Valterri Bottas dominates to claim Austria Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel finishes second to extend his championship lead

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas in action on the way to winning  the  Austria Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas in action on the way to winning the Austria Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

 

Valtteri Bottas took his second career win with a run from pole to the flag in the Mercedes, where he led from the front, controlled the race and held off a determined effort from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who was in second place.

Daniel Ricciardo in turn held off Lewis Hamilton to take third place. The British driver had made a spirited charge from eighth on the grid but despite closing to almost pass the Australian at the death could not quite make it stick and he finished in fourth, in front of the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen in fifth.

Vettel takes the biggest gain from Austria, extending his championship lead over Hamilton to 20 points, with nine races completed. For Hamilton, after taking a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change before qualifying, damage limitation was the intent and while a podium was a possibility, fourth might have been as much as he was expecting.

Having scored his maiden victory at Sochi earlier this season, Bottas’s strong performance all weekend, coming on the back of an impressive comeback to claim second at the last round in Baku, suggests his team are really on top of the setup problems with which they were struggling early in the season.

The Finn scored his first podium here for Williams in 2014, his third place that year being the highest he has managed in Austria until this weekend. Before the race both he and Hamilton had insisted there would be no team orders and that Bottas would be free to follow his own plan out front and as he had in Russia and he did exactly that. He knew the threat from Vettel would be immediate and he neutralised it with aplomb, an absolutely genius start backed by immediately putting clear distance on the German that he maintained almost to the end.

It was also another strong performance from Ricciardo. The Australian’s previous best here was fifth last year and after his win at the last round in Baku, Ricciardo is on a five-race podium streak. The Red Bull is still yet to match the Mercedes or Ferrari but the team are proving adept at ensuring they take advantage of every opportunity their rivals offer.

Bottas made a very quick start, well clear of Vettel into turn one, but the German believed he had made a jump start and the stewards investigated his movement off the line. They examined the data and took no further action, Bottas had made an exceptionally good start – it had simply made Vettel look sluggish.

Ricciardo pushed Raikkonen wide on lap two to take third place from fourth on the grid. Hamilton made up two places off the line into sixth through turn one but he was caught again and passed by Sergio Pérez before the end of the lap, relegating him to seventh. He took the place back on lap six and set about chasing down Romain Grosjean in the Haas in fifth. He duly caught him two laps later and made the pass through turn four.

By lap 10 he was chasing Raikkonen for fourth but was 15.7 seconds back from his team-mate. He was lapping persistently quicker than the Finn up to half a second a lap – a remarkable rate given how evenly the cars are matched in performance – and had narrowed the almost four-second gap to within DRS range by lap 22.

Passing the Finn proved a different matter. Hamilton was the only driver in the top 10 to start the race on the harder supersoft rubber with the intent on staying out longer for his first stint than the opposition on the ultrasoft rubber. Every driver was dealing with blistering due to overheating but the turbulent air coming off the back of Raikkonen’s Ferrari was exacerbating the issue on the British driver’s Mercedes.

He could not pass Raikkonen and the team opted to bring him in early. Mercedes pitted him on lap 32 to fit the ultrasoft tyre – looking to put him in clean air and run to the end. He rejoined with space on the track and with Raikkonen staying out, he was still in fifth place but required a long run on the softest rubber to make it to the finish. He also complained of having too much front wing, an aero setting which could only be adjusted with a further stop.

Out in front Bottas was metronomic in the clean air. He built a lead of almost five seconds on Vettel by lap 25 and held it with a sequence of fastest laps, executed calmly with no sign of being put under pressure by the four-time world champion. It was up to 8.8 seconds by the halfway point when Vettel pitted to take the super soft tyres. Bottas came in six laps later to take the same rubber, lost a little time with fitting his right front, and emerged in front of Vettel and Ricciardo but behind Raikkonen who had yet to stop.

On fresher tyres he made short work of the leading Ferrari and passed him easily round the outside through turn three on lap 44 and Raikkonen consequently pitted at the end of the same lap. Hamilton had done enough in the interim and was up to fourth at the end of pit stop sequence.

With the expected single-stop strategy complete, Bottas had a four-and-a-half-second lead over Vettel with Hamilton 12.7 seconds back from the lead and four behind Ricciardo in third. The British driver was once gain struggling with his tyres blistering but was still catching the Australian and had the gap down to three seconds by lap 56. With five laps to go it was down to 1.3 seconds and he was asking for everything from the car to catch Ricciardo.

They were side by side though turn three on the penultimate lap but Hamilton could not make it stick and it was as close as he came, Ricciardo hanging on to the place and skilfully and deservedly taking his podium, with which he was understandably roaring in celebration of after a hard-fought third. Hamilton was 7.4 seconds off the lead in fourth.

Out front Vettel pushed after Bottas just as he had done at the Finn’s first win in Russia but as in Sochi Bottas was more than up to handling the pressure. The gap narrowed to under three seconds and by the last lap Vettel had it down to under a second as the Finn struggled with his tyres blistering but he was in full control and he maintained it to the finish, taking the flag 0.6 seconds clear of the German.

Fernando Alonso retired his McLaren on the opening lap due to damage after being hit by the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat who had braked too late into the first corner and the incident also collected Max Verstappen who subsequently lost drive and had to retire, the fifth time he has done so in the last seven races. Kvyat was given a drive-through penalty for causing the collision.

“I had a bit of deja-vu in the end from Russia, Vettel was catching up but the problem was I had a massive blister,” said Bottas “At the beginning I could control the race but it was trickier towards the end. I’m really happy, it’s only the second win in my career. I think that was the start of my life.”

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