This years Austrian Grand Prix wasn’t the most exciting, but it did gradually ramp up towards the end as Vettel hunted Bottas for P1 and Hamilton chased Ricciardo for the final step on the podium. Just like he did in Russia, Bottas held firm to take his second win, and Ricciardo drove brilliantly to hold off Hamilton to take his fifth consecutive podium.
Qualifying wasn’t too different as the magnificent hills of Austria saw both Ferrari and Mercedes once again locked into a close fight for pole position. Suspense and intensity were gradually building for the final crescendo, but ultimately yellow flags for Grosjean’s Haas resulted in an anticlimactic final session. Bottas emerged as the victor closely followed by Vettel, with Hamilton a further tenth behind.
Kimi Raikkonen qualified P4 to hold off the Red Bulls, but with a lap half a second slower than his teammate, he was significantly off the pace. Ricciardo ended up in P5 ahead of Verstappen who looked as if he was over-driving the car in his quest for lap time. Romain Grosjean produced a fantastic lap to beat the two Force Indias for what I like to call ‘midfield pole position’ (P7), and Sainz once again performed to round off the top 10.
The Red Bull Ring circuit offers a unique challenge to the drivers and teams. With its long straights and sweeping corners the teams have to find the best compromise for their car to maximise their laptime. Sector 1 is dominated by two straights where drivers want the straight line speed, but then you have sector 2 with it’s sweeping medium speed corners where drivers want the grip. Sector 3 is a hybrid of the first two sectors, with a reasonably long straight and medium/high speed corners. Will the teams find the same compromise or will they all take different paths in their quest for the fastest lap?
Using telemetry charts, I’m going to go through and analyse five different cases to investigate the differences between the teams and drivers:
- Bottas vs Vettel
- Bottas vs Hamilton
- Bottas vs Ricciardo
- Bottas vs Alonso (Q2)
- Alonso vs Vandoorne (both Q2)
All laps are Q3 unless stated otherwise. The charts are fairly simple. Each driver has the velocity plotted against distance. Sadly there are no throttle and brake traces this time as I was unable to obtain onboard videos with this data. The time delta is also plotted comparing the first driver in the legend against the second. In the first chart below, the time delta is comparing Bottas’ lap against Vettel, so if the value is positive Vettel is slower and behind Bottas.
Bottas vs Vettel
Sebastian Vettel’s best lap was only 0.042s slower than Bottas’, but things weren’t that close throughout the lap with both teams approaching the unique circuit in significantly different ways. For a fast Sector 1 you want maximum power and minimum drag, and with a straight line speed advantage of ~10kph it’s clear that Bottas and Mercedes opted to pursue this direction, whereas Ferrari look to have opted for a higher downforce configuration hoping they’ll gain more in sector 2 than they’ll lose in sector 1. Apex speeds at turn 1 add further evidence to Ferrari running more downforce as Vettel is faster by 3-4kph. Overall Vettel is two tenths behind at the end of sector 1.
I don’t know exactly why Ferrari or Merecedes chose their respective setups, but I suspect that Ferrari went the high downforce route because they know their engine has less peak performance and they’ll most likely lose out by going the down the same path as Mercedes. To beat them they have to do something different and the unique characteristics of the circuit also allow this. Sector 2 (and also partly 3) is the high downforce sector. Note that the long straight from turns 3 to 4 where one would expect to lose time is countered by DRS, reducing the drag penalty from running more downforce. This is abundantly clear by observing how close Vettel and Bottas’ traces are from turns 3 to 4 compared to turns 1 to 3. In the former, Vettel only loses ~0.05s compared to ~0.2s for the latter.
Vettel was almost three tenths quicker in sector 2 with a 28.229 compared to Bottas’ 28.507, so where and how did he find the time? The first tenth was found in turn 3, with Vettel braking ever so slightly later and importantly getting a strong exit to minimise his time loss to Bottas on the straight to turn 4. Vettel looks supreme through turn 4 carrying so much speed into the apex relative to Bottas and is now ahead. The Ferrari does like a strong car under braking obeying every command from Vettel, although running the additional downforce will aid that. Both drivers get good exits out of 4, with Bottas coming back towards Vettel to turn 6, where they’re both similar in the time delta as Bottas brakes later. Vettel noticeably has a greater apex speed by ~6kph. Fascinatingly, Vettel is now ahead by half a tenth at the end of sector 2. Ferrari’s setup seems to have paid off, but there’s still everything to play for in sector 3.
With Vettel already ahead he just has to hold on and pole position is his. Through turn 7 he does so, which both drivers evenly matched, but with a reasonably long run to turn 9, Bottas starts gaining time due to lower drag and almost gets ahead before the fastest corner on the circuit, turn 9. Vettel is ~10kph faster through the sweeping right hander, and you probably know by now why. This crucially gives him just over a half a tenth of breathing room heading in the final corner.
This is where Vettel lost pole. Or Bottas won it. Same result regardless. I’m not sure if Vettel made an error as the onboard footage looks fine. Perhaps he may have simply slowed down more to make sure he got the lap in. Nonetheless, it’s definitely odd that Vettel was significantly slower as the apex speeds of turn 10 are similar to turn 6. I’d expect Vettel to at least match Bottas through turn 10, but he almost loses a tenth. A tenth he wouldn’t even be able to get back due to running more drag on his car. If it was an error, Vettel could have improved and perhaps taken pole, but Bottas could have gone faster too so this is a bit of a moot point. This does feel strangely similar to Spain, however, with Vettel likely losing pole at the final chicane.
Bottas vs Hamilton
With Hamilton facing a 5 place grid penalty for a gearbox change he was never going to get pole position, but he still had to try and qualify fastest to minimise damage. He was unable to do so and qualified almost two tenths behind his teammate, which is a decent margin around the Red Bull Ring. With the team likely running a more ‘racier’ setup to aid Hamilton to move through the field, how did this impact on his qualifying performance? Or was it simply a scruffy lap from Hamilton?
In sector 1, assuming both started off the lap perfectly, Bottas looks to have the straight line speed advantage by a couple of kph over Hamilton. This is the first sign that Hamilton may be running a little more downforce than Bottas. They’re both effectively identical through turn 1 in terms of time delta, with Bottas pulling away on the run down to turn 3. Bottas did get a small tow from Perez which will have exaggerated the difference here, but Bottas would have still been faster in sector 1.
Through turn 3 Bottas is overall a tenth faster by being marginally quicker at the apex and getting a better exit. Both are even on the DRS straight to turn 4, with DRS allowing Hamilton to keep up and not lose out due to greater drag. Just as Vettel made up time on Bottas in turn 4, so does Hamilton. Hamilton doesn’t carry as much speed into the corner as Vettel did, but it’s still greater than Bottas. Coupled with a higher apex speed, Hamilton gets a tenth back on Bottas. However, it looks like Bottas got the slightly better exit and claws back half a tenth before turn 6.
Now, with Hamilton likely running slightly more downforce than Bottas, one would expect him to be faster through turn 6, so it’s a surprise to see Hamilton ~8kph slower at the apex. Driver error or not, this costs Hamilton ~0.075s to put him just over two tenths down at the end of sector 2 with P1 looking bleak. Turn 7 is a faster corner than 6, and Hamilton is indeed faster here gaining ~0.025s on Bottas. Hamilton then gains a further half tenth through turn 9 by carrying more speed into the corner and at the apex, but slightly loses out at the exit. Hamilton counters this by braking later for turn 10, but Bottas got such a good exit out of 10 that Bottas ends up gaining a quarter tenth through turn 10. Overall through the fast turn 9 and 10 sequence, neither driver ends up being noticeably faster, with Hamilton perhaps having the slight edge by thousandths.
So, to answer the questions I posed at the beginning I’d say it’s a combination of both, about 50/50. Hamilton’s draggier and more pointy setup to help him follow cars in an attempt to pass during the race did cost his qualifying performance, but it was probably about half a tenth or a tenth at best. The rest is on Hamilton not finding enough time in turn 3 onwards to counter this.
Bottas vs Ricciardo
Red Bull with their Renault engine clearly don’t have the grunt that Mercedes have, but the impact their lack of engine of power has is likely exacerbated at their home race. It looks like Red Bull decided to go down the same path as Ferrari and run more downforce and hence drag in their attempt to extract the best laptime from their car. As a result, trying to determine how much time Red Bull lost due to a lack of engine power is a bit futile in this case, so I won’t bother doing so. The closest one can get is to compare Red Bull and Ferrari, but even that is clouded as Red Bull look to have run even more downforce than Ferrari (overlay the Bottas/Vettel and Bottas/Ricciardo traces if you wish to compare the two).
Focusing on Ricciardo’s lap as a whole, notice that he was faster than Bottas is every corner except 6 and 10. Red Bull know they have a strong chassis and aero package and decided that playing to their strengths would be best. Notable turns are turn 4, where Ricciardo gains two tenths on Bottas, not only by carrying more speed into the corner, but also by getting on the power earlier as well, and turn 9 where Ricciardo is almost 15kph and a tenth faster. However, what’s really fascinating are the turns where Ricciardo wasn’t faster.
Through turn 6, both Bottas and Ricciardo are nip and tuck, there’s very little between the two; somewhat unexpected given that turn 6 is a medium speed sweeping left hander. Unusually, Bottas is faster through turn 10, another medium speed corner. It looks a lot like Bottas was just supreme through here as he was faster than Hamilton, Vettel, and Ricciardo, and what probably gave him pole position.
Bottas vs Alonso
With a lap of the Red Bull Ring being the fastest of the season, the time difference between McLaren and Mercedes is at a not so bad 1.3s. I’m hesitant to put a figure on time lost due to a lack of engine power as it’s difficult to determine what McLaren’s approach to car setup was relative to Mercedes and Ferrari, but for the sake of completeness: ~1.1-1.2s. This figure is most likely exaggerated from the true value so it doesn’t necessarily mean that McLaren would be a tenth off with a Mercedes engine.
Trying to determine what downforce and drag level Alonso’s McLaren involves a lot of conjecture, but bear with me. The first thing that stands out is Alonso’s higher apex speed by ~10kph at turn 9, which is a good sign of higher top end downforce levels. Ricciardo was 15kph faster, but he was also faster than Bottas in almost every other corner indicating that the Red Bull was also producing more grip at low and medium speed corners. Alonso is faster than Bottas through turns 1, 3, and 4, but not to the extent that Ricciardo was.
So, where does this put McLaren’s aero package? It’s of course impossible to definitively say, but it does looks good in this trim. For example, in turn 4 Alonso was a tenth faster than Bottas, but Ricciardo who was almost certainly running more downforce than Alonso was two tenths faster. Additionally, both Alonso and Ricciardo perform similarly relative to Bottas through turns 1, 3, and 6. It’s looking like McLaren and Red Bull’s cars would perform similarly through the corners running at similar downforce levels. However, Alonso’s speeds through turns 7 and 10 go against this. Whereas Ricciardo was faster through the medium speed turn 7 than Bottas, Alonso was significantly slower. Turn 10 is also much slower. These could be simply due to driver error, and using Vandoorne’s trace below it does look as if Alonso had made an error at turn 7.
Ultimately, until Honda’s engine improve it will always be tricky to accurately rank McLaren’s chassis, but Austria’s qualifying provides further evidence that it does look promising.
Alonso vs Vandoorne
Honda brought their spec 3 engine to Austria for both drivers provided a much needed boost over spec 2. In typical fashion Alonso’s spec 3 engine failed before qualifying so unfortunately we never got to see what Alonso’s ultimate pace was. However, this does present an opportunity to compare the Honda spec 2 and spec 3 engines. Alonso’s trace is with the spec 2 engine, and Vandoorne’s is with spec 3. If we assume that both drivers cars were setup with equal or similar levels of drag such that differences in top end speed would be engine related, then we can get an idea of how much of an upgrade the spec 3 engine is.
In Sector 1 there is already a clear difference, with Vandoorne having a ~5kph advantage before braking. The difference on the straight to turn 3 is masked by Alonso being faster than Vandoorne through turn 1 and getting a good exit. Still, Vandoorne reaches a higher top speed and maintains this for a greater distance, whereas Alonso’s traces starts to fluctuate earlier. On the DRS straight from 3-4 Vandoorne’s speed trace is on par with Alonso, with Vandoorne marginally faster by 1kph or so. This is unsurprising as reducing drag will aid a weaker engine. The last straight is from 7-9, where Vandoorne reaches higher speeds towards the end, but this is a tricky one as I’d expect a greater advantage for Vandoorne here due to his higher apex speed. Perhaps he had to get out of the throttle momentarily decreasing his initial acceleration.
The time delta doesn’t show the performance the spec 3 engine added besides the straight before turn 1 where it is ~0.025s. The reason for this is that Alonso would often get a strong enough exit to counter the additional power of the spec 3 engine. Based on this I’d estimate the upgrade worth ~0.1s which is at least step forward.
Thanks for reading! Next up is Silverstone!