Someone forgot to tell Formula 1 it was Daniel Ricciardo’s birthday. Although his Red Bull team mate Max Verstappen won the Austrian F1 Grand Prix, Ricciardo suffered tire issues before a mechanical component failure took him out of contention late in the race.
Mercedes had a race to forget with both cars out before the day’s end. Pole sitter Valtteri Botta pulled out with hydraulic issues crippling his Mercedes, with the subsequent Virtual Safety Car allowing his team mate Lewis Hamilton to pit for fresh tires. The track was cleared earlier than expected causing Hamilton’s new soft tires to overheat, and then the engine had a fuel delivery failure, outing the second Mercedes car.
Toto Wulff, head of the Mercedes team, lamented: “For me and for the team, this is the most painful day of the last six years – to lose a possible 1-2 finish in this way, through our own mistakes and unreliability, just hurts so much.”
Perhaps the surprise package was the American based Haas team. After a double DNF in the opening round at Melbourne, both Haas drivers finished inside the top ten, with Romain Grosjean for fourth and Kevin Magnussen in fifth, delivering the struggling outfit 22 points, a record for the team. It also bumps Haas into fifth in the constructors’ championship.
Force India completed the treble of a two car top ten finish, with disciplined drives from Sebastian Ocon and Sergio Perez placing the quiet achievers in sixth and seventh, just ahead of Fernando Alonso.
But it’s the young Dutchman that deserves the main platter of kudos. After a season start that can be kindly described as mixed, Verstappen’s style now has him with his first win for 2018, the third podium in a row, and sits just behind Ricciardo in the driver standings.
Ironically, given Ricciardo’s tire issues, Verstappen says it was tire management that handed him the win. “I tried to manage, I could see my tyres opening up. I just had to drive around the issue. Luckily I could manage it until the end of the race.”
Ferrari did well, staying out of trouble to notch a team double. A rare smile would have been on Kimi Raikkonen’s face as he finished second, just 1.5 seconds shy of the ebullient Verstappen, and Sebastian Vettel was just 1.6 seconds adrift for third.
The second round of F1’s first triple header will be one to remember for Sauber pilot Charles Leclerc. Dropped back to 17th after penalties for a gearbox change post qualifying, Leclerc’s start went backwards quickly, seeing 19th against his name before a deep dig into the pool of grittiness had the talented young driver claw his way through the field to eventually finish ninth, a place ahead of his team mate Marcus Ericsson. That’s the first time since 2015 that Sauber has had two cars in the points in the same race.
Although Hamilton failed to score points he still sits second overall on 145, one behind Sebastian Vettel. Kimi Raikkonen is on 101, Ricciardo on 96 and now has Verstappen breathing down his neck on 93.
F1 moves to England and the historic Silverstone track for the third round of the triple header this weekend.