Red Bull Ring, 2023

Red Bull reduce rivals to irrelevance in home rout overshadowed by penalty farce

2023 Austrian Grand Prix review

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Entering last season’s long winter, Ferrari and Mercedes dreamed of somehow dethroning Red Bull once the new year began.

But by the time the spring months reached their end, those hopes had already been mercilessly crushed by the world champions and scattered to the summer winds.

June brought new optimism for their pursuers. While Max Verstappen and his RB19 continued to monopolise the top step of the podium, there had been plenty of promise for those seeking to chase down the champions.

First, Mercedes raced their revised W14 to a season-best double podium in Spain. Then, Fernando Alonso finished within 10 seconds of the world champion in Montreal despite managing a phantom fuel problem. Red Bull did not yet seem vulnerable – but their seemed to be slowly getting closer and closer within reach.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2023
Leclerc put up a good fight on lap one
Ferrari arrived in Austria with a renewed vigour, desperate to prove the pace that they were convinced their car now possessed but had been unable to demonstrate in the previous round in Canada. And when Charles Leclerc pushed Red Bull closer in Friday qualifying than anyone else had since Baku – the only time anyone had bested them in a time trial all season – Ferrari knew that on Sunday, there would be no excuses. They would finally see how they truly fare against Red Bull at the very circuit that bears their rivals’ name.

Thanks to Sergio Perez, Ferrari had the luxury of a straight shot at pole winner Verstappen. An unwell Perez skipped Thursday’s media activities at the track and once he arrived it seemed his ailment included a severe aversion to staying within track limits. He failed to set a single valid time in Q2, leaving him 15th on the grid.

Ferrari therefore had the advantage of numbers. Leclerc and team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr as lined up directly behind Verstappen on the grid.

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All three opted for medium tyres, with Verstappen having the benefit of the clean side of the grid to aid his getaway. When the lights extinguished, both front row occupants got equally strong launches, Verstappen sweeping right to block Leclerc’s line before drifting back to the left for turn one. The Red Bull emerged from the corner with the lead with the Ferraris in pursuit, Leclerc ahead of Sainz, and Lewis Hamilton fourth, having beaten Lando Norris on the run to turn one.

Leclerc stalked Verstappen all the way up the hill. As the leader went defensive on the approach to turn three, the Ferrari took the outside line, Verstappen cutting to the apex to drive out of the turn still ahead. The scene repeated down the run to turn four, Verstappen hogging the inside line. Leclerc edged ahead for a matter of metres as the pair slowed for the right-hander, but once Verstappen powered out with his lead still intact, Leclerc’s opportunity was gone.

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Red Bull Ring, 2023
Tsunoda did not cover himself in glory at the start
Back in the midfield scrum, Yuki Tsunoda showed all the awareness of an online lobby racer as he dived to the extreme inside of the pack, clipping Esteban Ocon’s right-rear and liberating his own front wing endplate from the rest of his wing in the process. His deceleration ruined by the loss of grip, Tsunoda then ploughed through the gravel trap at turn four.

The remnants of Tsunoda’s endplate littered the exit of turn one prompting the Safety Car to be deployed before the field crossed the timing line for the first time. Following two neutralised laps, the race resumed. As he so often does, Verstappen ensured there was no chance of him being attacked at the restart, leading Leclerc over the line and back to green flag racing with a gap of six tenths of a second to the Ferrari. By the end of the lap, that lead had doubled, Verstappen escaping out of DRS range a full lap before the system was activated.

Leclerc may have failed to get ahead of the Red Bull, but he was managing to stick with it through the early laps. Sainz behind, however, was well within the second needed to activate his DRS around all three points on the circuit and was already lobbying his race engineer Riccardo Adami to be allowed by his team mate.

“I could pass,” he insisted as they began lap seven. “I could pass.”

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Ferrari had other ideas. “We stick with the plan,” Adami instructed a lap later. “No attack for now.”

Behind them, the Ferraris were dropping Hamilton slowly. The Mercedes had Norris within a second behind him – not close enough to make a move, but the perfect distance for Norris to judge every time Hamilton strayed outside the white lines in the final corners.

“Track limits again, Hamilton,” Norris reported. “That’s his third time now…”

Nico Hulkenberg, Haas, Red Bull Ring, 2023
Hulkenberg’s retirement led to a Virtual Safety Car period
Verstappen gradually built up his lead over the Ferraris to five seconds by the time they reached the 14th lap. But as they did, the yellow flag appeared on the run to turn three. Nico Hulkenberg had stopped his smoking Haas on the outside of the corner, putting an end to his hopes of backing up his sprint race points with another top ten finish.

As the Ferraris rounded the penultimate corner, the yellow flag became a Virtual Safety Car. Leclerc received an immediate call to pit, but was unable to comply as he was already well past pit entry.
Hamilton and Norris were not, however, and they both dived into the pit lane along with Pierre Gasly, Alexander Albon, George Russell, Esteban Ocon, Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant.

Red Bull were clear in what their plan was. “If this turns into a Safety Car: pit. If this turns into a Safety Car, you will pit. Otherwise, stay out,” came Verstappen’s instruction from race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase. But the Safety Car remained only virtual and Verstappen passed the pit lane to continue on track while, behind, Leclerc and Sainz both peeled in at the end of the lap to fit on a second set of medium tyres.

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“We just stick to our plan,” explained Verstappen after the race. “You have these calculations before – if there’s a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car – and for us, it made sense to just go, because I think we had good tyre life.”

Carlos Sainz Jr, Ferrari, Red Bull Ring, 2023
Sainz criticised Ferrari’s pit call
The green flag flew as Sainz was making his way out of the pit lane, but the combination of having to pit behind Leclerc and a slow left-front wheel change saw him drop behind both Hamilton and Norris, while Perez was now also ahead of the pair of them having jumped from ninth to third by staying out like his team mate. Leclerc, however, was still second, Ferrari’s call to pit under VSC having cost him just 12 seconds in total to the leader, rather than the 21 it typically would in green flag conditions.

Despite the apparent gain, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admitted his team were perfectly happy to see both Ferraris having stopped under the Virtual Safety Car.

“We were actually surprised so many cars pitted on that VSC, because it was still pretty early on a two-stop,” he explained after the race. “So I was surprised that they pitted both Ferraris. For us, it actually worked very well.”

Sainz wasn’t impressed, querying the decision on the radio. But it didn’t take long for him to swallow up Norris into turn three, before diving up the inside of Hamilton at the same corner the next lap by to take fourth. The following lap, Sainz made it three out of three, sweeping by Perez at turn four to complete his recovery to third place. Having reclaimed his original position, Sainz followed his team mate ahead by closing on the leader, who was beginning to feel his medium tyres fade underneath him.

Verstappen eventually pitted at the end of the 24th lap, taking hard tyres. When he rejoined, he was only a car length behind Sainz. He remained directly behind the Ferrari throughout the next lap until using his fresher tyres to power past on the exit of turn three to take what was now second place – Perez having also pitted for the first time and dropped back to ninth. As Verstappen set about catching leader Leclerc, Norris was putting Hamilton under pressure for fourth. Almost as if he had watched Verstappen’s move on Sainz a handful of laps earlier, Norris emulated the Red Bull by driving out of turn thee and sweeping around the outside of Hamilton into turn four, claiming fourth in the process.

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But there was more frustration to come for Hamilton – as well as many of his rivals. Hamilton had become the first driver to burn through his four track limits strikes for running wide at the final two corners and had earned a five-second time penalty from the stewards – one he would have to serve at his next pit stop with the risk of further penalties for any further infringements.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Red Bull Ring, 2023
Verstappen repassed Leclerc with total ease
By lap 30, still under half distance, there had already been 43 track limits violations – the same total committed through the entire grand prix one year ago. Tsunoda became the second driver to fall foul of the four strike limit and third-placed Sainz was next, putting a potential first podium of the season in jeopardy for the Ferrari driver.

But there were more immediate concerns for Ferrari as Verstappen had now caught Leclerc out front and was within striking range of taking back the lead. With DRS available up the hill on the run to turn three, Verstappen slipped by the Ferrari so casually looked more like he was lapping Leclerc. “Okay, well done,” offered Lambiase, suggesting how nonplussed Red Bull appeared to be about this latest development.

Out in the lead, Verstappen quickly asserted himself over Leclerc, pulling away at a rate of over a second a lap to the Ferrari behind. Norris became the first of the leaders to pit on lap 41, quickly followed by Hamilton, who cleared his penalty in the process. Sainz did the same a handful of laps later, rejoining just behind Norris as a result of his delay. However, Sainz quickly cleared the McLaren on his out-lap, recovering the position he’d lost as a result of his penalty.

By lap 50, Verstappen and Leclerc had completed their second stops, leaving Perez as the only driver yet to do so. Verstappen resumed with a 13-second lead over Leclerc on his fresh medium tyres while Leclerc had fitted the hards.

With Ferrari no longer posing any threat to Verstappen, the bigger concern for the Scuderia was Perez, who was now hunting down Sainz after making his final stop and dispatching Norris for fourth. Perez caught the Ferrari with 15 laps remaining. For three consecutive laps, Perez looked to get by Sainz into turn three, but the Ferrari driver offering a valiant defence on each occasion. The pressure was evidently getting to Sainz, however.

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“He’s pushing me off the track like crazy,” Sainz claimed. “He’s, like, intimidating me.”

Perez’s psychological assault on Sainz eventually paid off on lap 62 when he finally pulled ahead of the Ferrari exiting turn four. But Perez did not feel he had been especially aggressive with his rival.

(L to R): Sergio Perez, Red Bull; Carlos Sainz Jr, Ferrari, Red Bull Ring, 2023
Perez made hard work of passing Sainz despite DRS advantage
“I think we just had a proper fight. It took me probably a bit longer than I wanted, but in the end we got it done.”

From 15th on the grid, Perez had completed his comeback to the podium. He had just 10 laps remaining to attempt to catch Leclerc and secure a home one-two for Red Bull. Meanwhile, Verstappen was continuing to pull away from Leclerc in second at a rate of over half a second a lap, gradually building on top of the theoretical 21 seconds he would need for a late pit stop to attempt a run at the fastest lap bonus point currently held by his team mate.

Despite Red Bull’s hesitation to run any unnecessary risk, Verstappen was adamant he should be given the chance. Eventually, with the lead at just under 24 seconds, Red Bull relented and allowed the leader to pit at the end of lap 69, fitting on a set of three-lap-old soft tyres so he could take what would be an easy run to the fastest lap. He emerged from the pit lane just under four seconds ahead of Leclerc, enough to spend time warming his tyres and recharging his battery as if he was on an out-lap in qualifying, not on the penultimate lap of a grand prix.

Verstappen blitzed the final tour to take the chequered flag and secure his fifth successive victory and seventh of the season, taking the fastest lap point to ensure he would leave Austria with the maximum haul of 34 points – extending his already imposing championship lead even further in the process.

“It’s been a pretty incredible weekend,” the winner said. “With the sprint format, normally it’s always a bit more chaotic to get on top of everything. Out there on the track we just had a very quick car and I felt comfortable. And we could do everything we wanted, like we planned it.”

After Alonso had been within 10 seconds of him in Montreal, Verstappen had emphatically quashed any hopes that he could be challenged yet again. Second-placed Leclerc was left facing the reality that Red Bull are still out of reach for now.

“It feels good to be back on the podium,” the Ferrari driver said. “No secrets, we still need to work extremely hard to catch up Red Bull, who are still quite a lot faster on race day. But the feeling is better and the team is pushing like I’ve never seen before in terms of bringing the upgrades much earlier than what was planned. And this is great to see.”

Perez in third was satisfied, not just for his recovery from a lowly grid slot, but for taking 15 points on a weekend when he had been stricken by illness. “I have been really, really weak,” he said. “I was sick on Thursday, so it hasn’t been an easy weekend.”

Although the three podium finishers had successfully avoided earning penalties for exceeding track limits, the same could not be said for the rest of the field. In an unprecedented development a total of 20 individual penalties for exceeding track limits were handed out between nine drivers during the race – almost half the field. Making matter worse, it took until five hours after the race for 12 of those penalties to be handed out and the final results published.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2023
Verstappen routed the opposition for his fifth win in a row
After the combined 100 seconds of additional penalties had been applied, the final results saw Sainz demoted from fourth on the road to sixth, promoting Norris and Alonso up to fourth and fifth, respectively. Hamilton also lost seventh place to his team mate George Russell. The latter was one of only two drivers who successfully avoided a single track limits strike all race long, the other being Zhou Guanyu. Lance Stroll gained ninth, while Gasly dropped one place with a 10-second penalty but remained in the points to complete the top ten.

It had been a day where Formula 1 had made itself look “amateurish,” according to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. But that could certainly not be said of Verstappen’s performance across the weekend once again.

The world champion once more crushing any hopes of his rivals that he could possibly be caught any time soon. But despite continuing their perfect run of results in the 2023 season so far, Horner says Red Bull have not lost their appetite for winning just yet.

“We’re grateful for every victory that we have,” he said. “This is our best run of season results since I think Sebastian Vettel in 2013, where we’ve now won nine races in a row in a season.

“We obviously want to keep this roll going as long as we can. But how long, only time will tell.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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28 comments on “Red Bull reduce rivals to irrelevance in home rout overshadowed by penalty farce”

  1. Ferrari missed several opportunities to put pressure on the
    Start one of the two on red.
    Let the faster Sainz pass (to be reversed later if failed)
    Pit only one car under the BSc.
    At least they would have secured two podium places.

    1. Indeed. Not sure it would have worked, but now they did not even try.

    2. Let’s take a look at Ferrari’s strategy this time. Sainz wasn’t really any faster than Leclerc. As soon he was he lost DRS Leclerc slowly pulled away further. Had they swapped positions it would have been Leclerc hassling Sainz and they had to swap again and so on. So nothing wrong there.
      Also pitting under the VSC was the fastest way to go. Of course they could have split the the two cars, but that would have released the pressure on Red Bull instead of increasing it as Verstappen only had to pass one Ferrari and not two after his pitstop. What cost them, and especially Sainz was that both Ferrari pitstops took two seconds longer than normal and that the VSC ended when Sainz was still in the pit Lane. That meant his gap to Leclerc increased from 0.5 seconds to 8.5 seconds. In fact he only gained 1 second race time over those who pitted under green while being on the worse strategy.
      I don’t think pitting both cars was an outright mistake, but I agree with you. It’s always a risk and this time it didn’t pay off. But with all the penalties Sainz accumulated it’s not that relevant anymore…

    3. and call the driver in before pit entry! Duh!

      1. For Charles, that call came too late, because the double yellow changed to VSC when Verstappen was just past the pit entry… Not enough time to react, but for Carlos they could’ve been ready, or there-about. The next lap Charles would’ve gotten his opportunity, with a lot less pressure on the mechanics.

  2. The=ver

  3. Facts&Stats
    3rd July 2023, 11:01

    Why does Ferrari make an effort of pitting (or not pitting) both cars at the same time when they are racing each other?
    It would seem logical to use strategy to distribute their eggs over two baskets rather than keeping both cars line astern.

    1. Not only that but double stacking just wasn’t a good call under the VSC. Their cars were too close together. Carlos had to back off, which probably lost him more time than pitting under racing conditions would (even ignoring their slow, 4.4 and 4.5s second pit stop times and the race resuming while Carlos was still in the pits).

      In short, Ferrari screwed up the strategy yet again. Sainz put in a heroic effort to recover from that, and to hold off Perez for so long (which probably saved P2 for Leclerc), but he was hampered massively by his team again.

      1. Leclerc was fine for p2, perez wasn’t gaining anything any more after passing sainz, however he still did a great job defending.

        1. Perez had a black and white flag for turn10 and went into safe mode as he didn’t want a penaulty. Seems he was still not 100% and by pushing he would go over the line so i think that was a right call.

  4. The Red Bull is too fast. Verstappen would have still won this race even if he started from the pit lane. You wonder what all the other teams engineers have been doing. How could they nt have seen by now what Red Bull are doing??

    1. What are all the other engineers doing.??
      If it were only that simple.
      Read an article years ago by one of the designers in the day. He noted you could easily go through the car and find things to change that would get you a tenth a lap or close to it. Do it 10 times and you get something meaningful. His problem was time, resources and cost.
      Same today. Also todays rules are so conscriptive the scope of what you can do is limited.
      Could RedBull be copied … not quickly, as the 10, 20 or more little tweaks they have designed in are probably not easily spotted.
      Even Newey refers to development in terms of 10ths.

  5. The extra stop for the FL is just an embarrassment to the other teams. They’ve spent hundreds of millions and they are just nowhere.

    Didn’t catch the Ferrari shenanigans on the highlights. Disappointing that Sainz didn’t overtake Leclerc if he felt he could. They’re not fighting for a title; just race!

  6. FIA stewards give themselves the right to invent new rules and retroactively apply them to an already concluded event.

    That to me is a way more important takeaway from this weekend than Max winning a few more races in a long-decided season.

    1. Facts&Stats
      3rd July 2023, 12:40

      Weird comment; according to the rules the event only ‘concludes’ when the Final Race Classification is published, which was at 21:45.

      My important takeaway is that some fans don’t understand that.

      1. Why would that rule be any more immune to unilateral changes by the FIA stewards?

        We’re now in a post-rule world.

        1. Facts&Stats
          3rd July 2023, 16:20

          Why would that rule be any more immune to unilateral changes by the FIA stewards?

          The Stewards don’t make the rules.
          But I guess you knew that already ;)

          1. I thought I knew that.

            Yesterday, the F1 stewards proved that prior wrong.

  7. The RBR’s are just on another level and they will only not sim a race by drivers mistake/incident or by car failure otherwise they will win it. It was hard to see Max waving to warm up the tyres 2 laps to go and what like 2 seconds off Charle’s but on reality was like 2 miles away…The other teams need to step it up… F1 is levelling but on the black teams, it should be the other way around….

    1. *win races and *back teams

    2. Yeah, the pit stop for fast lap was bad enough, but then for Max to warm his tyres on the penultimate lap! It was like shoving a dog’s nose into a pile of doo.
      Adrian Newey gets a lot of credit, but he deserves more.

      1. Yes, he lost 2 seconds that lap, and also I was wondering why he was 2,5 sec slower than quali despite having no fuel and new tyres, but I guess setup changes (if it’s possible to change the car setup between quali and race) and being able to do a slow out lap make the difference, verstappen was doing outlaps 1 min off the pace in quali, couldn’t afford to do that in the race.

  8. Walter White
    3rd July 2023, 13:03

    This is the most dominant start ever by a driver in the history of Formula 1, with 7 wins and 2 seconds place finishes.

  9. If there were over 1000 track limit violations, then there was some shady stuff going on at race control as there should have been a lot more penalties.

    1. Suspicious indeed.

      1. Nothing shady going on, just overwhelmed by the fact that so many drivers thought they could get away with violating the track limit rule. They need a much faster way of reporting violations to drivers, which would be entirely possible with all modern electronics, but somehow they put the onus on race control and stewards.

  10. The penalties are not a farce, the poor driving is.

  11. Michael Ward
    3rd July 2023, 17:05

    All this talk of track limits penalties, and what can we do to make things better without creating problems for other classes that use the tracks, the answer is there are 20 drivers that can, at the next race, all just stay within the white lines and this is never a problem again.
    Those 20 guys can fix this immediately, and do it for free, just don’t go through a corner too fast and boom, problem solved.
    They all find a way to stay out of the walls when they are right up by the track, they are able to do this, they just have to do it.

Comments are closed.