Lewis Hamilton and the rest fo the Formula 1 circus visits Austria this weekend.
Next up for the Formula 1 World Championship is the Austrian Grand Prix, the second leg of the first back-to-back races of the 2019 season — a season that is dealing with the problem of Mercedes’ dominance causing real apathy among fans.
The French Grand Prix was woefully boring. It featured very few overtakes, a runaway winner in Lewis Hamilton yet again and no competition for Mercedes. The race was typical of the season so far.
Hamilton left France with 187 points. Next is teammate Valtteri Bottas with 151, and a distant third in the F1 drivers’ standings is Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel with just 111. The F1 constructors’ standings are even more lopsided with Mercedes holding a 338-198 lead over Ferrari.
Ever since the 2014 introduction of the V6 turbo-hybrid, Mercedes has been the dominant force in F1. Only twice in five-plus seasons have the Silver Arrows endured a small threat to the title. The current season, rather than seeing the gap close, has become Mercedes’ most dominant season to date.
Winning all eight races so far, Mercedes has only failed to score a one-two result twice. This looks unlikely to change in Austria.
When Formula 1 needs a feel-good news story these days, the only source seems to be McLaren. Having spent several years fighting at the bottom end of the field, drivers Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz delivered the team’s second double-points result of the season in France with sixth and ninth positions.
If McLaren can understand where the performance gains have been made and is able to translate this into their 2020 effort, there is no team with a better infrastructure to mount a consistent challenge to Mercedes.
Circuit: Red Bull Ring
Circuit length: 2.6 miles
Race distance: 190.4 miles
2018 pole time: 1:03.130 (Valtteri Bottas)
Fastest race lap: 1:06.957 (Kimi Raikkonen – 2018)
Bottas started from pole but lost the lead off the line when going three-wide with Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen into turn 1. Dropping down to fourth place on the first lap, the Finn quickly made his way back to second but was let down by a gearbox failure on just lap 14.
The resulting virtual safety car decided the race, and not in Mercedes’ favor.
Watching Hamilton drive past pit entry, Red Bull pulled Max Verstappen in for his mandatory stop. With the time lost by pitting under a virtual safety car less than pitting in full race conditions, Verstappen was handed a fistful of time on Hamilton and didn’t need to be asked twice to make it count.
Unhappy with the loss of position to not only Verstappen but also Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo — not to mention Sebastian Vettel, who made an on-track pass for position on Hamilton — the Mercedes drivers’ complaints on the radio resulted in chief strategist James Vowles broadcasting that it was his mistake that had cost the team victory.
A loss of power in Hamilton’s car eventually put him out of the race for a rare Mercedes double retirement.
Verstappen took the win and was flanked by Ferrari drivers Raikkonen and Vettel on the podium.
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