Ricciardo holds off Hamilton for podium
Valtteri Bottas is proving to be more than a mere stopgap driver at Mercedes, the quiet Finn converting pole position into his second career win – and the Finn’s second win of the Formula 1 season – at the stunning Red Bull Ring.
After a perfect start which came under investigation by stewards, Bottas looked to be cruising to a comfortable victory in a somewhat uneventful Austrian Grand Prix when championship leader Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari closed dramatically in the concluding laps, with the Mercedes struggling more on the blistering tyres affecting all the front runners.
Bottas won by a tight 0.6sec, thrusting himself into contention for the world championship.
“It's been my best weekend yet with the pole and the win and I hope we can continue from here,” said Bottas. “The start was absolutely perfect - definitely my best start ever. I got a massive blister on the rear-left in the second stint after just five laps, which made the car tricky to drive.”
While the fight for the win was happening, not far back, Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo was also fighting off a looming Lewis Hamilton’s Merc for the final podium place.
The Briton, who started eighth after a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, had revealed no great speed throughout but saved his best until last, drawing alongside the Aussie as the laps ran out.
Ricciardo was up for the challenge though and defended rigorously, as he reported later: “I do love a fight and Lewis came out of nowhere in the last few laps."
“It felt like the gap was stable and then within a handful of laps he was catching me pretty rapidly. I then had two laps to go and had to defend which made it a pretty exciting race for me."
Ricciardo also noted his car’s good pace in a race that remained free of rain throughout: “To have good speed around here in dry conditions was a pleasant surprise for us. I had Seb in front of me pretty much for the whole race and I know that his long runs on Friday looked quite a lot quicker than ours so we didn’t really expect to have a similar race pace to him or Mercedes today. Just to hold Lewis off, have a fight, defend and come out in front was cool. Another podium is pretty sweet. I enjoyed it up there.”
Ricciardo, who started fourth, set himself up for his fifth consecutive podium of 2017 with a strong start that left him in third after the first couple of corners behind Bottas and Vettel, but ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and the jack rabbit Romain Grosjean’s Haas.
Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen had another miserable race after his car went into anti-stall mode on the grid which caused a slow getaway. This left him back with the muggers and brawlers where Daniil Kvyat’s ambitions exceeded ability and he slammed into Fernando Alonso who bounced into the Dutchman. He retired with what was believed to be a clutch problem, the fifth time in the last seven races Verstappen has failed to finish.
Alonso was also out.
Raikkonen, who appeared to be sacrificed by Ferrari for strategic reasons to keep Mercedes second guessing, ultimately took fifth place. He was left out on old tyres to perhaps hold up the flying Bottas after the Finn switched to fresh rubber a few laps earlier.
Haas’s Grosjean also had a solid race to finish sixth ahead of the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, who managed not to crash into each other.
Williams drivers Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll made excellent starts from way back in 17th and 18th on the grid, avoiding the first-lap carnage to round out the top 10.
The drivers’ championship is in an interesting stage now with Vettel’s second place stretching his lead over Hamilton to 20 points, with Bottas just 15 points further back from his teammate. Ricciardo is fourth but not really in contention.
Supercars: McLaughlin and Whincup take wins in Townsville
Now at half way in the series, they’re separated by a mere six points.
It was throwback, hard and intense Holden versus Ford racing at the sun-drenched Townsville 400 with the two brand adversaries sharing the spoils with a win apiece in the twin 200km contests at the weekend.
Shell DJR-Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin continued his stunning form to take pole for both races, before hitting the championship lead for the first time in his young career after winning Saturday’s race 13 of the series held on the hybrid part street/part permanent circuit.
"It’s cool – I wish it was November but at the end of the day it’s one of those things," McLaughlin said following his Saturday romp to the top of the title table.
"I have never led it in my life so it’s a pretty cool moment I guess, but there's a long way to go.”
Red Bull Holden Racing Team's Jamie Whincup finished second on Saturday and Bottle-O Racing’s Mark Winterbottom was third. Unofficial Man of the Match was Craig Lowndes, who came from 19th on the grid, to sixth.
Sunday was memorable for six-times champ Whincup winning his first championship race of the year after coming out on top of McLaughlin in a tight, pressure-filled duel that ended at the flag with the two rivals separated by just 1.6secs. McLaughin had to deal with a malfunctioning cool suit which left him feeling the full-effects of searing in-car temperatures. In the circumstances the youngster seemed content to finish second and hang on to the championship points lead.
Shane van Gisbergen overcame a sluggish start to power home in third, ahead of Winterbottom and Prodrive teammate, Chaz Mostert, and the forceful GRM Holden pair Garth Tander and James Moffat.
It was just the second time this year that Advance Australia fair was given an airing in a Supercars championship season in which the kiwi goers McLaughlin, Fabian Coulthard and Shane van Gisbergen have upstaged the Aussie drivers with a lopsided 12-2 scoreline.
It’s game on with McLaughlin holding a slender six-points advantage over the persistent, consistent Whincup with the Queensland Raceway round up next.
“I definitely feel like we’ve made gains,” said the delighted Whincup responding to a question about comparing the race pace of his Holden with the DJR Penske Fords. “Though they busted us in qualifying, I definitely think we’ve bridged the gap,” was his judgement.
“The car was great, full credit to the crew, they gave me a really quick car which was the difference, a car to be able to fight the other guys with. So a massive team effort … we dug deep and got the chocolates.
“It's going to be a long old grind for the next six months 'til Newcastle but we're up for the challenge and will keep our heads down," Whincup added. Not that we ever doubted the resolve of he and the Triple Eight clan.
The weekend’s unlucky big loser was DJR-Team Penske’s Coulthard who arrived in Townsville with a 10-points lead and departed third in the standings, 158 points in arrears.
He can point the finger at his poor qualifying pace, starting back in a world of trouble both days – ninth on Saturday and 12th Sunday. He went backwards on both days too, with a little help from adversaries in the first race, finishing 11th, and an own goal on Sunday when he turned around Tim Slade and was crucified with a 15-sec penalty, ultimately placing 21st.
Though he has slipped back in the points, Coulthard can remind himself that the championship is only at the half-way mark.
Kubica to test for Renault Sport again
It may hint at a F1 return for the talented Pole. Or not.
It’s hard to judge whether this is a sympathy move by Renault Sport or else a real indicator that Robert Kubica is ready for a full-time return to Formula 1…
Renault Sport has confirmed that Kubica, whose F1 career was cruelly cut short when he badly injured his right arm in a rally crash five years ago, will have a second test with the team soon – in the same Lotus E20 in which he looked good at Valencia a few weeks ago.
Renault Sport’s recent announcement of a second test and Kubica’s comments at the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed (that he figured his chances of an F1 comeback at “80 to 90 percent”) have ramped up speculation that a return to grand prix racing is more than a dream.
Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul said in a statement that the coming test, this one at Paul Ricard, is to assess Kubica’s capabilities to return to the highest level of competition.
“There are still many hurdles for him to overcome, and he knows better than anyone else that only his performance will determine if he can one day return to being a professional driver,” Abiteboul added. One such obstacle is Kubica’s ability to pass the obligatory cockpit evacuation test within the specified five seconds, a challenge given the weakness and limited movement of his right arm.
After his Valencia test, Kubica spent time with Renault’s nominated sports performance centre having his physical and mental capabilities thoroughly tested and compared to the database of current drivers.
If the second test is positive, Kubica will then likely drive a current F1 Renault R17 hybrid.
By then, Kubica and the world should know if the comeback is really on.
Watching Kubica eating breakfast during Rally Australia two years ago, Wheels was surprised at how compromised the Pole was using the cutlery. If he makes it back to F1, it will be a Herculean achievement.
One-make racing: Aussie Matt Campbell wins Supercup in Austria
Hill clean-sweeps Toyota 86 Series in Townsville where speccy flip makes the news
Australia’s rising star Matt Campbell, so impressive in earlier outings in Europe, has confirmed his status as a driver to watch, taking out the Porsche Supercup race at the Red Bull Ring.
The race, on the support card of the Austrian Grand Prix, was Campbell’s first win in the series.
It was just his fourth start in the series.
Campbell controlled the race from pole, making an excellent start.
His was the first win by an Australian driver in the Supercup since Alex Davison triumphed in the US round in 2002.
Closer to home, Canberra's Cameron Hill kept ahead of the usual mid-pack mayhem that is almost inevitable in fierce one-make racing, leading every lap from pole to win both Toyota 86 races completed in Townsville.
Three races were scheduled but the second one was red-flagged and declared a no-race after a multi-car shunt on turn two on the first lap blocked the track.
When the lights went out in race three, Hill, championship leader Jimmy Vernon, Tim Brook, and Ben Grice began to extend a lead over the chasing pack. Then came a lurid incident on lap four when Callum Jones' car flipped, sliding spectacularly along the track on its roof, triggering a safety car and earning him 10 seconds of fame on the six o’clock news.
The young driver emerged unscathed, and the race resumed with five laps remaining, Hill taking his second win with Vernon hot on his tail.
Vernon continues to lead the series.