The ladies looked fine in their dirndles;
the gents were handsome in their lederhosen;
the race was a procession;
until it built to a crescendo with 5 laps to go.
That was basically it, but we’ll go into a bit more detail.
The fight is very much on between Vettel and Hamilton and Ferrari and Mercedes. So it was a huge blow to Hamilton and Mercedes when he had to make an unscheduled gearbox change ahead of the Austrian GP and take the 5 grid spot penalty that comes with the change. Mercedes got cute with it and had Hamilton set his fast lap in Q2 on the Supersoft tyres instead of the faster Ultrasofts. It probably figured that he needed to be on a different strategy than the rest of the top 10 to make up ground.
Bottas snagged pole and made the most out of it by admittedly guessing when the lights were going to go out and releasing his clutch before they actually did. He got off the line noticeably quickly and Vettel called him out over the radio for a jump start. Ricciardo, who was directly behind Bottas, did the same after the race. It turns out that Bottas started moving .21 seconds after the lights went out. The race stewards ruled that this was just permissible. The rumor is that the permissible limit is .2 after the lights go out. Any earlier and the stewards will take that as evidence that you jumped the start because a human is not considered able to react any quicker to the lights going out. (For a point of comparison, Olympic sprinters are allowed to leave their blocks no sooner than .1 seconds after the gun sounds.)
Vettel, starting in second, was right behind Bottas on the first lap. Raikkonen, starting third, was not so lucky. He was muscled out of position on Turn 2 by Ricciardo, who started behind him in P4. Meanwhile, Verstappen, starting P5, got off to a hideous start. He claims there was a problem with the clutch, which is pretty credible given that he’s a pretty good starter.
The midfield was bunched up heading into the first turn when that idiotic Kvyat locked up by coming in too hot to Turn 1. Kvyat careened into the side of Alonso (who had made a great start) and sent Alonso spinning into Verstappen. Alonso and Verstappen were out of the race with car damage while Kvyat was able to pit for a new front wing and continue. Sometime race life ain’t fair. Let’s hope Kvyat loses his seat soon.
Most of the race was a pedestrian affair. Bottas out front, Vettel trying to stay close, Ricciardo a ways back in third and Hamilton slowly moving up from his starting position of P8. Raikkonen was having some car trouble and is on the downside of his career. He was able to put up more of a fight that Grosjean or the Force Indias, but Hamilton got past him handily using a pit stop.
The end was exciting. After the cars started on the Ultras, they all made their one stop and switched to the Supersofts (with the exception of Hamilton, who was on the opposite strategy). The Mercedes is noticeably weaker than the Ferrari on the Supersofts and Vettel was able to close the gap to Bottas. Vettel was within a second with two or three laps to go but then lost half a second when he had a bit more trouble overtaking a backmarker (lapped car) than Bottas did. But Vettel was all over Bottas’s gearbox at the end and finished less than a second behind. It was gripping stuff!
Meanwhile, Hamilton was desperately trying to overtake Ricciardo for the last podium spot and some very precious points in his championship battle with Vettel. Hamilton was very close with almost 10 laps to go but couldn’t make the pass. Perhaps this was the result of the bigger aero wake of the new spec cars, which make it hard to follow closely. Perhaps this was the result of Hamilton’s Ultrasoft tyres wearing out. Perhaps this was just stellar defensive driving by Ricciardo. Whatever it was, it was compelling racing!
P1, Bottas (Mercedes); P2, Vettel (Ferrari); P3, Ricciardo (Red Bull); P4, Hamilton (Mercedes); P5, Raikkonen (Ferrari); P6, Grosjean (Haas); P7, Perez (Force India); P8, Ocon (Force India); P9, Massa (Williams); P10, Stroll (Williams); P11, Palmer (Renault); P12, Vandoorne (McLaren); P13, Hulkenberg (Renault); P14, Wehrlein (Sauber); P15, Ericsson (Sauber); P16, Kvyat (Toro Rosso)