Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: The Austrian Grand Prix

Welcome to the second race in the Formula 1 Triple Header.  The travel from Le Castellet, France, to Spielberg, Austria, is not too bad for a back-to-back weekend schedule, tallying around 700 miles.  Usually, the series would break and everyone would recuperate for the next stage of the worldʻs leading racing circus. Instead, teams will add another 1,000 miles getting to England for the British GP next weekend.

The drivers, for the most part, are all extremely fit.  They also tend to travel in plush accommodations, frequently private planes, so they really shouldnʻt feel the grind.  The support personnel, the ones logging the long and load-heavy hours, however, will surely feel it at some point.

Chances are that this weekend will go off without a hitch and there wonʻt be anything memorable in the way of miscues or silly mistakes, by either driver or crew.  Next weekend in England, will be the place to see if the travel and schedule have taken their toll. Might we see pit-stop errors or mechanical slips ups? Certainly could be part of the package.  

There are a number of ways of looking at the Triple Header.  Everyone is a professional and paid so itʻs time to shine and show how people can handle stress.  Sure, thatʻs one angle. In addition, the summer break is coming up shortly so this situation is a little bit like cramming for exams to then enjoy some downtime and come back strong.

One of the elements that hasnʻt really been discussed is how the Triple Header downplays the importance of the European tracks by rushing through them.  For these races, the buildup and follow through are all lessened by the crammed schedule. These markets had been the backbone of the schedule and now theyʻre beating treated like exes, temporary flings while the series focuses its attention on the hottie across the room.

The thing to watch will be whether this strategy plays out the way the series wants it.  Does having three races in a row raise the interest in the sport with the local crowds or will the fans be worn down from the onslaught of F1 action?  In other racing series, such a notion is not a concern, but F1 is a different animal and this kind of experiment will offer a lot of information about patterns of F1 consumption.  

Odds & Sods

– Niki Lauda may have pipped the team that he works for by claiming that Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas would be the drivers for Mercedes next year.  While keeping Hamilton seemed to be something of a fait accompli, speculation hovered around Bottas. The main reason for the questions had to deal with whether or not Daniel Ricciardo might be a driver to slide into the seat.

Bottasʻ performance this year has been difficult to assess.  He had the grand prix in Baku locked up only for a flat tyre to fail him on the final lap.  Heʻs had podium finishes but now wins, yet he still has had races where he seems like heʻs well off the pace and driving a completely different car than his teammate.  

Therefore it is a bit of a welcoming aspect for the Finn to know that he is returning, even if the announcement has not been made official, and perhaps buoyed his performance this weekend and led to him taking pole for the Austrian GP.  Thereʻs still have a season to go and a solid weekend in Austria could do wonders.

– Max Verstappen ended his third practice session early when one of his turbo units failed in his Red Bull.  Though Verstappenʻs year has been uneven, mechanical failures showcase the underlying issues with the Red Bull team.  Theyʻve got a great chassis but their efforts continue to be curtailed by glitches, either their own or Renaultʻs. The move to Honda next year, while well documented, really seems to be the fresh start the team needs to again attack the top of the grid.  

Sebastian Vettel earned himself a three-spot grid penalty for a qualifying incident with Carlos Sainz Jr. when he impeded the Spanish driver.  The penalty looked to be a bit bogus but perhaps the move is a little bit of retribution for the light rap to the wrist that Vettel endured during the French GP for causing a collision.  Are stewards supposed to allow for carryover of emotions and incidents? Not really, but this does appear to be a situation when theyʻve done so.

Charles LeClerc will take a five-place grid spot penalty after his gearbox malfunctioned.  The issue came about through a suspension issue and pushes him further into the back of the grid.  It doesnʻt matter. Driving for Sauber this year was hardly going to bring the French driver anything in the way of podiums, without wild strategy decisions, safety cars, and all sorts of mayhem in front of him, but he has still been doing an admirable job.  

The job he has done is surely the reason that his management team is keeping open communication with both Haas F1 and Ferrari.  The management team with the Prancing Pony will ultimately decide whether they want to move LeClerc up to Haas or bring him on board the works team in Maranello.  

– Things canʻt be looking good for Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren.  Time to be blunt: McLaren is borderline terrible. The problem is that Fernando Alonso has out-qualified Vandoorne in nine races this season.  Theyʻve run 10. It is widely acknowledged that Alonso is a hell of a wheelman, but at some point, Vandoorne needs to become more competitive against his teammate because Lando Norris is waiting in the wings.  

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 four races with Nico Rosberg winning two, Lewis Hamilton winning one, and Valtteri Bottas earning the victory in 2017.  

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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David Edwards

Whether Vettel’s penalty was a result of last week or not to me is beside the point, although interesting. More interesting to me is the willingness to penalize a star driving for arguably the most powerful team in the sport. Three grid spots likely make scoring even a podium problematic. One of Nascar’s 50k penalties would have brought a yawn from Ferrari.

As for McLaren, yes Alonso has out qualified Vandoorne, yet during the races he often comes across as a petulant teenager. A long way from Minardi.

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