F1 Austrian GP takeaways: A familiar Verstappen returns, Haas hits it big

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Max Verstappen started with what seemed like a leisurely Sunday drive in the Styrian mountains, but what could have been another Austrian Grand Prix victory soon came under threat with under 20 laps to go after a slow pit stop put it in jeopardy.

Red Bull’s penultimate pit stop for Verstappen lasted over six seconds, a stark contrast to its usual performance. Lando Norris pitted the same lap, and the gap between them rapidly decreased. It became a battle for the lead, one that resulted in penalties, a collision and punctures that ruined both of their races. Norris had to retire after the incident while Verstappen continued with a pair of soft tires, finishing fifth and maintaining the lead in the championship.

“I expect a tough battle against Max, I know what to expect. I expect aggression and pushing the limits and that kind of thing, but all three times he’s doing stuff that can easily cause an incident, and in the way it’s just a bit reckless, it seemed like a little bit desperate from his side,” Norris said. “Doesn’t need to be. He’s got plenty of wins but (was) a bit desperate to do what he could to not let me past. I know he’s going to be aggressive so I’m in a way not surprised…. I just expected a tough, fair, respectful on the edge bit of racing, and I don’t feel like that’s what I got.”

That incident, though, led to George Russell securing Mercedes’ first win since the 2022 season (which is when he secured his first Formula One victory in Brazil). The Silver Arrows’ performance has been improving in recent race weekends, but they have been expressing caution when asked about whether the team’s first win of the season could be near.

Before we dive into the takeaways from what went from Verstappen dominating like 2023 to a thrilling race, here’s a stat you should keep in mind: Eleven races into 2024, five different drivers from four different teams have won a grand prix. The paddock is headed to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix next weekend, the final race of the triple-header, but first, here are our Austrian GP takeaways.

Where it all went wrong for Norris and Verstappen

“With nine laps to go, it was all looking good.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is right. Verstappen and Norris pitted on Lap 51 of 71, and Red Bull’s pit stop topped six seconds due to the left-rear wheel nut sticking. Though Verstappen exited the pits first, the McLaren was hot on his tail, the gap less than two seconds apart.

It looked like a thrilling battle for the lead was brewing as Norris stayed within reach of Verstappen. The McLaren tried and failed to pass Verstappen at Turn 3 at one point, and Norris reported to his engineer over the radio, “He saw me move and then moved.” But in his pursuit of the Red Bull, Norris found himself in penalty trouble for exceeding track limits too many times.

He made a late move on Lap 59 and successfully got past Verstappen. However, he exceeded track limits and was hit with a five-second penalty for his infringement.

The battle showed no signs of letting up. Horner felt the incident was “inevitable” considering “how close they’ve been racing the last few weeks.” Verstappen and Norris made contact on Lap 64 and limped back to the pits, both suffering punctures. That moment ended Norris’ race, but Verstappen continued. Horner ultimately described the moment as “a racing incident.”

The stewards, though, determined Verstappen “was predominantly at fault” for causing the collision, as he shifted to the left when Norris made a move. He was handed a 10-second time penalty, though remained in fifth place and still leads the driver standings with a healthy 81-point gap over Norris.

“I thought it was a bit harsh that Max got a 10-second penalty,” Horner said. “Thankfully it didn’t affect — his race had already been damaged by the puncture that he picked up. So very frustrating.”

Verstappen also felt the penalty was too strong. “I’ll look back at it but 10 seconds seems a bit severe for me. I didn’t feel like it was anything kind of aggressive, going on in that move.” — Madeline Coleman

The questions around Verstappen’s driving

What became a notable talking point after the race was Verstappen’s moves. In Norris’ eyes, he felt the Dutchman moved under braking multiple times, saying, “I feel like what he did was unfair from my side, three of the times, no warning was issued, he did it again a final time and ruined both of our races.” When later asked about how Norris reacted to Verstappen’s driving, he elaborated.

“The thing is a little bit of movement is going to happen, but he’s completely reacting to what I was doing. And once you’ve committed so aggressively on the brakes, you don’t leave room for getting off and allowing a bit more space in the braking zone, once you’ve committed,” Norris said. “He moved, which forced me to move, and therefore, I would lock up or do something, but every point before he moved, I was not locked up or out of control. My moves were fair, until I had to react to something he did in the middle of the braking zone, and you don’t have grip, you’re not able to… once you’re on the edge to adjust and counter these kinds of things. At the same time, if I’m not able to move like I was, then you’re going to have more collisions. As I said, happy with what I did, wouldn’t change anything.”

Verstappen viewed it differently.

“For me it was not moving under braking because every time I moved I was not braking already. Of course from the outside, it looks like that, but I think I know fairly well what to do in these kinds of scenarios and a few of those were really late dive-bombs, so it’s a bit of a just send them up the inside and hope that the other guy steers out of it, which is not always how you race, but I think the corner here lends to that as well,” the Red Bull driver said. “I’ve been in the other position where you go for it and it’s just the shape of the corner, and the move we got together was something I didn’t expect because I saw him coming, defend a little bit the inside then under braking we touch the rear tires and we both get a puncture from it, which of course is something you don’t want to happen.”


‘Inevitable’: Max Verstappen and Lando Norris’s first true F1 fight ends in tears

This isn’t the first time Verstappen’s driving battles have come into question, the most recent example being his fights with Lewis Hamilton in 2021. McLaren team principal Andrea Stella touched on this in his post-race interviews, discussing how if things aren’t properly addressed then future incidents will arise.

“In every kind of human dynamics, if you don’t address things, as soon as you introduce competition, as soon as you introduce a sense of injustice, these things escalate. It’s like anything,” Stella said. “This episode today should be taken as an opportunity to tighten up, to plump up the boundaries, and in fairness, enforcing some of the rules that are already in place.

“But we need to be very clear that these rules cannot be abused in a way that then leaves a margin to do a couple of times the same maneuver, and you know the third time there is going to be an accident. Of course, even statistically, there is going to be an accident.” — Madeline Coleman

Mercedes finally returns to the top step

Mercedes hadn’t won a grand prix since Russell’s win at Interlagos on Nov. 13, 2022 – 595 days between F1 victories. That’s its longest winless streak since it rejoined the grid in 2012. It all happened so quickly that it took a minute to process.

Russell said he worked hard all race to maintain P3 behind Norris and Verstappen, noting the car’s pace “felt strong.” Once he switched to hard tires and Piastri “came a little bit out of nowhere towards the end of the race,” Russell admitted he had a “difficult” time maintaining his podium spot. But then Verstappen and Norris tangled, and the question wasn’t whether he’d finish third but first.

Of course, Russell did, notching his second career win. It’s a massive moment for Mercedes, symbolized by team boss Toto Wolff leaping on the radio while George was under braking to tell his driver a win was possible.

“That was one of the most stupid things I’ve ever done,” Wolff told Sky Sports. “I didn’t check where he was on track. He’s braking hard from 320 kph (199 mph), and I tell him the two others collided. I have to think about that one.”

“I almost crashed when he screamed into my ears, it was that loud,” Russell said. “I think it just goes to show the passion that we all share. And it’s obviously been a tough couple of years for us.”

Mercedes hasn’t been able to turn that passion into success for quite some time, as the days of Lewis Hamilton’s dominance have given way to Verstappen’s reign. And you’d be forgiven for feeling like this season was a lost cause after the first few months of the year, with news of Hamilton’s Ferrari switch and a sluggish start on track for the team.

“The team have done an amazing job to get us in this fight,” Russell said. “You got to be there at the end to pick up the pieces. And that’s where we were.”

Over the last month, Mercedes has emerged as the third-fastest team on the grid, eclipsing Ferrari. Its average qualifying position in the last three races is P4; in the first eight, it was P8. On Sunday, its race pace and speed through the high-speed final two sectors were on par with the McLarens’. That’s a remarkable turnaround in such a short time – and it reminds me of McLaren’s sudden emergence around this time last year.

“I couldn’t believe how close we were to Lando and Max,” Russell said. “I think it was only about 12 or 13 seconds behind. I knew it was a possibility. You’re always dreaming. But as I said, I’m just so proud to be back in the top step. The team have worked so hard. We’ve made so many strides since the start of the season. The last three races have been incredible. So, more to come.” — Patrick Iversen

Oscar Piastri goes ‘hunting’ all weekend

Let’s give the 23-year-old from Melbourne his due: Piastri demonstrated some serious attacking skill this weekend around the Red Bull Ring. Turns 3 and 4 are usually the prime overtake spots on this track, but Piastri made a few passes in the sprint and grand prix through the infield in Turns 5, 6 and 7 – around the outside, no less! “Turn 6 was a happy hunting ground this weekend,” Piastri said.

We haven’t seen such flashes of controlled aggression from Piastri, who’s known for being one of the calmest drivers on the grid. He’s skilled, no doubt, but generally patient, waiting for opportunities to emerge in front of him. This weekend, he forced the issue multiple times and put pressure on veterans like Sergio Pérez and Carlos Sainz at unorthodox places on the circuit.

After all, he was fired up after a track limits violation in qualifying, which pushed him from starting P3 to P7 on Sunday. His Lap 1 contact with Charles Leclerc, as the pair and Pérez met at the apex of Turn 1, led to a first stint that left him wanting. But he didn’t let these incidents deter him. By the time Norris and Verstappen took each other out, he was in a position to attack for the race lead. The key overtake was on Sainz in the dying laps of the race, around the outside again in Turn 6. Given a few more laps, Piastri would have caught Russell, too.

“I had a bit of fire in me going into the race,” Piastri said. “So, I think some of my overtakes probably came from a bit further back than maybe they would have otherwise.”

Post-race, that fire was still burning, even though he said he was “pretty happy” with the turnaround from seventh to second. You could see the hunger in his eyes. His performance this weekend spoke volumes – he’s no longer a rookie. There are no more “just happy to be on the podium” moments for Piastri.

“I know that’s my fourth podium in F1, but so close to a win,” Piastri said. “When it’s that close, you can’t help but hurt a little bit.” — Patrick Iversen

Haas’ mega day

One storyline that may slip through the cracks after a hectic ending to the Austrian GP is how one of the teams at the lower half of the constructor standings secured its biggest points haul of the season.

The Haas duo of Nico Hülkenberg (who overtook Sergio Pérez) and Kevin Magnussen brought home a combined 12 points after finishing sixth and eighth. The team sits seventh in the constructor standings, a healthy 10-point gap to Alpine (which scored one point Sunday thanks to Pierre Gasly) and 11 points away from sixth-place RB.

“That’s a pretty good day,” Magnussen said. “Put us back in the run for P7 in the championship and yeah, couldn’t be more happy.”

Early in the race, a battle began between the teammates. Magnussen didn’t sound too pleased over the team radio, and he later explained, “I attacked (Hülkenberg) as he came out of the pits. Then he attacked me back. And I thought okay, let’s settle down here.”

Looking at the bigger picture, Magnussen didn’t feel it was necessarily a breakthrough but rather a solid weekend for the team. Alpine’s performance does seem to be improving as the season progresses, and the Dane wagers, “They’re going to be scoring points from now on it seems, and we have to keep the heat on.” — Madeline Coleman

Pat’s Notebook

  • After all that, Sergio Pérez still finished behind Verstappen – and with a five-second penalty for speeding in pit lane.
  • The Aston Martin of 2023 has completely evaporated, eh? Fernando Alonso had another weekend to forget, with a sluggish qualifying and then a 10-second penalty for causing a collision with Zhou Guanyu in Turn 3. And Lance Stroll was a complete nonfactor for what feels like the third weekend in a row? *checks notes* Okay, he finished seventh in Canada. Hard to remember. Aston Martin is a distant fifth-place, and only 28 points clear of RB. It’s gone backward since the strong start to last season, and is borderline uncompetitive right now. Bizarre.
  • For all the talk of track limits coming into the race, the stewards seemed busy with every other type of violation. We had penalties and investigations for improper pit entry, causing a collision, leaving the track to gain advantage and speeding in the pit lane. Only 16 lap times deleted though, compared to 83 last season. The power of gravel traps!
  • I just checked with my sources, and Williams and Sauber did, in fact, participate this weekend.
  • We hope you all enjoyed your weekend as much as Hans Zimmer did.

(Lead image of Max Verstappen and Nico Hülkenberg: Mark Thompson, Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

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