After a fantastically unpredictable race to whip the season into action, we’re all gearing up for a rematch around the ups and downs of the same Austrian venue. Let’s hope the so-called Styrian Grand Prix is a suitable sequel to Austria's epic opener.
The pace of the new black Mercedes was awesome. Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were in a different league to the others in qualifying but Hamilton did not have a great weekend; beaten to pole position by his teammate and penalised for failing to slow under yellow flags, which put him fifth on the grid. Things didn't get any better on Sunday, when Hamilton received another penalty during the race which denied him a podium finish.
💬 "I'll take what I've got, try to learn from it and be better next time." - @LewisHamilton
Hamilton finds himself 13 points behind Bottas and he’ll be highly motivated to claw that back just a week later. Qualifying will be fundamental, we saw how tricky it was for him to overtake Bottas in the race even though he had managed to close a handsome gap.
Overtaking can happen around this circuit, as we witnessed, but when you’re in an identical car with tyres of the same compound then finding an opportunity becomes remarkably difficult. The electrifying final laps were initiated by drivers stopping for fresh tyres under Safety Car conditions and then having an advantage over those still out there on old rubber.
That’s how Alex Albon was suddenly able to have a shot at passing Hamilton around the outside of Turn 4, and if the contact hadn’t happened there’s every chance the Red Bull driver could have done something similar to Bottas.
A jaw-rattling ride
What really stirred the pot last weekend was the surprising lack of reliability throughout the grid. Cars stopping at the side of the road led to three Safety Car periods and gaps between cars being wiped out.
The Red Bull Ring is particularly harsh on machinery. Hitting kerbs at 180mph is like riding a bike down a steeply cobbled alley; lumpy-bumpy, jaw-rattling and damaging.
A four-day gap between the end of one race and the beginning of free practice for another is not a great deal of time for the teams to sort out all the problems. A Formula One car is stripped back to the basics and fully rebuilt between events, but items such as gearboxes and power units cannot be changed very often, at least not without penalty.
There will be a great deal of analysis going on and no doubt some anxiety about having to race on this track so soon.
Romance over for Vettel
One team that didn’t appear to have reliability issues was Ferrari, but they had a much bigger concern - sheer pace.
The team that took pole position here last year and led most laps in the race qualified seventh and 11th and struggled to make up ground until Charles Leclerc put in some brilliant moves in the latter stages for a fully-deserved second place.
However, Sebastian Vettel finished 10th and looked despondent. Clearly unhappy with the car’s handling, and no doubt depressed to see the lack of speed in a straight line, it does seem as though the fairytale relationship between the four-time world champion and the great Italian brand has come to a juddering halt.
Ferrari say they hope to respond to Sunday's sluggish season-opener by bringing forward an aerodynamic update originally planned for Hungary.
Shake up in Styria
Over at McLaren, there’s a very different atmosphere. The sheer delight of seeing Lando Norris achieve his first grand prix podium saw team boss Zak Brown go delirious with delight. The 20-year-old former karting champion has started his second year in F1 in tremendous style and is gathering fans from all over the world.
But that battle between the teams behind Mercedes and Red Bull is so tight that we could see an entirely different group fighting for valuable points this coming Sunday. Racing Point had tremendous speed all weekend but missed out with reliability and strategy mishaps.
Daniel Ricciardo showed some promising pace in the Renault, but that yellow flag in qualifying cost him a chance to be further up the grid and reliability also let him down in the race. So we could see a very different arrangement of the pack behind the top four as everyone attempts to shave thousandths of a second from their lap times.
Can the sequel possibly surpass the original? It doesn’t often happen in the film industry, although in the case of Toy Story, they’ve always managed to maintain the trend. And Zak Brown’s enthusiasm and leadership does remind me of Buzz Lightyear, so perhaps we’re in for a treat. To infinity and beyond...?
Join the C4F1 team for all the highlights from qualifying for the Styrian Grand Prix on Saturday 11th July at 6:30pm, with the best bits of the race from 6:30pm on Sunday.