2018 Austrian GP: Verstappen Wins Among High-Profile Retirements
You could not have predicted the way the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix unraveled. It had looked like the dream start for Mercedes, which locked out the front row in qualifying, and a great opportunity for Lewis Hamilton to extend his lead over Sebastian Vettel, who had taken a three-place grid penalty for blocking another driver during Q2.
But it all quickly went sideways, particularly for Valtteri Bottas, who has so far been especially unlucky in 2018. Two laps after Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault engine blew up in a dramatic cloud of smoke, Bottas’ car suffered from a hydraulics failure and he was forced to pull over.
This prompted the virtual safety car (VSC), which forces all drivers to slow down at a fixed rate. Both Red Bull Racing and Ferrari capitalized on the opportunity to make a cheap pit stop, but Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles mistakenly kept Hamilton out, so that when the four-time champion did finally pit, he had dropped from first place to fourth.
Get Off the Track: And onto the dirt
It didn’t stop there: Vettel then pulled off one of the overtakes of the year to get past Hamilton after the latter’s pit stop, and about a dozen laps later, the British driver also retired from the race following a loss of fuel pressure. It marked Mercedes’ first double mechanical DNF since 1955 and Hamilton’s first retirement in 33 races.
But while Mercedes’ race was going from bad to worse, it was looking phenomenal for Red Bull. The team was desperate to get a strong result at its home Grand Prix and suddenly had both its cars running at the front. But they ultimately had to settle for half of the best possible result: Max Verstappen went on to win the race relatively unopposed, and Daniel Ricciardo retired on the 53rd lap because of an exhaust issue.
All of this allowed Haas to take advantage of its good pace and earn a very large chunk of points—it must have felt like reparations after the team threw away a similar opportunity in Australia. Force India also capitalized, as did Sauber.
One team that didn’t was Renault: after Hulkenberg’s engine went up in flames, the team blundered Sainz’s pit stop, all but guaranteeing he wouldn’t be able to finish in the top 10, where he had been running. Finally, Williams was once again nowhere and McLaren and Toro Rosso both had a difficult weekend.
All of this led to a few major shifts in the Formula One championship order: Vettel retook the lead from Hamilton, Ferrari passed Mercedes, and Haas jumped up two spots in the standings. Mercedes will look to do better at the next race, which takes place at Silverstone in the UK and has historically been a great circuit for both the team and for Hamilton.