By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician
An unconventional grid, a thrilling finale, a dose of controversy…. a big dose of orange.
And, for once, Mercedes did not dominate.
After ten consecutive race victories, the Silver Arrows finally saw their winning streak – the second-longest in F1 history – brought to an end by the same driver who had claimed the most recent non-Mercedes win in Mexico City, eight months ago.
Max Verstappen snatched a dramatic victory in Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix from under the nose of Charles Leclerc, the man alongside whom he had started alongside in Formula 1’s youngest-ever front row (21 years 265 days). In fact pretty much the only time the only two drivers encountered each other was at the start, and within the final five laps.
Thanks to Verstappen’s clumsy getaway he ended the first lap in seventh position, yet he recovered to pass Leclerc with just three laps remaining. It was a watershed moment for Honda, who claimed their first victory of the hybrid era over four years after making their return to the sport. It was only their second F1 win of any description since the end of their original relationship with McLaren in 1992 (Jenson Button’s win at the Hungaroring in 2006 being the exception).
Honda’s recent story has been more embarrassment than success, having not scored as much as a single front row start or podium finish in their first four seasons back in the sport, while racking up an impressive amount of grid penalties due to unreliability. It was therefore fitting that a Honda-powered car stopped Mercedes from tying the Honda-powered McLaren team’s 11 consecutive wins in 1988, which remains (for now, at least) the longest streak in history.
For the second time this year, Charles Leclerc lost a race he appeared to have under control, coming within three laps of achieving the triple whammy of winning at the Red Bull Ring from pole position in GP3, F2 and F1. That he achieved the best result of his F1 career was of cold comfort after dominating proceedings just as he had in Bahrain.
Leclerc has now led 124 laps in his career, and he’s temporarily (?) starting to get a whiff of Chris Amon’s infamous career numbers. The former Ferrari driver led a record 183 laps without ever taking a victory (although he did win multiple non-championship events). Had Leclerc won, it would have been the first Grand Prix success for a Monegasque driver since Louis Chiron at the 1949 French GP. One would assume that day is coming soon….
Austria was the first race in 2019 where Mercedes never looked a realistic candidate for victory, but Valtteri Bottas did at least salvage a podium, the first time he’s stood on one without Lewis Hamilton also being there since last year’s Canadian GP. Hamilton ended the day in fifth place, and while it was an unusually-modest result, it did signify a landmark achievement for the team.
Great job today from @Charles_Leclerc who has driven well all weekend. Grateful for the team effort, although for us not a perfect day but we win and we lose together. Tomorrow is a new day and a chance for us to Rise together. #TeamLH, need all the energy we can get pic.twitter.com/1rlLMwPmPm— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) June 29, 2019
While in the process of running away with both titles yet again, Mercedes have now completed a full 12 month period without posting a single retirement for either car. If that weren’t enough, Bottas and Hamilton both have 21-race point streaks, tied for the fifth-longest streaks in history. Even if their dominance may be a turnoff for some, Mercedes have taken engineering excellence to unprecedented levels.
Sebastian Vettel ended up being the filling in the Mercedes sandwich on Sunday, coming home fourth in a race of recovery, having been unable to complete a lap in Q3 due to a technical problem. It continued a relatively poor Red Bull Ring record for the German, who has only ever led five laps at this venue in his career.
McLaren won the “Class B” championship for the third time in the last four races, with Lando Norris netting sixth place, and teammate Carlos Sainz taking eighth from the last row of the grid. McLaren have already scored 52 points this season, compared to 62 points in all of 2018, and only 30 points in 2017!
Sainz’s drive from the back of the field was placed into sharp contrast by finishing only one position behind seventh-placed Pierre Gasly, who was driving an identical car to the one that won the race. The Frenchman – who, lest we forget, is a former GP2 champion – qualified 0.760s behind Verstappen, having been 0.775s adrift in France.
Gasly was briefly ahead of Verstappen at the start, yet his race pace was so poor that he was lapped by the Dutchman with seven laps still remaining. Having only led Verstappen on-track for 12 laps in the entire season, Gasly still has time to turn things around, but on a weekend in which Red Bull ruthlessly dispensed with junior driver (and sometime F1 tester) Dan Ticktum, he’ll know how quickly that turnaround needs to take place….
Alfa Romeo enjoyed a strong weekend after both their cars qualified in the top seven, the first such instance for the Italian marque since the 1983 German Grand Prix. Kimi Raikkonen briefly ran fourth in the early stages, the same position in which he finished for this same team (as Sauber) in the Austrian Grand Prix 18 years ago.
As the field regressed toward the mean, Raikkonen was still able to hang on to ninth place, just ahead of teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, who claimed a long-awaited first career point. Having once been ubiquitous in Formula 1, this ended a nine-year pointless streak for Italian drivers, having not scored since Tonio Liuzzi’s sixth place at the 2010 Korean GP.
For the ninth time in F1 history, a Grand Prix passed without a single retirement, and five of those have now come in the hybrid era. The last five races in 2019 have seen a TOTAL of only six retirements, and NINE drivers have finished every race this year.
Next up is the small matter of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, a circuit on which Mercedes have taken pole position for the last six years in a row. Will normal service be resumed?