A Mercedes’ win, a Daniel Ricciardo comeback, and the big question after the Austrian Grand Prix

Some days in sports, it is better to be lucky than it is to be good.

Of course, any athlete worth their salt would tell you that on most days, it is best if you are both. On Sunday at the Austrian Grand Prix, George Russell was both lucky … and good. He was good enough to be fighting near the front of the field, just off the pace of Max Verstappen and Lando Norris in front of him. But with those two rivals battling it out for the lead, Russell was in a prime position to capitalize.

He just needed a bit of luck.

That luck came in the form of a pair of punctured tires, and two wounded race cars left to lumber back to pit lane. With both Norris and Verstappen trundling back to their teams with damaged race cars the door was open for Russell, and the Mercedes driver barged through, fending off Oscar Piastri over the closing laps for the second win of his Formula 1 career, and the first Grand Prix victory of the season for Mercedes.

In the FIA Press Conference following his victory, Russell addressed what it took to surge to the top step of the podium in Austria.

“I was just trying to focus on just maximizing my driving, to be honest. Marcus, my engineer, said three laps before, they’re fighting hard and we can win this. And I said, look, we need to sort of secure P3 first, let me drive. And I knew Oscar was fast behind. And then when I got into the lead, I knew it was going to be a challenging last six laps.

“My [itres] were difficult. That [Virtual Safety Car] helped marginally because my [tires] were overheating. And that just allowed me to cool them down. Yeah, it’s a bit of a strange one to win a race like this, for sure. But as I said, it’s racing,” added Russell. “Sometimes it goes against you and I feel like we’ve probably missed out on one or two possibilities of victories. Montreal was won, arguably Singapore, things could have gone very slightly differently last year, and today it went for us. So it’s how the cookie crumbles.”

Perhaps Mercedes needed a bit of luck to capture their first win of the season on Sunday. But they also needed to have a car capable of running at the sharp end of the grid, and in the upgraded W15 it would appear Mercedes has finally given Russell and Lewis Hamilton that car. Consider this: Over the fast three race weekends no team has brought home more points than the Silver Arrows. Starting with the Canadian Grand Prix here is what the four teams at the top of the grid have done:

Red Bull: 79
Ferrari: 39
McLaren: 84
Mercedes: 100

The first signs of life came in Montreal when it was Russell who captured pole position for the Canadian Grand Prix. That week saw Russell also score the team’s first Grand Prix podium of the season, with a third-place finish behind Verstappen and Norris, while Hamilton came across the line fourth. In Barcelona, it was Hamilton’s turn, as the legendary driver finished on the podium — again behind Verstappen and Norris — and it was Russell’s turn for a P4 finish.

Then came Sunday, which saw Hamilton again finish fourth, with Russell earning the top step of the podium. Add in what the pair did on Saturday in the F1 Sprint Race and you have 45 points on the weekend — the second-most a team has scored on a race weekend this season. Only the 54 points Red Bull banked at the Chinese Grand Prix tops what Mercedes accomplished this weekend.

The Silver Arrows are on a roll, and now they get to head home for this weekend’s British Grand Prix, a race where they were strong a year ago. In last year’s installment, Hamilton captured P3 while Russell finished a few places behind him in P5.

That was then.

This is now, a summer in F1 that is taking on a bit of a silver tint.

Here are some more winners, plus one great unknown, as we take one last look back at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Winner: Daniel Ricciardo

Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images

The momentum was blowing away from Daniel Ricciardo this week.

As the grid arrived in Austria there were renewed questions about his future not just at Visa Cash App RB F1 Team, but in the sport itself. As is often the case the quotable Dr. Helmut Marko kicked off the proceedings, telling Austrian outlet Kleine Zeitung ahead of this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix that a move in a younger direction at VCARB may be coming down from on high. “The shareholders have made it clear that [VCARB] is a junior team and we have to act accordingly,” said the Red Bull advisor.

“The aim was for Ricciardo to qualify for a return to Red Bull Racing with exceptional performances. That seat now belongs to Sergio Perez, so that plan is off the table. We will have to put in a young driver soon,” continued Marko. “That would be Liam Lawson.”

If that was all, it would have been enough. But then noted F1 journalist Joe Saward posited on social media that Lawson would be in the seat at VCARB, replacing Ricciardo by the end of July. In response to a question on X (formerly Twitter) in response to his post regarding whether that would be the end of Riccardo in F1, Saward replied “I’d guess so.”

That speculation forced Ricciardo to address his future in Austria. Speaking Thursday during media day activities, Ricciardo opened up about Marko’s comments, and what he needs to keep his spot.

“I said I really do enjoy being back in the [Red Bull] family,” added Ricciardo. “I weirdly do enjoy sometimes a little bit of the pokes from Helmut because I think it also could also be a way to get me a little bit fired up and try to get the best out of me.”

Still, Ricciardo was clear about what he needed to do to secure his future.

“It’s the on-track stuff so I’ve obviously got a good opportunity, I say until the summer break,” continued Ricciardo. “I don’t think that’s a deadline but obviously that’s what you look at for the first half of the season. So I try to do what I can and obviously help my cause.”

As for whether an option with another team could be in play, Ricciardo made one thing clear.

It is VCARB or bust.

“I would say no,” said Ricciardo. “I don’t know but I am, not to be stubborn or arrogant about it, but I’m not looking anywhere else.”

The funny thing about momentum in F1 is that it can change overnight. And if it is performance Ricciardo needs to deliver, he did just that on Sunday. After missing out on Q3 by just 0.015 seconds on Saturday, Ricciardo made it known that his RB01 was a “top ten car” heading into Sunday. He backed up those words with a strong drive in the main event, finishing ninth to deliver not just a performance that he needed, but two points that VCARB needed as well.

And suddenly, that smile was back.

Winner: Pierre Gasly

The climactic clash between Lando Norris and Max Verstappen will capture the headlines — and we have yet to have our final say on that front — but there were fascinating fights throughout the field on Sunday.

Including another scrap between Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly.

As we have seen many times before, including earlier this season at the Monaco Grand Prix on the opening lap, sometimes these Alpine teammates can be found racing each other a little too hard perhaps for the liking.

Here is the incident in question:

You hear Gasly’s side of the story in the moment, when he questions why Ocon decided to push him off the track.

However, Gasly would have the last laugh, as he eventually wound his way by Ocon and crossed the line in P10, bringing home one more point for himself, and the team. That makes four straight race weekends with Alpine in the points, something that was unimaginable back at the start of the season.

Speaking after the race, both drivers revisited the incident.

“Hard and fair racing,” was how Ocon described it to F1. “Nothing really to comment. It was good racing.”

Gasly, point in hand, was rather diplomatic after the race.

“It was intense,” he said. “I mean, we’re Formula 1 drivers so you’ve got to race and that’s what we enjoy.

“Obviously it’s nice to have some space, but sometimes there’s no space, and then you’ve got to find other ways to make it through. I think I kept it clean on my side, managed to get a point out of it so that’s the most important.”

However, that diplomacy was nowhere to be found on the track:

Ciao, indeed.

Winner: Haas

The last time Haas banked double-digit points on a race weekend?

It also came at Red Bull Ring, but back when Mick Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen were paired together on the grid. In the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix Magnussen took home a pair of points with a P7 in the F1 Sprint race, and then both drivers finished in the points on Sunday. Magnussen’s P8 added four points to the team’s tally, while a P6 from Schumacher — his best result of the year — brought home eight more.

All told, Haas scored 14 points that weekend.

They finally dipped into the double-digit column this weekend, banking 12 badly-needed points with a tremendous showing in the Austrian Grand Prix. After finding themselves shut out in the F1 Sprint Race (Magnussen missed out on P8 and the final points-scoring place by almost seven seconds) both drivers finished in the top ten on Sunday. Magnussen’s P8 added four points to the team’s account while a strong sixth-place showing from Nico Hülkenberg — his best result in the sport since a P5 in the 2019 Italian Grand Prix — added eight more points to the Haas account.

All told, an incredible day for the team.

“It’s been a smooth weekend – two qualifying sessions with no traffic, two good pit stop in the race, and the strategy has been spot on – I couldn’t have asked for more,” said Magnussen in the team’s post-race report. “We can’t count on this result as Silverstone is a hard track, but this puts us back to P7 in the Constructors’ Championship and that makes me very happy for the entire team.”

On Hülkenberg’s side of the garage the Haas driver outlined how he was able to beat the Red Bull of Sergio Pérez on merit. As the German driver described he let Pérez by him, knowing he would then have DRS enabled to make a pass of his own.

“It was one hell of a race, especially at the end when it got so intense. It was touch and go to keep [Sergio] Perez behind in the last two laps, he came by but into Turn 3 I let him edge in front, so I got DRS, which obviously put me back in front,” described Hülkenberg. “I’m very happy, that’s double points for the team which helps in a big way. I didn’t expect that, an amazing team performance, and I think it’s confirmed now that in the midfield on all different types of tracks we’re competitive, we can fight, and that’s really great news.”

Perhaps Team Principal Ayao Komatsu summed it up best.

“I’m just so happy for everyone in the team. Sometimes we get unlucky but today our execution was amazing, Nico and Kevin drove well, and pit stops were good, everything was great,” said Komatsu. “I’m speechless, I’m just so happy for everyone to get this result and for Nico to beat Perez on merit, that’s a huge statement.”

A statement performance, and a huge day for the team.

The great unknown: Where do Lando and Max go from here?

Screenshot 2024 06 30 at 10.50.43 PM

It is time.

In a rare event for this traditional post-Grand Prix piece we have remained positive, highlighting Mercedes’ turnaround, a statement performance from Haas, and impressive drives from Daniel Ricciardo and Pierre Gasly.

But the story coming out of Austria is the climactic crash between Lando Norris and Max Verstappen.

Much has already been said and written about who was at fault for the incident, and frankly, that will not be the focus here. In many ways, the collision between the two had been brewing for a while, over a season that has seen these two friends-turned-rivals clash a few times before.

But on this day, they both paid a price.

The price Norris paid was far steeper, however, as he did not finish the race. Verstappen was penalized for the collision, but the ten-second penalty did not drop him down from his fifth-place finish. That meant that in the clash between the two atop the Drivers’ Championship standings, Verstappen pulled ten points further ahead of Norris.

In their comments following the race, the drivers took differing approaches. Norris was adamant that he was in the clear, putting all the blame on Verstappen’s doorstep.

“It’s not for me to say, it’s for him to say something,” said Norris following the race. “I did nothing wrong – he was the one in the wrong, so he’s the one that should say something, not me.”

As for Verstappen, he tried to deflect from the matter, making it sound as if the situation would be addressed after tempers receded.

“It’s of course unfortunate, stuff that you don’t want to see happening – it’s as simple as that,” said the Red Bull driver. “Of course I will look back at it, because at the moment it’s easy to say stuff.I think it’s just better to look back at the footage of what exactly went wrong, because it was a bit of, I would say, an awkward angle that we touched, something that was very weird. Also for both of us that we had a puncture with it, it was really bad.

“Of course we will talk about it,” he added. “At the moment I think it’s not the right point, it’s better to just let things cool off I think ideally. But besides that, I’m more annoyed also with just how the performance of the race was, the mistakes that we made that normally we don’t make.”

So, where do these two go from here?

At first blush, this might seem like something that could get smoothed over with a flight and a pint, ahead of next weekend’s British Grand Prix. But that opportunity might have been possible months, or weeks, ago.

Things are different now.

Norris is the biggest threat that Verstappen has seen in recent memory, and in the minds of many the MCL38 is the fastest car on the grid. McLaren’s ability to put pressure on Verstappen and Red Bull is apparent, and Sunday saw perhaps Red Bull’s first crack under that pressure. After all, if the team delivered just an average pit stop on Lap 51 when both Norris and Verstappen came down pit lane, we are probably having a much different discussion this morning.

However, a problem on the left rear tire of Verstappen’s RB20 led to a 6.5-second pit stop and opened the door for Norris.

Who was rather willing to barge through.

McLaren’s ability to put pressure on Red Bull right now — as well as Ferrari’s ability to do so a few weeks ago and potentially Mercedes’ ability to do that in the weeks to come — has certainly changed the complexion of this Formula 1 season. But where do these two drivers, perhaps two of the biggest stars in the sport at the moment, go from here?

And what lessons will they each take from this incident, to apply the next time they tangle?

Which could be in a few short days.

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