Absolute Domination


Max Verstappen picked up a hat trick of victories as he dominated the Austrian Grand Prix, increasing his championship lead against Lewis Hamilton (courtesy of Twitter)

Michael Hernandez, Assistant Sports Editor

Formula 1 returned to the Red Bull Ring for the final part of its triple header with the Austrian Grand Prix. In the previous race at the same track, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won by more than 30 seconds in a dominant performance. This time around, the defending champion Mercedes needed to find a way to reduce the deficit to Verstappen, with their drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valteri Bottas stating that they must start now if they wanted to keep their championship hopes alive.

During the practice sessions, it was either Verstappen or Hamilton who topped the timing tables. Then it came to the all-important qualifying, where Verstappen was an overwhelming favorite. One early shock was George Russell, progressing to the third and final part of qualifying for the first time in a Williams. In fact, this was Williams’ first Q3 in over two years, proving that they have spent time upgrading their car in comparison to their competitors. In Q3, Verstappen had provisional pole. However, another shock was Lando Norris’ McLaren in a provisional second place (P2), followed by Hamilton, Bottas, and Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez in fifth. 

When it came time for the final run of qualifying, no one in the top five was improving their first sector times except for Norris. At this point, the thought of a McLaren on pole was changing from an impossible dream to obtainable if he could put the rest of the lap together. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be as Verstappen held onto pole position by .048 seconds. Perez jumped the Mercedes duo to qualify in third, followed by Hamilton and then Bottas. Russell qualified in ninth but was promoted to eighth due to a penalty to Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin.

When the lights went out, the top five got away cleanly, with Perez attempting to pass Norris to no success. The rest of the grid survived three corners before the safety car was brought out for Esteban Ocon’s Alpine that was sandwiched between two other cars and had suspension damage, forcing him to retire from the race. After a couple of laps under the safety car, racing resumed on lap four. 

Verstappen once again held the lead with Perez trying to pass by Norris, making a move on the outside of turn four during that lap. Unfortunately, it did not work as he was forced off the track by Norris, forcing the Red Bull driver into the gravel and ending up in seventh. After investigating the incident, the race stewards gave Norris a five-second penalty, which meant that during his next pit stop, the car remained stationary before anything could be done.

At this point in the race, Verstappen was in complete control, nine seconds ahead of Norris who was under pressure from Hamilton. This was perfect for Verstappen since Norris was blocking his main championship rival from catching him. Hamilton was able to pass Norris on lap 20, dropping him to third. Norris then entered the pits to serve the penalty and change his tires on lap 31. Bottas pitted on the same lap and passed Norris, who was serving his penalty, to advance into third. Verstappen and Hamilton then pitted a couple of laps later for fresh tires and remained in first and second respectively.

While Verstappen was cruising in the lead, Perez was trying to recover the positions that he lost from the incident with Norris. On lap 41, he was under pressure from Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari. At turn four, he forced Leclerc off the track in an identical way to the Norris incident. Perez received a five-second penalty for the incident. On lap 47, he was once again under pressure from Leclerc and forced him off the track again in turn seven, receiving another penalty for it.

Meanwhile, Verstappen was 18 seconds ahead of Hamilton, who was only a couple of seconds ahead of Bottas with Norris trailing close behind. While Hamilton was trying to reduce the deficit to Verstappen, he ran wide out of turn one and damaged his floor, which hurt his lap times, leaving him prey to Bottas and Norris while also losing more ground to Verstappen. 

When Bottas was told about this, he was instructed to hold his position so that Hamilton could limit the points lost in the Driver’s Championship. However, Norris was on Bottas’ heels, and that decision was later reversed, with Bottas passing Hamilton on lap 52. Hamilton’s day went from bad to worse as Norris passed him on lap 54. 

Verstappen was in complete control, barely breaking a sweat as he took his third win in a row, finishing 17 seconds ahead of Bottas and Norris who rounded out the podium. Perez finished in fifth but due to his penalties, dropped down to sixth. Russell unfortunately ended up just outside the points in 11th, being passed by Ocon’s teammate Fernando Alonso in the closing laps.

This was not only Verstappen’s third consecutive win, but his first ever “grand slam” grand prix. He got pole position, the fastest lap and led every lap to win the race. This is Red Bull’s fifth win in a row, a feat that they have not accomplished since 2013 when they won nine in a row courtesy of Vettel. This double win at the Red Bull Ring also meant that Verstappen led all 142 laps during both weekends, proving that he has the pace to potentially become the world champion and end Mercedes’ and Hamilton’s dominance which has lasted since 2014. 

With this win, both Verstappen and Red Bull increased their leads in the Driver’s and Constructor’s standings, located here. The next race is at Silverstone, which should be open to 100% capacity, a welcome sight for Hamilton as he heads to a Mercedes stronghold and his home circuit. 

One thing to look forward to is the introduction of sprint qualifying, a first for Formula 1. This will change the way that the race weekend proceeds. There will still be a practice session on Friday, but instead of a second practice, the normal qualifying will take place. That will then set the grid for the sprint qualifying, a full sprint race. The sprint is only a third of the normal race distance and does not require a pitstop, leaving the cars to push to the limit every lap. The finishing order there is then the starting grid for Sunday’s race. The top three finishers of the sprint qualifying will receive one, two or three points. Hopefully, the sprint qualifying lives up to the hype as the F1 season continues.