2023 Austrian Grand Prix | Six talking points

02nd July 2023
Damien Smith

Max Verstappen kept up his remarkable record in 2023 by scoring his fifth victory in succession, his seventh of the season and the 42nd of his career, to send into rapture the orange army of Dutch fans who as usual had travelled to the Austrian Grand Prix. Behind him – far behind him – it was actually a decent motor race, but one that was sullied by a mind-blowing rash of track limits violations that hours after the race led to a shuffle of the result. Rules are rules – but what another fine mess.


1. Verstappen has time to play with

On Saturday he won the Sprint Race easily. On Sunday in the main event, at least the double world champion had a bit of work to do – even if the result was never in serious doubt. Verstappen and Red Bull’s decision to stick to their guns and not pit during the Virtual Safety Car, caused early in the race by Nico Hülkenberg retiring his Haas, meant both Ferraris jumped ahead when he did eventually stop on lap 24. Upon rejoining, Verstappen quickly passed Carlos Sainz Jr., then closed the gap to Charles Leclerc and used the Red Bull’s prodigious DRS advantage to take back his lead on lap 35. Then he simply drove away.

Such was his advantage late in the race, Verstappen even had time in hand to pit for a set of soft Pirellis, rejoin just clear of Leclerc and snatch the point for fastest lap on his last time around the Red Bull Ring, where he has now won five times. The 25-year-old’s lead over team-mate Sergio Perez in the world championship is out to 81 points.


2. Positive vibes for Leclerc

Too often this season Charles Leclerc has cut a frustrated figure, in what has so far been an underwhelming season for Ferrari. But in Austria, where Leclerc won last year for what is his most recent grand prix victory, there were reasons to smile again as he scored his best result of 2023. A brilliant qualifying lap on Friday set him up nicely. Early in the race his team-mate Sainz tracked him closely in the early stages, even asking the team if he could pass to have a crack at Verstappen. But Leclerc edged away, helped in part by Sainz being one of nine drivers during the race to earn five-second penalties for track limits violations. The Spaniard then inadvertently helped Leclerc out late in the grand prix by holding up a charging Perez, allowing the Monegasque some comfort on his drive to a first runner-up finish of the season.


3. Sainz vs Perez the highlight

Sergio Perez needed a decent drive. In the doldrums in recent races, the Mexican was under more pressure when he made a mess of qualifying in Austria as a persistent track limits violator. Cancelled times for crossing the white line that defines the race track left him starting a lowly 15th in by far the quickest F1 car, and his Red Bull team were less than impressed. But at least he turned up on race day to make amends.

In the closing stages his battle with Sainz for the final podium spot was the best scrap, in a race that featured plenty in the midfield. Unlike Verstappen, Checo needed a few goes at timing his run up to Turn Three to avoid the Ferrari picking up DRS – but eventually he learnt his lesson and made his move stick. But the duel cost him a shot at making this a Red Bull one-two at what is officially the Milton Keynes-based team’s home circuit. By the time he was clear of Sainz, Leclerc was too far up the road for Perez to catch him.


4. Norris shines for McLaren

Lando Norris seems to have a thing for the Austrian GP. Twice a podium finisher here, he put in a driver of the day performance to claim fifth on the road, in a McLaren that seemed to respond well to a raft of updates introduced for this race. Norris qualified an excellent fourth, but lost a place at the start to a canny Lewis Hamilton who had started a place behind him. But on lap 28 the 23-year-old had the pleasure of driving past the seven-time world champion on the way into Turn Four, the highlight of his best drive of the season so far.


5. Frustrating day for Hamilton

Mercedes-AMG has made progress of late. But the team’s heavily revised car just didn’t work at the Red Bull Ring, and beyond his start little went right for Lewis Hamilton. Early on it was noticeable that he was struggling for pace, and he soon said so on the radio. It explained why he was one of the earliest track limits ‘villains’, eventually picking up a five-second penalty for his trouble. He fumed and asked his team why others ahead of him, including Norris, hadn’t also been penalised.

Eventually, Mercedes chief Toto Wolff felt it necessary to intervene. “Lewis, we know the car is slow. Please drive it,” he said with a note of irritation. The penalty contributed to Hamilton slipping behind Fernando Alonso to finish seventh on the road, one place ahead of his team-mate George Russell who had climbed from 11th on the grid. Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll were the final points scorers.


6. Track limits rulings go nuts

But then after the race, F1 was sent into limbo. Aston Martin protested the result on the basis that so many track limits violations had gone unpunished – and the FIA agreed. Astonishingly, it was estimated that up to 1,200 potential violations had occurred, mostly an Turns Nine and Ten, but also at other points around the circuit. No wonder the stewards had struggled to keep up. Now they needed time to examine the race and held off from publishing a final classification. When it finally came, a slew of fresh penalties had been handed out to… deep breath: Sainz, Hamilton, Gasly, Alex Albon, Esteban Ocon, Logan Sargeant, Nyck de Vries and Yuki Tsunoda (the last-named had also caused an early safety car after breaking his wing against Ocon’s Alpine at Turn One, and then skated off at Turn Four).

The upshot was a change in the final order: Sainz lost his fourth place and dropped to sixth, promoting Norris to fourth and Alonso to fifth; Hamilton and Russell switched places for seventh and eighth, compounding Lewis’s miserable day; and Stroll moved up to ninth, with Gasly dropping to tenth. All in all, that protest sure paid off for the green cars. But what a way to decide a race. Has F1 hit the limit on track limits?

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Formula 1

  • F1 2023

  • Austrian Grand Prix

  • Max Verstappen

  • Lewis Hamilton

  • Charles Leclerc

  • Carlos Sainz

  • Sergio Perez

  • Lando Norris

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