Austrian, British and Hungarian Grands Prix
Proving that first win was no fluke, his victory at Spielberg marks Bottas as a true title contender
“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)
LOOKED TO BE STROKING TOWARDS VICTORY IN THE EARLY STAGES, OPENING A 7.9S GAP TO THE FERRARI BEFORE VETTEL STOPPED FOR SUPERSOFTS
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