Austrian GP Review 2024
July 1, 2024

McLaren has continually closed in on Red Bull in the development fight between the constructors this year, and the classic British team now has the fastest car. Verstappen's speed has again and again made all the difference for Red Bull when they're on the backfoot. However, his aggression cost them a win at their home track, and questions over the champion's racecraft will linger over the remainder of 2024 after this slow-burn Austrian GP.

Saturday's Sprint Race suggested that Verstappen and Norris would be the ones to vie for victory, and so it seemed after lights out. The pair started on the front row and continued unrivalled in the opening laps, much to the delight of the sizeable travelling Dutch contingent in the grandstands.

Any early-race action came further behind, with Lewis Hamilton seizing P4 from Carlos Sainz at Turn 1. The seven-time champion went wheel-to-wheel against the driver whose seat he's taking for 2026, with Sainz taking to the run-off area to avoid contact. Though Sainz was frustrated to lose out, things were worse for the sister Ferrari of Leclerc. The Monegasque driver's poor getaway saw Oscar Piastri and Sergio Perez squeezing either side of him at the first corner. Slight contact damaged his front wing. Leclerc pitted for repairs but was out of contention, eventually crossing the line in P11.

Buoyed by his early move, Hamilton began to push Russell for P3, creeping up to his teammate's rear wing and sending a move on the inside of the Turn 3 hairpin on Lap 3. It was a short-lived pass, though, with Russell gaining DRS to regain the place into Turn 4. That Russell fightback might've been fortunate for Hamilton, though, with his race engineer 'Bono' telling him of a stewards' investigation into his Sainz overtake. He let the Spaniard back to P4 rather than risk a penalty, which was much simpler to do without Russell behind him.

It all settled down in the upper positions, but the midfield melee was just beginning. Alex Albon brought some rare positive TV time for Williams as he overtook Charles Leclerc, who had Pirelli's hard tyre compound. Fernando Alonso picked up a 10-second penalty after hitting Guanyu Zhou in a messy Turn 3 overtake. The Spaniard was also central to another in-team Alpine squabble, with Pierre Gasly complaining that teammate Esteban Ocon was too slow in overtaking Alonso, and the two fought fiercely once clear of the Aston Martin.

Austrian GP Review 2024

In the front-running places, pit stops and varying tyre strategies between Pirelli's mediums and hard tyres had fewer overtakes but not none. Piastri showed McLaren's capabilities by closing in on Hamilton and passing for a net P5. The Australian had qualified P3, but a track limits penalty dropped him to P7, and he would soon wonder what might've been.

The final scheduled stops had Verstappen pitting to get a fresh set of tyres for the final 20 laps, with the seven-seconds-adrift Norris following suit. Verstappen saw that advantage halved as his left-rear gunner couldn't remove his wheel at first, losing time and even waiting for Norris' pit entry before leaving his pit box. Cracks started to show on the out lap as he locked up at the downhill Turn 4, letting Norris close in even more.

A grandstand finale began as Norris took advantage of his brand-new Pirelli medium tyres while his Red Bull rival ran a used set. The distance between them reduced until the Brit was within a second of Verstappen, letting him benefit from the all-important DRS. A ten-lap tussle began with Norris going down the inside of Turn 3 in a move that Verstappen had fended off one day earlier. Again, Verstappen defended from the attack Brit, leading Norris to complain on the radio that Verstappen had moved under braking – a sign of things to come.

Norris' next attempt followed three laps later, but this time, he outbraked himself and ran over the exit kerb, letting Verstappen back through. Further complicating the fight was an investigation for track limits hanging over Norris preceding this wide moment. His next attempt was on the outside, seemingly hoping for a better run to Turn 4, but again, Verstappen held firm.

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Austrian GP Review 2024

One more late-braking attempt on the inside had Norris through, with Verstappen taking to the run-off to stay ahead. The Dutchman, famed for his divebomb overtakes, complained, "It's just divebombing, it's not how you overtake," without any sense of irony. The hard-fought defending peaked on Lap 64 when Norris tried one final move on the outside. Verstappen left no space on the corner entry, and the two collided, damaging each other's wheels and puncturing the tyres.

The contact was a dream come true for Russell, who was some 12 seconds adrift of the leaders. As Verstappen and Norris tiptoed their cars to the pit lane, Russell overtook them both before the pit entry to take the lead. Verstappen stopped for a set of softs, while Norris retired to record the first 2024 race he hasn't finished.

Yet there was still hope for McLaren. Piastri, who had closed in on Sainz after overtaking Hamilton earlier, performed the best overtake of the race by sweeping around the outside of the Ferrari at Turn 6 to take P2. He was three seconds adrift of Russell with five laps remaining, but a Virtual Safety Car to clear the debris from the Verstappen-Norris crash paused his charge. Piastri eventually finished 1.9s behind to take P2, while Russell, the man he outqualified before receiving that track limits grid drop, drove to the win.

A 10-second penalty for Verstappen didn't change his final result, with him crossing the line P5. He still extended his championship lead after Norris' retirement and Leclerc's point-less race, but he might've lost a friendship. He and Norris have a long-standing history of sim racing and off-track friendliness, but that all changed on Sunday in Spielberg. With Silverstone coming this weekend, the fight for first has become ferocious.

Austrian GP Review 2024
Austrian GP Review 2024