Austria delivered a peculiar Formula 1 weekend, and while being the second Sprint event of the season, it was the track limits saga that took center stage.
I borrowed my headline from Editor in Chief Paul Velasco who dubbed the 2023 Austrian Grand Prix as “The Track Limits Grand Prix” in his race report, and rightly so, as it seemed that the best 20 drivers in the world could not keep their cars within the white lines.
And that begs the question: Is it the drivers? Or the track? Or the rules?
Well, it may be a combination of all the above-mentioned and a matter worth looking into to avoid any future ridiculousness, especially with Aston Martin’s post-race protest on the grand prix result claiming the stewards miss to punish some track limit violators.
The stewards agreed with Aston Martin, to their own detriment, as they pulled an all-nighter reviewing all the transgressions, penalizing eight drivers post-race, changing the result below the top three and handing Aston Martin three F1 World Championship points for their troubles.
But back to the track limits, Verstappen who had a couple of laps deleted in Qualifying said: “We don’t do it on purpose but with these speeds and the high-speed corners it’s so hard to judge the white line.
“We could see today that a lot of people get out. It was about surviving, even Q3 you just want the banker lap, it takes out the joy a little bit,” he added.
With all the violations, given these 20 drivers are supposedly the best in the world, and had it not been for the penalties, one would’ve thought they were doing it on purpose just to mess with the stewards who some believed were pedantic with their rules’ application.
Just kidding, and that would be silly and juvenile anyway, but we could see that some drivers, namely Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, and Lando Norris kept it clean all race long, which means it is possible to stay within the limits. So just do it guys!
Nevertheless, this is a matter that should be looked into for the future, especially at Spielberg (we had similar issues in 2022) to avoid the race results hanging up in the air hours after the chequered flag, and the gravel traps at Turns 9 and 10 that the stewards requested following Aston Martin’s protest could be a good first step.
With that behind us, let’s talk racing and head to our first takeaway from the 2023 Austrian Grand Prix.
Max and Red Bull strut their stuff at their homecoming
We all knew who would win the Grand Prix in Austria, but being a Sprint weekend, one would’ve hoped that would mix things up, but Verstappen and Red Bull had other plans for their homecoming.
The Dutchman was imperious, fastest in FP1, on Pole for the Grand Prix, on Pole for the Sprint. He then won the Sprint by over 20 seconds from his teammate and would’ve repeated that feat in the race had he and the team not decided to take a free pit stop to set the fastest lap and take the extra point.
While many thought Red Bull took an unnecessary risk with that final pit stop, you cannot blame them. They have the best driver right now, in the best car and the team are running like clockwork, so why not go for it? If you have it, flaunt it. That’s the Max way.
Such was the advantage Verstappen had, that despite not pitting under the Virtual Safety Car, while Leclerc did, he was able to build up a 23-second gap after that, which made the risky pitstop possible.
Checo also was in better form, and while he messed up his Qualifying not keeping his RB19 between the white lines, his Sprint Shootout and Sprint were much better, despite the brain fade he and Verstappen suffered at the start of Saturday’s mini grand prix.
On Sunday, the Mexican climbed all the way up to third, his first podium since Miami and somehow redeemed himself, but he needs to keep delivering in order to keep his seat, especially when a certain Honey Badger is hovering around like a vulture.
It just seems that Red Bull can do nothing wrong now… But it won’t last forever, so might as well enjoy it while they can…
Anyone see Mercedes or Aston Martin amid the Orange mist?
Up until Mercedes brought the major upgrade to their W14 in Monaco, Aston Martin were the second fastest team behind the Bulls, but as Mercedes improved they had to deal with competition.
Aston Martin also bolted upgrades to their car in Barcelona, catching up with Mercedes, Ferrari did the same but were not as successful and had to wait until Canada to start showing some improvement, of which they showed much more in Austria.
Relatively speaking, Mercedes and Aston Martin were anonymous in Spielberg, while Ferrari took the ‘fight’ to Red Bull, the SF-23s showing both single-lap speed and decent race pace, while the former two suffered on all fronts.
Hamilton was fifth in Qualifying but the Shootout was a disaster, both for him and George Russell who salvaged a point in the Sprint Race after boldly switching to slicks in mixed conditions, but the short race meant he didn’t have enough laps to capitalize on that.
Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll were both in similar situations to their Mercedes counterparts, never close to the top three regardless of the session.
The race on Sunday was proof that the Green Cars and the Black ones lost out to the Red Cars, and it seems they were also beaten by a Papaya one.
Was Mercedes’ dawn a false one? Are Aston Martin losing the development battle already?
Is it welcome back McLaren?
Since we mentioned Papaya, McLaren brought a major upgrade to Austria, the first of three planned in the coming races, and they gave it to Norris who made great use of it.
The revised MCL60 seemed to be fast out of the box, Lando fourth and third in Qualifying and Shootout respectively, and while he messed up in the Sprint Race, the way he got tangled up with two Red Bulls fighting in front of him, his drive on Sunday was a breath of fresh air for the struggling Woking outfit.
One can only hope that McLaren, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, are back on the right track towards recovery as it is always painful to see such an illustrious team struggling so badly for so long.
And with the important milestone they are celebrating, their 60th, with the MCL60, it would be great for them to finish the season strongly making their car worthy of the occasion its name is celebrating.
It was a disastrous start for the team Bruce McLaren started in a garage, but hopefully, they can recover and finish the season in a manner worthy of the McLaren name.
Quick Hits from Red Bull Ring
A decent race from Ferrari as the car seems to have improved, and while Carlos Sainz seemed to be the faster driver, Leclerc took the team’s 800th podium in F1, the former was tripping over the white lines much too often.
How long will Logan Sargeant and Nyck de Vries keep their seats? Who will take their seats?
Nico Hulkenberg suffered a DNF in the Grand Prix which saved him from another race of going back down the order after yet another impressive performance in the one-lap stuff.
If we have to keep going with Sprint Races, the current format is the best, but what would even be better is to scrap them altogether.