RACE RE­PORTS

Prov­ing that first win was no fluke, his vic­tory at Spiel­berg marks Bot­tas as a true ti­tle con­tender

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS -

Aus­trian, Bri­tish and Hun­gar­ian Grands Prix

BOT­TAS LOOKED TO BE STROKING TO­WARDS VIC­TORY IN THE EARLY STAGES, OPEN­ING A 7.9S GAP TO THE FER­RARI BE­FORE VET­TEL STOPPED FOR SUPERSOFTS

“I be­lieve… the team be­lieves,” said Valt­teri Bot­tas as he stood proud fol­low­ing the sec­ond grand prix vic­tory of his ca­reer. We’d got so used to con­sid­er­ing the bat­tle for the 2017 For­mula 1 World Cham­pi­onship to be a two-horse race be­tween Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and Lewis Hamil­ton that the Finn in the other sil­ver car had tended to be over­looked. This will no longer be the case af­ter what hap­pened in Aus­tria.

A per­fectly con­trolled vic­tory drive from pole po­si­tion pinged Bot­tas slap-bang onto the cham­pi­onship radar – and, as he him­self was quick to point out, there was still more than half of this sea­son to go. At this stage, Bot­tas was now 35 points down on leader Vet­tel and just 15 be­hind Mercedes team-mate Hamil­ton. QUAL­I­FY­ING Hamil­ton had known since the pre­vi­ous Tues­day that a gear­box change (noth­ing to do with the Vet­tel rear con­tact in Azer­bai­jan) would re­sult in a five-place grid drop in Aus­tria. Mercedes broke the news on Fri­day evening af­ter Lewis had topped both free prac­tice ses­sions with his new ’box.

A brake fail­ure had ham­pered him in fi­nal free prac­tice on Satur­day, but he was fastest in Q1 as he worked to min­imise the im­pact of his penalty. In Q2 he opted to run on the su­per­soft Pirellis, en­sur­ing he would start the race on this slower tyre, at odds with the rest on their ul­tra­softs. Sec­ond to Bot­tas in the ses­sion, he re­verted to ul­tras for Q3 but still lost out to his team-mate in the first runs that would de­fine the start­ing or­der.

As the sec­ond runs got un­der way, Ro­main Gros­jean’s Haas trick­led to a stand­still on the exit of Turn 3, while an over­steer­ing Max Verstappen threw his Red Bull into a high-speed spin out of Turn 7. The yel­low flags en­sured no one would go faster to­day. That left Bot­tas with his sec­ond ca­reer F1 pole ahead of Vet­tel’s Fer­rari, which had been just 0.04s down on the Mercedes on those first runs. Hamil­ton was third, mean­ing an eighth­place start­ing slot on row four.

RACE Bot­tas de­scribed it as “the start of my life” as he shot into the lead when the five red lights went out. Vet­tel was adamant Valt­teri had jumped them, even when it was pointed out that his ri­val’s re­ac­tion time had of­fi­cially been mea­sured at +0.201s. “Don’t be­lieve it…” Seb replied with a rue­ful smile. Daniel Ric­cia­rdo had a good view from his fourth place on the grid and couldn’t re­sist adding his “two cents” in the press con­fer­ence. “The lights were held for a long time, more than nor­mal,” he said. “For sure, he went, but the lights went out. I guess he got lucky.”

As the field threaded its way up­hill into Turn 1, Verstappen’s race was al­ready un­rav­el­ling thanks to a clutch prob­lem – to the dis­may of the or­ange army that dom­i­nated the grand­stands and grass banks at Red Bull’s home venue.

Fer­nando Alonso had made his usual flier, only to find him­self bumped into Verstappen on en­try to the first turn. The vil­lain was Daniil Kvyat, who re­ceived a drive-through penalty for start­ing the con­certina shunt. At the front, Bot­tas led from Vet­tel, as Ric­cia­rdo moved up to third. Fast­start­ing Ro­main Gros­jean made it up to fourth from sixth, while Kimi Räikkö­nen was down two places in a messy opener dur­ing which his Fer­rari ran wide out of Turn 3 as Ric­cia­rdo got the bet­ter of him.

Hamil­ton de­moted Ser­gio Pérez and Gros­jean to chase Kimi’s Fer­rari. Out of kil­ter on tyre strat­egy, Lewis was the first of the fron­trun­ners to make their sin­gle stop, ditch­ing the slower supersofts for ul­tras on lap 31. Räikkö­nen would be forced to wait longer than most be­fore his stop, sub­sti­tut­ing his ul­tras for supersofts on lap 44 as he (briefly)

be­came a fac­tor in the bat­tle for the lead. The strat­egy didn’t work out too well, with Hamil­ton com­fort­ably tak­ing P4 from him as he re­joined.

Bot­tas looked to be stroking to­wards vic­tory in the early stages, open­ing a 7.9s gap to the Fer­rari be­fore Vet­tel stopped for supersofts on lap 31. The Merc man­aged ten more laps on ul­tras be­fore mak­ing its stop, but the strat­egy re­sulted in a net loss. On lap 42, Vet­tel was just 4.4s down with 29 laps still to run – and long-run­ning Räikkö­nen, still on his set of ul­tras, was ahead of them both, which was just what Mercedes had been try­ing to avoid.

Would Kimi baulk the Merc and help Vet­tel close in? No. Bot­tas swept past his fel­low Finn on lap 44, with Räikkö­nen fi­nally pit­ting to take on supersofts at the end of the lap.

Still, it wasn’t over: Vet­tel was gain­ing. On lap 69 of 71 the Fer­rari was just 0.8s be­hind – and fi­nally within DRS range. But Bot­tas, nurs­ing a blis­ter on his left-rear Pirelli, kept his cool. Vet­tel was 0.65s shy at the flag.

Be­hind them, Hamil­ton did at least man­age an at­tempt on Ric­cia­rdo for third. The Mercedes got a run on the Red Bull down to Turn 4 on the penul­ti­mate lap, but the out­side line was al­ways a tall or­der. Ric­cia­rdo clung on to third.

Af­ter­wards, in the press con­fer­ence, Vet­tel’s doubts over Bot­tas’ light­ning get­away were be­gin­ning to sound like sour grapes. Be­side him, Bot­tas clearly couldn’t care less. His be­lief, in him­self and his quick-sil­ver Mercedes W08, was only grow­ing stronger.

Verstappen’s or­ange army were dis­ap­pointed when their man was knocked out on the very first lap, as Daniil Kvyat shoved the McLaren of Fer­nando Alonso into him in a con­certina shunt Bot­tas held on from a fast-clos­ing Vet­tel to score his sec­ond win and ig­nite his ti­tle chal­lenge

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