Week after week Charles Leclerc saw his race undone by strategy & car errors, but at the Austrian Grand Prix he was back on the top step.
Heading into the 2022 F1 season there were big expectations and big question marks as to whether the new regulations could truly improve the racing. And while there are still issues at certain tracks (bouncing) and we are early in the development cycle, it looks like they’ve delivered. Or at least at certain circuits. Formula 1 entertainment has been near a 10 the last two rounds, with overtakes aplenty at Silverstone and now Red Bull Ring. There was plenty of drama at the Austrian Grand Prix.
1 – Leclerc Back in Form
Leaving Australia it looked like it could be Leclerc’s season. Then came a spin in Imola. A retirement in Barcelona (while leading). A tire and pit strategy mistake in Monaco (while leading). Another failure in Baku. Sergio Perez overtook him in the standings and a split tire decision helped teammate Carlos Sainz win at Silverstone. But on Sunday, Leclerc looked like a driver determined to rescue his season. Three times at the Austrian Grand Prix he closed down and passed Max Verstappen. Aggressive and fast, the Ferrari man is now back into 2nd place in the Championship and just 38 points behind. Game on.
2 – Red Bull’s Home Party Spoiled
Last season Max Verstappen took both poles and both wins in F1’s back-to-back Austrian Grand Prix events. Verstappen won the pole on Friday and easily won Saturday’s Sprint Race. It looked like it could be another double-podium day for the Red Bulls. Instead, Sergio Perez had contact with George Russell in the opening lap, contact that would ultimately end his day in 20th position. And while Verstappen led three times during the race, he struggled to match the grip of the Ferrari’s and only looked like the fastest car in the final laps of the day. That’s now Verstappen’s 8th podium of the season, but he’ll have questions as to why he was always second best on the day.
3 – Mercedes Gaining Momentum
Early in practice and qualifying on Friday it looked like Mercedes was set to continue their progression toward the frontrunners. Two crashes, minimal gains in the Sprint Race, and an opening-lap collision between George Russell and Sergio Perez had it looked like a weekend thrown away. Hamilton established himself in 4th place before getting a surprise podium following Sainz’s failure. While Russell picked his way through the field from the back, like Perez last week, picking up a well-earned 4th. Hamilton’s podium marks Mercedes’ 4th straight and the 5th in the last 6 rounds.
4 – Haas Double Points Once Again
Suddenly, Kevin Magnussen’s early season form & the potential of the Haas is coming to fruition. Despite the team stating that they have brought relatively few upgrades to the car this season. On the back of an 8th & 10th at Silverstone, both Haas cars were competitive across the Sprint and Feature races. Schumacher in particular looks like a new driver after picking up his first career F1 points last week, he finished ahead of his senior teammate to come home 6th. Haas now sits 7th in the Constructors’ Championship passing AlphaTauri this weekend. Meanwhile, Mick Schumacher’s back-to-back results lift him to 15th ahead of Tsunoda, Zhou, & Albon.
5 – McLaren Surprise at the Austrian Grand Prix
Friday saw Lando Norris exit FP1 early and Daniel Ricciardo lose significant time dealing with a rear-wing issue. They started the GP well down the grid hoping to find a way a few places forward. Instead, they ran a clean race, slowly taking advantage of errors and tire decisions by other teams. Their 7th and 9th finish is just the third time this season both McLarens ended in the points. Well off the pace for 4th, those are 8 crucial points as they try to hold off Alpine for 5th.
F1 takes a weekend off before heading to the French Grand Prix on July 24th.