Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Sebastian Vettel Away Clean & More Ahead of the Austrian GP

When the cars last took to the track in Formula 1, they raced on the streets of Baku, Azerbaijan.  The race turned out to be, thus far, the most entertaining of the year.  Mind you, that does not mean that it was the best or most competitive race, but certainly the most entertaining.  Aside from the Force India drivers taking one another out, Max Verstappen enduring another DNF, and a myriad of other errors – either driver or car – the big takeaway was the flare up between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.

The two drivers atop the championship standings had ‘played nice’ this year, even offering small compliments to one another as they found themselves beginning to distance themselves from the field.  All of the pleasantries fell away in Baku when Vettel, in what looked accidental, knocked the rear of Hamilton’s Mercedes, but then in a moment of brain-fade pulled up and sideswiped Hamilton.  

The move earned Vettel a 10-second stop in the pits…and yet he still managed to place ahead of Hamilton in the race.  (That aspect is owed to a Mercedes error of failing to properly secure Hamilton’s headrest after the red flag session.)  The debate that began was whether or not the penalty was enough.

Vettel saying hello to Hamilton in Baku (photo: Getty Images)

During the week off, the FIA convened in Paris, France, and came to the conclusion that in F1 parlance, no further action will be taken.  This move seems surprising as not even a formal reprimand was given.  Many felt that some kind of grid-spot penalty was warranted while some went as far as suggesting a one-race ban.  

While the likelihood of a ban was on the non-existent side, some kind of penalty appeared to be a sure-fire thing.  But hey, it’s Ferrari and they’re in the fight for the title, so why would F1 want to mess with a money maker.  Sarcasm or conspiracy comments aside, the result does seem strange even if Vettel came across as approximately contrite during interviews ahead of this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.  

Consider, however, the comments by Steve Matchett, who pointed out a different issue.  Vettel had the race in hand and he blew it, finishing fourth and earning 13 fewer points.  What, if Matchett questions, Ferrari loses the championship where those 13 points would be the deciding factor?  Such a result affects not just Vettel but all the employees in Maranello, Italy as well.  So where is the response from Ferrari?  

Regardless of the outcome of this incident, Vettel is sure to be under more scrutiny both by the stewards and his team.  Whether or not such attention will change anything is the thing to watch for the final races before the summer break.  

Odds & Sods

– Hamilton has endured a five-spot grid penalty for gearbox change.  The team had been using the one from the Azerbaijan GP, but one wonders if the contact from Vettel may have brought its demise.  Even though the team made the switch and Hamilton complained about his car through much of FP2, he still managed to lead the field.  

– One of the questions surrounding Ferrari’s success has been that they’ve allowed their floor to flex.  Specifically, the idea was that Ferrari allowed for the floor to bow slightly in a way that allowed an aerodynamic advantage in the turns. Thus it is notable that Ferrari have claimed to have strengthened the floor for this week’s race.  Whether or not the powers that be whispered in their ear or Ferrari made changes elsewhere are best left to the message boards.  

Carlos Sainz Jr. is enjoying a bit of a moment in the spotlight.  His season has been going rather well with Toro Rosso as he currently holds the ninth position, which may not seem substantial but for the junior Red Bull team it’s a good showing.  Sainz stated this week that he may seek to leave the team after the season, especially as it seems unlikely that a seat is going to open with the senior Red Bull team.  

Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, smacked down any kind of Sainz departure.  While Sainz may be trying to angle for a spot at Ferrari or Renault, Horner made it clear that Sainz is under contract for the next two years if Red Bull want him and that he’s not going anywhere.  This type of chatter is exactly the kind of thing that happens during the onset of silly season.  

– Team News on a Number of Fronts: Dave Redding is taking on the role of team manager at Williams Martini Racing.  He’ll be taking on the role from Steve Nielsen who is leaving at the end of July.  Redding slides over from a similar role at McLaren.  This seems to be a good time to wonder if the change is one brought on by Paddy Lowe, the team principal at Williams who arrived in March after his stint leading Mercedes the past few years. It should also be noted that Williams introduced a number of upgrades to their cars for this GP.  

For McLaren, former boss Ron Dennis is now completely out of the picture as he sold his shares of the McLaren group this past week.  While McLaren may not be enjoying the kind of success it once had, Dennis’ presence in F1 has been the norm for around 30 years.  He may not have been as vocal of late but the sport was better off with him in it.  There are some rumors that he may take some kind of position in the governing body, working under Russ Brawn.  

Ferarri parted with Lorezo Sassi, chief engineer of the power unit.  This split seems a bit peculiar as Ferrari is enjoying its best success in years and the power unit is comparable to that of Mercedes.  The decision has been claimed to come from the head of the Fiat group rather than team principal Maurizio Arrivabene.  At a time when things look positive and stable, Ferrari makes a bit of a head-scratching move.

Lastly, still no word on who will be Monisha Kaltenborn’s replacement at Sauber.  That the process has dragged out as long as it has is rather striking.  

The Race

The Austrian Grand Prix has been one of those off and on again event though it began in 1964.  Since 1970, the races have been held, mainly, at once was the Österreichring.  The track, now known as the Red Bull Ring is difficult because of its sweeping turns and elevation changes.  It is a relatively short track, just under three miles in length, or about 2.7 miles, features what last year was nine turns but is now deemed to have ten by the FIA.  Since the series returned to the track in 2014,  Mercedes has won all three races with Nico Rosberg winning two and Lewis Hamilton winning in 2016.  .

The race can be seen on Sunday, July 9 at 8:00 am on CNBC.  


About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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It was quite a surprise that Williams didn’t make it out of Q1 this week.Mired back there with the Sauber’s which was quite a surprise.

As for Vettel’s case of brain fade at Baku, it seems to be just another in a long run of missed opportunities by Ferrari.

Still wondering why Ross Brawn bought the equipment from the defunct Manor team.

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