over Hamilton’s five place grid penalty for changing his gearbox, including of course, plenty of arguments as to why it was unfair on the driver given that it was hardly their fault. But interestingly, Hamilton was asked about this in Thursday’s driver press conference and pointed out that when a driver makes a mistake then the team loses out on points through no fault of their own, so does this balance things out? F1 is a sport where you win and lose as a team, so you could argue that the current regulations are fair in that respect. Sadly though, it does rob the fans of the battles they want to see sometimes. How epic could Sunday’s race in Austria have been had Hamilton taken the 3rd spot on the grid he qualified in and raced Sebastian and Valtteri, rather than picking his way through the field and up into 4th? I’m not sure I know the right answer to this, but it’s something that a lot of you feel very strongly about.
Only someone with no soul could feel no sympathy for Max Verstappen, who retired for the 3rd race in a row, his 5th in seven Grands Prix and once again, through no fault of his own. I’m not sure how Daniil Kvyat thought he was going to make the first corner, braking that late, but his misjudgment set off the chain reaction that ended Verstappen’s day early and broke the hearts of the 10,000 Dutch fans who didn’t even get to see their hero race past their grandstand.
Meanwhile, proving that there’s no business like ‘shoe’ business sometimes, for Martin Brundle the moment of truth finally came this weekend. As expected from one that will ‘heel’ to no man and always drink what’s in front of him, whatever its ‘laced’ with, he stared Daniel Ricciardo in the eye and on the podium in Speilberg, supped the champers from the Australian’s boot!
He’s not been the first of course, Sir Patrick Stewart faced up to the challenge in Canada. Gerrard Butler, Mark Webber and David Coulthard, amongst others, have all had to swallow their pride – and a touch of Aussie Vintage Sweat. And you could understand why Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel didn’t want to know, they’ve been there before and are aware that the ‘Shoey’ does rather alter the sweet taste of success.
Will we see the ‘Shoey’ again this weekend? After 5 podiums in a row for Daniel Ricciardo you wouldn’t bet against it, the man’s in fine form at the moment.
Whatever happens though, I hope you all enjoy your weekend at the home of the British Grand Prix. Come rain or shine, it’s the highlight of the season for us all at Sky Sports F1 and I’m certainly looking forward to saying hello to as many of you as possible. We’ll be on the grid on Thursday evening, kicking off the weekend’s coverage with a live F1 show, so after the F2 and GP3 action stick around and join in the fun.
See you all there, Crofty.