In the ninth race of the 2017 F1 season, something interesting happened. Nothing really happened during the actual race – it was perhaps the most boring all year. Only the final few laps saw some action after the leader’s tyres got a little blistered. But in context of the Championship standings, a new possibility came to light.
The winner of the Austrian Grand Prix, Mercedes “number two” driver Valtteri Bottas, made the Drivers’ Championship a three-way battle with his second victory of a fascinating season. The Finn led from start to end, clearly the faster driver on the day. He sped away from Championship leader Sebastian Vettel at the beginning, only to be reeled in towards the end. The Ferrari driver began to close in rapidly in the dying stages, and another lap could have even seen Vettel overtake the struggling Mercedes.
But it wasn’t to be, and Bottas took the flag less than half a second ahead of Vettel. This actually saved Bottas’s teammate, Lewis Hamilton, a lot of trouble. Hamilton had a miserable weekend after a poor qualifying session and a five-place grid penalty. He started eighth, but eventually managed to push his way up to fourth, just shy of Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull in the final lap. As a result, Hamilton lost only six points more to leader Vettel, who finished second and took a lead of 20 points.
After nine races in 2017, Vettel is on 171 points, followed by Hamilton at 151 points, and Bottas only fifteen behind at 136 points. Realistically, these three stand a chance – with only one mistake capable of putting one in striking distance of the other. With eleven races to go, and the British Grand Prix at Silverstone coming up next weekend, it’s still anyone’s championship.
Intriguingly, it will soon be up to Mercedes to again identify their No. 1 and No. 2 drivers. Bottas has exceeded expectations and won two races this season already – compared to three each by Vettel and Hamilton. There will never be a calm team season as long as Hamilton is in the picture; and they thought things would be stable after the retirement of World Champion Nico Rosberg. The Finn looks very capable of upsetting the two-wheeled apple cart.
Ricciardo remains the only other driver to win this season, at Azerbaijan two weeks ago when Vettel and Hamilton clashed in the race leading to many days of fresh controversy. It spiced things up, and now we have new hats in the ring.
Incident of the race:
Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat made a massive mistake, braked late and slammed into Fernando Alonso’s McLaren. This eventually took Max Verstappen’s Red Bull out. The mess caused by Kvyat was perhaps the only thing worth watching in a race that seemed to be in hibernation despite the electric setting. The Austrian fans are known to be noisy and excitable, but the Vienna Boys’ Choir set the stage in the beginning with a lovely rendition of their national anthem. If only there was a gun shot to wake up the drivers – who seemed to be on autopilot, until of course Bottas’s tyres made the race a little more exciting.
Hamilton could storm back to win at Silverstone next weekend. The important thing will be where Vettel manages to finish and limit the damage – given that the Mercedes is now starting to pick up speed and outperform the Ferrari for longer stretches of time. Vettel hasn’t won in four races.