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View from the Pit Lane: Austria

There was plenty to smile about for Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo in Silverstone.

By Karun Chandhok,
C4F1 technical analyst

Let’s be honest, the Austrian Grand Prix was not the most exciting race in the world – let’s hope we can turn that around at Silverstone – but sometimes you do get these races. 

It is an odd one because the circuit at the Red Bull Ring should really promote lots of overtaking and good racing. I think because it’s quite a short lap and the feel is quite tightly bunched you don’t see the big sort of overtaking moves and the gaps that perhaps you’d expect to see. 

We did see two laps of excitement at the top and four laps of drama at the end but overall it was a bit of an odd one! 

When we arrived in Austria, there was such a lot of tension after the investigation into Sebastian Vettel’s move on Lewis Hamilton in Baku; and there was a lot of tension in the paddock between the two drivers and Mercedes and Ferrari. 

The Dutch fans were also out in force, they filled the campsites and the Max Verstappen Grandstand, so it was actually a really good atmosphere. It’s a great venue for the fans because you can see so much sitting in one space with the bowl of the circuit in front o you. 

When we were going up to the commentary box, which is behind the main grand stand, we could really see how absolutely packed it is and a great race to go to. 

Valtteri Bottas has to be top of my talking points from the race weekend because I thought he did a really, really stellar job, especially in qualifying.

There were a lot of small factors that contributed to him getting pole. 

When you look at the lap time comparison between the Ferrari and the Mercedes, the Ferrari looks like it’s got more downforce and is quicker in the corners. The Mercedes, particularly in the second half of the straight really pulls back, but Bottas got a little bit of the slipstream.

Mercedes are clearly very strong when it comes to turning up the engine and getting that peak power for that last part of qualifying. I don’t think Ferrari are quite there yet. So that, combined with a little bit of slipstream, resulted in a very, very strong lap for Bottas, it was a great effort from him.

It was surprising to see Hamilton not really able to do the lap and I wonder if knew from Tuesday or Wednesday about the gearbox penalty that coming? 

Mercedes waited until Friday night to announce it the rest of the world but he knew about it and really he seemed a bit deflated and demotivated when it came to qualifying. He just didn’t seem to be the Hamilton that we’ve seen in Baku and in Canada where he bounced around into qualifying and really went for pole position. In Austria he was sort of OK and he got third, which became eighth with the penalty.

If Hamilton was a little bit sub-par qualifying, in the race he was great, coming from eighty up to fourth was a good strong performance.

He will probably still be a little bit disappointed because if he’d started sixth he would have maybe had a better chance of getting past Daniel Ricciardo. In the end he was a lap or two away from getting Ricciardo, and those points could be crucial at the end of the World Championship fight.

It was damage limitation for Vettel and Ferrari. It was odd because in the first stint Bottas just destroyed him and disappeared seven seconds up the road, it looked like Vettel had no chance to compete against him.

But as the race went on, in the second stint, Bottas started getting blistering on his tyres and I posted a photo on Twitter that I took of Bottas’ car underneath the podium and you could see on the rear left that band of blistering on the tyres. 

He did really well to actually to hang on to that and get that performance he needed at key points of the lap to make sure he stayed ahead of Vettel. 

Vettel was very reminiscent of the last couple of laps in Russia and he felt he needed two laps more to get the move done and it would of worked out OK for him. 

Let’s talk about Red Bull next. I thought Austria was their most convincing performance, in a normal dry race. 

For Ricciardo to finished six seconds off the race winner was a fantastic effort from Red Bull and especially on a circuit which doesn’t really favour their car’s performance.

After the race, I spoke to Christian Horner and Simon Rennie, Daniel’s race engineer, and they were both very buoyant about the result.

I was also pleasantly surprised with how competitive they were because on Friday and in qualifying they didn’t quite look like they were there.

On the other side of the garage, Max Verstappen does seem to be the new Mr Unlucky.

I always thought that was Jolyon Palmer, who keeps having trouble in free practice, but it all goes wrong for Verstappen on race day - Canada, Baku and here in Austria. 

That’s three races where arguably that’s 40 points gone out the window – that’s a big chunk of points! 

I could see why Verstappen was massively disappointed but it will come good for him again. He’s driving amazingly well. All through the weekend he looked stronger than Ricciardo; his free practice pace and qualifying were strong. 

Every time he gets in the car, he’s just on it and Red Bull love that about him and I could see why, he is one of those once-in-a-generation talents that comes to Formula 1 and when they get the reliability and the luck, he will be devastating, there’s no question about it.

Austria was another good race for Force India to get both cars in the points. Sergio Perez did a very good job as he looked on the backfoot in free practice and dug it out when he came to qualifying. In the race he really got a long way ahead of Esteban Ocon

I rate Ocon very highly and for Perez to once again remind the teams that he’s a top-class act was a really good effort for him.

Williams also got two cars on the points. Yes there was a little bit of luck involved but once you actually look at the race pace they weren’t so bad - which begs the question why were they so far away in qualifying?

To qualify 17th and 18th on the grid was really not good and they were completely confused as to where the performance had gone.

Come the race Felipe Massa’s pace relative to Ocon wasn’t too bad and he was within a few seconds of him so that’s really pretty good.  

They will definitely be doing some proper investigative work as to why they couldn’t switch the tyres on in qualifying. They just couldn’t get the tyres to work underneath the car, which was very frustrating.

So on to Silverstone next and the British Grand Prix!

There’s a going to be a lot of intrigue as this is the first true high speed circuit we are coming to since Barcelona.

From the information we’ve seen so far, especially in Austria, the Ferrari looked amazing in the high-speed corners and I wonder, are Mercedes going to sneak in a bit more downforce, are they going to bring updates?

You’re constantly seeing lots of bits and pieces coming to those cars, they’re pushing hard. 

The gap in the world championship between Vettel and Hamilton is now 20 points and I’m sure Hamilton will be massively motivated to get a win on home soil here in front of the fans at Silverstone.

It’s always a great event and it’s a busy one for us working at Channel 4 but I’m sure for the fans – and if the weather holds on - it should be a fantastic weekend at Silverstone.

If you are in the grandstand I hope to see you there and if you’re not then obviously you can join us on TV, it should be a great race all the same.

The British Grand Prix is live on Channel 4 from 12 noon on Sunday 16th July. All sessions are live on Channel 4.