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Stat Wrap: Austrian Grand Prix

Max Verstappen's Austria win was extremely popular with his thousands of travelling fans.

By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician

After last year’s Austrian Grand Prix, thousands of Dutch race fans left having seen their anointed hero Max Verstappen eliminated without completing a single lap, the victim of a Turn 1 collision.

If what goes around truly comes around, then the 18,000-strong orange-clad army got their payback on Sunday, as Verstappen delivered a slightly unexpected but highly-welcome victory, in a race that didn’t go remotely as expected.

Despite being called the Red Bull Ring, the Red Bull team had never actually enjoyed success here, and had previously led only five laps in the Styrian mountains. 

A win seemed even more unlikely when Verstappen could do no better than fourth in qualifying – only one previous race on this track had ever been won from outside the top three since it was first used in 1997 – and the 20-year-old had never previously finished on the podium in three consecutive races in his F1 career.

The Dutchman overcame those odds to deliver a 176th race win for a Renault engine, tying Ford for second on the all-time list and trailing only the 233 of Ferrari. 

As is often the case with F1 stats in the modern age, that stat has an asterisk attached. Eight of Renault’s wins have come for Red Bull since they rebadged the power unit as “TAG Heuer”, meaning the achievement is somewhat hidden in the record books.

Verstappen’s win also brought him level with Bruce McLaren and Eddie Irvine in an obscure statistical category. They have all taken four career wins, the most by any driver in F1 history without ever taking a pole position. 

It isn’t always the case that pole positions and victories go hand-in-hand – Niki Lauda won the 1984 title without ever qualifying on the front row, and Denny Hulme didn’t take a pole position until 1973, six years AFTER winning the championship!

Kimi Raikkonen’s second place was his best finish in an Austrian Grand Prix for 15 years, when he was a baby-faced 23-year-old racing for McLaren back in 2003. It was his fifth podium of the 2018 season, and he got within 1.504 seconds of ending his 102-race wait for another victory.

He capitalised on a grid penalty incurred by team-mate Sebastian Vettel for blocking Carlos Sainz Jnr in qualifying, after the German had out-qualified Raikkonen for the eighth consecutive race. 

Vettel was unable to score his first-ever F1 victory when starting outside the top three, but he probably won’t care right now – the Ferrari driver now leads the championship by a point, as the title lead has changed for three consecutive races for the first time since 2012.

The podium had a familiar look (barring the lack of a Mercedes – more of that later), but behind them was the refreshing sight of the Haas F1 team in formation, as Romain Grosjean brought the longest active pointless streak to an end in emphatic style.

Grosjean’s last points finish had been the Japanese GP at Suzuka last October and he had been unlucky at several races this year. Although he was perhaps fortunate to finish as high as fourth this weekend, there was nothing lucky about his competitiveness – he was never lower than seventh in any session all weekend.

Not only did it end the Frenchman’s long wait for points, but it was also only his second top-four finish in the entire turbo hybrid era, following on from his podium for Lotus at the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix, and the first time a Haas has finished in the top four in a race.

As if that weren’t enough for the American-owned squad, Kevin Magnussen followed Grosjean home in fifth place, tying his best finish of 2018 and propelling him up to seventh in the championship – or “best of the rest” if you prefer.  He’s now scored twice as many top-six finishes this season (four) as in the rest of his F1 career (two). 

A Haas team that had never previously scored more than 10 points in any grand prix took 22 points away from the Red Bull Ring, the perfect way to celebrate their 50th start in F1.

Speaking of milestones, Force India started their 200th grand prix on Sunday. The team which rose from the ashes of Jordan weren’t quite able to emulate the shock victory that their predecessors managed on their 200th start (when Giancarlo Fisichella won in the rains of Brazil in 2003), but they did get both cars home in the top seven for the first time this season.

Esteban Ocon tied his best of the year (having also finished sixth in Monaco), while Sergio Perez was seventh on election day in his native Mexico. The Force Indias were the only Mercedes-powered cars to score points on Sunday, something that has never happened since the team began their relationship with the three-pointed star back in 2009.

It means Force India single-handedly kept up the streak of races in which a Mercedes-Benz engine has scored points. Sunday was their 184th in a row, a streak that started when Lewis Hamilton won the 2008 Chinese GP for McLaren. Ford’s 228 in a row from Canada 1967 to the Netherlands 1983 is the only longer run in history.

Fernando Alonso had been having a rough time of things since winning the Le Mans 24 Hours two weeks ago, and had to start Sunday’s race from the pit lane, so his eighth place was a superb result in the circumstances. It ended a three-race scoreless streak for the Spaniard at a track where he’d retired on four of his previous six visits.

Last year Sauber finished bottom of the constructors’ championship for the first time in their 25-year history, but the memories of such a poor performance have been emphatically put to bed in 2018. 

Charles Leclerc scored points on Sunday for the fifth time in the last six races – a run only bettered by championship-leader Vettel. His P9 came after he reached Q2 for the sixth consecutive race, the longest run by any Sauber driver in the turbo hybrid era.

Leclerc was backed up by team-mate Marcus Ericsson, who was the only driver to gamble on soft tyres at the start and was rewarded with his second point of 2018, giving Sauber their first double-points finish since the 2015 Chinese GP.

Such unusual results would not have been possible without unreliability at the sharp end. Valtteri Bottas went into the race having taken pole position at the Red Bull Ring for the second consecutive year, and with the most laps led at the Red Bull Ring by any active driver (72).

He was quickly displaced from the lead by Lewis Hamilton, who seemed to be in control until a Virtual Safety Car appearance – combined with the lack of a pit-stop call from the pit wall – began rewriting what looked set to be a story of Mercedes’ dominance.

Bottas’ car failed soon afterwards, ending a 23-race finishing streak that went back to Spain last season. The Finn has been phenomenally unlucky this season – he lost an almost-certain 25 points with his late puncture in Baku, he was punted into a spin by Vettel at the first corner in France while team-mate Hamilton dominated, and he was running second when he broke down in Austria.

Even without working out the various knock-on effects, that potentially amounts to 61 points lost through misfortune in those three races – and Bottas is only 54 points off the championship lead.

Mercedes’ misfortune was complete when Hamilton’s car failed a lap and a half short of being classified as a finisher for the 34th consecutive race, ending the longest points streak in the history of the world championship.  He last failed to score at the 2016 Malaysia GP.

It was also a double mechanical retirement for the Mercedes team, their first since re-entering F1 as a constructor in 2010.

The last such occurrence was Karl Kling and Stirling Moss’ failures at the 1955 Italian Grand Prix, but back then Mercedes entered four cars, and the other two (driven by Juan-Manuel Fangio and Piero Taruffi) finished 1-2 with the championship already won, so the effect was rather diminished.

There was no 29th birthday present for Daniel Ricciardo on Sunday, as he had to watch his team-mate win the Austrian Grand Prix while the Australian’s Red Bull broke down. 

Despite the celebrations as his team finally took a victory at their home circuit, the only 'shoey' seen in Austria on Sunday was in cake form.

Read more: Karun's Pit View - 'This is a different Max Verstappen'

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