► Verstappen wins as Perez makes more mistakes
► Mercedes, Aston Martin and Ferrari trade places
► Next up, Silverstone
F1 returned to the Red Bull Ring for not one but two races this weekend. If you’ve forgotten, the format is as follows; there’s a single practice session and the traditional qualifying session on Friday. On Saturday there’s a self-contained sprint qualifying and sprint race. The full race is on Sunday afternoon, though we find out what the result was in the evening. Keep reading for X things we learnt at the Red Bull Ring!
1. Max Verstappen is making this championship his own
When his car works, Verstappen is collecting the maximum available points on a routine basis – and even with a safety car he’s still winning by multiple seconds. At this stage of the year, his rivals are judging races on the gap to Max, not how they could’ve won.
Take Max out of the picture for a minute, and this year’s F1 season looks to be a classic – with the top drivers all having strengths and weaknesses based on the tracks and their car update schedules. Take the soon to be triple-world champion out of the equation and this season is a titanic fight between Alonso, Hamilton and Perez. Throw in a charging Russell and resurgent Ferrari’s and the whole thing looks epic.
2. Sergio Perez’s season gets worse
Being Max Verstappen’s teammate is mentally taxing – just ask Pierre Gasly or Alex Albon – but things seem to be seriously getting to Sergio Perez. After a promising start to his 2023 campaign, things have not gone well for the Mexican recently – and the rot has started on Saturday. On Friday, Perez became the first Red Bull driver since 2008 to not make Q3 for four races in a row. Not the best statistic.
This week’s error came after having not one, or two but three(!) laps deleted for track limits infringements in Friday qualifying, and it meant the Mexican started 15th on Sunday, instead of the second that his car was surely capable of.
Perez finished a distant second in the sprint race and a distant third in the full thing on Sunday. Was Gasly or Albon this bad in the Red Bull, and should Red Bull eyeing up a replacement for Daniel Ricciardo before the end of the year? Let us know in the comments.
3. Ferrari updates work
The Ferrari has always been a quick car over one lap, but now Maranello’s engineers appear to have added some stamina to the mix. After two strong qualifying sessions, Ferrari managed to pick up the pace In both races too. And although Leclerc qualified and finished well (coming second in the full race on Sunday) it was Carlos Sainz who seemed to be the faster of the two drivers. Either way, both Ferrari’s looked the best they have since this time last year – roughly when the wheels started to come off its 2022 campaign.
Is the Ferrari a match for Red Bull? Not remotely, but it’s good to see the Scuderia make a solid step forward.
4. Alex Albon continues to impress
What is Williams’ Alex Albon thinking right now? For the last few races he’s clearly outperformed the person that replaced him, even though he’s now in a slower, inferior car. Regardless, this was another strong weekend from Albon who is keeping the Williams in the top ten by squeezing everything out of a solid and particularly slippy F1 car. After qualifying 10th and 11th (on Friday and Saturday respectively) Albon was able to finish 13th and 11th. Williams continues to claw its way back to the midfield.
5. A bad weekend for Mercedes
A topsy turvy weekend for Mercedes started with a strong performance on Friday, followed by a disastrous sprint shootout in which Russell and Hamilton started 15th and 18th respectively. Despite that, a well-timed change to slicks meant the Silver Arrows were able to salvage a handful of points for the 24-lap sprint on Saturday.
Sunday proved worse, though, as both cars seemed to lack pace. Even without a possible brake issue, Hamilton’s car lacked pace – and the same was true of his teammate’s. Worse still were 15 seconds of infringements collected by Lewis (ten of which were awarded well after the race). Hamilton added after race that his track limits issues came from a set up change designed to stop the car oversteering.
Mercedes has a substantial update planned for the next race at Silverstone, but first it’ll want to know why Austria didn’t provide a continuation of the speed it’d seen at Barcelona and Canada.
6. Track limits
The Red Bull Ring provided two entertaining races, and that’s partly because of the track’s unique mix of heavy braking zones and fast corners. Both are prime opportunities for overtaking, but both can be exploited by making most of the track and a little bit extra. With that in mind, Sunday’s race saw around 1200 track limits infringements – an unprecedented amount for a race. In fact, so numerous were the infringements that a protest from Aston Martin saw the race result changed hours later. It turns out not all of them had been applied on time.
It marked yet another farce in Formula One, with several drivers gaining extra penalties after the fact. The worst affected was Ocon, who gained an extra 30 seconds to his race time. The stewards later appealed for a new system of applying infringements, rounding of another weekend where F1 delivered great entertainment, but still managed to shoot itself in the foot.