You know what they say about two being company; three a crowd. We already were luxuriating in our two-way F1 world championship fight this year. Yet Valtteri Bottas may now be making it crowded, not least by winning the Austrian Grand Prix.
Much was expected in advance of this Red Bull Ring race and in the event we got little of it. Lewis Hamilton, after a grid penalty for a gearbox change, was to provide fireworks rising from starting in eighth. The high temperatures were supposed to make tyre life short and unpredictable. Rain was predicted too.
In the event little of this happened. But for much of the way we could at least admire Bottas’s dominance. He started from pole as he meant to go on, indeed his launch was so good that some thought it illegal. The stewards’ investigation revealed that his movement was just on the clean side of the two tenths of a second after the lights go out that they consider humanly possible, at 0.201 seconds….
Bottas Bosses It
Then Bottas was metronomic as he extended his lead lap after lap. Before half distance he was eight seconds to the good.
It got a little harder later. During his second and final stint he developed a blister on his left-rear tyre and Sebastian Vettel – his closest challenger throughout – closed in. The parallels with Bottas’s first win – in Russia earlier this year – were uncanny and lost on no one. A processional race having tension added by the Ferrari getting with the ‘other’ Mercedes in the late laps.
But just as in Russia Bottas was his typical imperturbable self. Just as in Russia he held Vettel off and won by six tenths of a second. And even better he’s now just 15 points shy of his team mate in the table; 35 off Seb at the top.
Hamilton’s Haphazard Day
Lewis meanwhile didn’t quite rise as expected. Quickly he was fifth, but then got stuck for several laps behind Kimi Raikkonen. After his solitary stop he didn’t appear too happy on his new tyres either and didn’t close in on those ahead for a while.
Later he came alive though. In an echo of the leading pair he closed in on Daniel Ricciardo late for third place, but just like with them the order didn’t change, despite Lewis getting alongside at one point. Fourth was his lot; Ricciardo meanwhile now has five podium appearances in a row.
It’s night and day fortune from his Red Bull team mate, as Max Verstappen was wiped out at turn one through no fault of his, and that’s now five retirements from the last seven for him.
Vettel was content enough with his result, given he extended his championship lead (though grumbled about the jump start non-call). This makes it two rounds in a row that the Merc has looked quicker, but Vettel’s points advantage has grown.
But then again as explained it may not now be a matter simply for two men…