By Sean Kelly, C4F1 Statistician
On such margins, championships can be won and lost.
Valtteri Bottas’ victory in this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix may well have brought him into outside consideration for the drivers’ title, and/or prevented Sebastian Vettel from further increasing his points lead, but the real talking point came in the opening two tenths of a second of the race.
The Finn, starting from his second career pole position, was credited on TV graphics to have reacted to the starting lights within 0.201s, even though the actual pictures indicated that his Mercedes’ front wheels were in motion before the lights actually went out.
Regardless of whether he moved or not, Bottas was not penalised, and it had a critical effect on how this race played out. Even a 5-second penalty could have potentially cost him the win he eventually earned, while a 10-second penalty could have seen him off the podium altogether.
Both of Bottas’ career victories so far have come by less than 0.7s, and on both occasions it was Sebastian Vettel who hounded him right to the line (the same scenario also played out in Sochi). A sixth podium in a single season for Bottas also ties the most he’s ever scored in any one year (2014), with 11 races still left to run in this campaign.
Among Finnish drivers, Bottas is now in esteemed company. The only other Finns to have won multiple Grands Prix are Keke Rosberg (5), Mika Hakkinen (20) and Kimi Raikkonen (20), and all three claimed world titles along the way.
As for Vettel, the first Grand Prix start of his thirties resulted in second place, and although he might have felt aggrieved that Bottas’ getaway went unpunished, he still extended his championship lead to 20 points. Showing the turnaround in his form this season, Vettel has now matched his podium total from the entire 2016 season (7).
The most excited driver on the podium on Sunday appeared to be Daniel Ricciardo, and with good reason. Racing on Red Bull’s home track in the week in which he turned 28 years old, Ricciardo chalked up a fifth consecutive podium for the first time in his career. Furthermore, nobody has outscored Ricciardo in the last five Grands Prix (85 points), quite a turnaround after only claiming 22 points in the opening four races of the year.
Ricciardo fended off the close attentions of Lewis Hamilton, who finished lower than second in Austria for the first time in his career. Hamilton’s recent results have been mercurial, with his only podium finishes in the past six races both being wins (Spain, Canada). Conversely, Hamilton and Vettel are the only drivers to complete every racing lap in the 2017 season, and their point-scoring streaks have now reached 14 in a row.
While Vettel has experienced a major turnaround in form compared to 2016, the same cannot be said for Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn was fifth in Austria, nearly 20 seconds behind his team leader, and he has fewer points at this stage of the year (83) than he had at the corresponding stage last season (96).
In contrast, Romain Grosjean’s sixth place on Sunday was not only the best result for Haas in 28 Grands Prix – going back to Grosjean’s pair of top six finishes in the opening two starts in the team’s history – but it means the US-owned team have now tied their entire points total from last year (29), only nine races into the year!
Another team enjoying further success this year – despite recent intra-team tension – is Force India. Sergio Perez qualified in the top ten in Austria for the first time in his career this weekend, and his seventh place finish in the race was enough to move him into the top six in the drivers’ championship, a scenario Perez has not found himself in since coming oh-so-close to winning the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2012.
Perez’s success overshadows the remarkable career start of Esteban Ocon, who has now finished his first 18 consecutive races as an F1 driver – and scored in all but one of the nine races so far this season. Force India sit fourth in the constructors’ championship with over double the points of fifth-placed Williams (89-40), and look likely to consolidate their breakthrough championship finish from 2016.
Speaking of Williams, the team rescued a first double-points finish of 2017 from what looked on Saturday to be a dreadful weekend. Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll – fresh from his podium finish in Baku – were knocked out in Q1 on Saturday, the first time Williams had suffered a double Q1 elimination in nearly three years, and on a track on which they locked out the front row in 2014.
Massa gambled by starting on soft compound tyres and ran until lap 46 before finally making a pit stop, and he was rewarded with a ninth-place finish for his efforts. Teammate Stroll held on to the final point despite a spirited challenge from Jolyon Palmer, and the Canadian scored for the third consecutive race.
Palmer, it must be said, is now clearly the most successful driver this season without a point. The Englishman was 11th on Sunday for the third time in the last four Grands Prix (!), and his campaign is beginning to seem frustratingly similar to that of Esteban Gutierrez last year, when the Mexican driver finished in that same position five times without ever scoring.
Perhaps the most important thing for Palmer was that he beat Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg for the first time this year when Hulkenberg has actually finished. The Renaults were 11th and 13th in this race, sandwiching Stoffel Vandoorne, who was 12th for a second consecutive Grand Prix. Like Palmer, he awaits his first points of 2017.
Vandoorne had a far better day than his McLaren team leader Fernando Alonso, who was eliminated in a first lap accident in Austria for the second time in the last three years. With only 319 racing laps completed this year, Alonso is second-to-last in laps completed, beaten only by the other man eliminated in the first corner crash, Max Verstappen.
Looks like Kvyat was the cause of the ALO/VER collision— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) July 9, 2017
: “Any damage?”
ALO: “Yes, a lot, a lot. We cannot play bowling!” pic.twitter.com/S7m9dT7i5p
Prior to the race Verstappen had claimed as many as 12,000 Dutch fans had made the trip to Austria to see him, but they were left frustrated, as their compatriot failed to finish for the fifth time in the last seven races – more retirements than teammate Daniel Ricciardo has had since November 2014!
Two of those retirements have come in turn one accidents, following on from his incident with Raikkonen in Spain. The British Grand Prix is coming up this weekend at Silverstone, where Verstappen was a superb second last season. On current form, a finish of any kind would be welcome.