Styrian GP Stat Wrap
By Sean Kelly
C4F1's Virtual Statman
Formula 1’s unprecedented venture into running multiple race weekends at the same racetrack has now yielded its first results.
Conclusion? By and large, human errors were reduced as the teams were inevitably better prepared second time round, but it was not a blanket statement as Ferrari would discover….
In last weekend’s event Lewis Hamilton fell short of his teammate – admittedly after a tremendously close qualifying in which Valtteri Bottas pipped him to pole by just 0.012s. No doubt smarting from defeat, Hamilton left no doubt to his superiority this time.
Heavy rain left F1 openly considering a qualifying postponement until Sunday morning for only the sixth time in history, but eventually the session went ahead, and Hamilton’s staggering 1.216s margin for pole position was the largest seen at any Grand Prix for six years, when his old teammate Nico Rosberg took pole by 1.620s at a rapidly-drying Silverstone in 2014.
Hamilton is at a stage in his career where pretty much every race sees him break a record and this would be no different, as the man from Stevenage became the first driver to take pole positions in 14 consecutive seasons, surpassing a tie with Michael Schumacher (1992-2006), although unlike Schuey, Hamilton has taken at least one pole in every season of his F1 career.
He didn’t lead start-to-finish this time – unlike Bottas in last week’s edition – but he only lost the lead during the pitstop cycle. Hamilton won last season’s finale at Yas Marina by 16.772s, and he crushed the opposition on this Sunday drive by 13.719s. Not bad considering that the Red Bull Ring has been a bogey track for Lewis, with no official podium finishes in any of the previous four races held here.
Bottas’ second place leaves him six points clear in the championship, but he knows that lead will be fragile with the next event coming up at the Hungaroring, a circuit on which Hamilton has won no fewer than seven times (and the last two in a row).
With that said, Bottas can be content to have salvaged a second place that looked likely to belong to Max Verstappen. A decision to leave Bottas out longer than his rivals initially appeared to be backfiring when he lost five seconds in the pitstop cycle, but ultimately the calculation was proved right when the Finn passed Verstappen at the second attempt with five laps to go.
This may have been disappointing for Verstappen, but seeing as the Dutchman was officially the last driver in the world championship at the beginning of the afternoon, a podium was certainly a major improvement on seven days ago, when his car failed after only 11 laps. His Red Bull teammate Alex Albon followed him home in fourth to tie his career-best finish.
Actually, to say Albon “followed” Verstappen might be a little euphemistic, as the Thai driver was 29 seconds behind Verstappen when the lead Red Bull made a free pitstop for new tyres late on (in an unsuccessful attempt to set the fastest lap).
Albon did avoid falling prey to F1’s periodical giant killer Sergio Perez, as the Mexican driver put in a stirring drive from 17th on the grid, setting the fastest lap four times in twelve laps to get literally within touching distance of the Red Bull, breaking his front wing in the process.
This left him hobbling around the final laps, and an opportunistic Lando Norris pinched fifth place from him at the final corner of the race – having started the lap in seventh (!). A second successive top five finish keeps Norris in third place in the Drivers’ Championship, while McLaren remain second in the Constructors’ Championship, rare air for the team in recent years.
Until last week, McLaren had not taken a fastest lap in F1 since the 2017 Hungarian GP, but they’ve now added back-to-back bonus points thanks to Norris’ famous last lap exploits last week, and ninth-placed Carlos Sainz’s barnstormer on Sunday.
Returning to Perez, the Mexican driver only just preserved sixth place, crossing the line just 0.066s ahead of teammate Lance Stroll and 0.204s ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo as F1 witnessed a rare photo finish. Seventh place for Stroll was still his best finish since Hockenheim last July, while Ricciardo might have been slightly disappointed after running as high as fourth, he at least matched teammate Esteban Ocon’s result from last weekend.
Amid the heroics of other teams in this past week, AlphaTauri (née Toro Rosso) have largely flown under the radar, but Pierre Gasly finished seventh last week and then qualified in the same position this weekend, just 0.017s behind Alex Albon (something that would have made for a great story, given that Albon was given Gasly’s Red Bull drive in mid-season last year).
Gasly was less fortunate this weekend, but teammate Daniil Kvyat finished in the final points position to become the 15th out of 20 drivers to have scored in the opening two races, leaving only Kimi Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen, Nicholas Latifi and George Russell yet to score in 2020.
In the case of George Russell it is now 23 races and counting without a career point. Proving that statistics don’t always tell the full story, it is also 23 races and counting without ever being outqualified by a teammate, and Russell was one of the stars of wet qualifying, when he not only reached Q2 for the first time in his career (and the first for a Williams since Interlagos 2018), but he sensationally came within 0.091s of reaching Q3!
Alas, an early off-track excursion blew has raceday chances, but it was more positive news for a teammate that endured the worst year in their history last season.
Speaking of bad seasons, things are not looking good at Scuderia Ferrari, and the embarrassing sight of Charles Leclerc hitting his own teammate Sebastian Vettel on Sunday saw both cars eliminated after only four laps, one of the worst showings in Ferrari history and their first double retirement since Singapore 2017 (when both cars were eliminated on the first lap for the only time in their history).
This capped consecutive races in which neither Ferrari qualified in the top six, the first such occurrence since the final two races of 2014, a season that ended not only without a victory, but with only two podium finishes all year.
Not a year that Ferrari would care to repeat.