SPIELBERG, Austria, Jul 9 – Valtteri Bottas roared to the second victory of his career on Sunday when he won the Austrian Grand Prix for Mercedes ahead of championship leader Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari.
The Finn, in his first season with Mercedes after replacing 2016 champion Nico Rosberg, came home 0.658 seconds clear of Vettel who increased his lead over Lewis Hamilton in the drivers championship to 20 points.
Hamilton, in the second Mercedes, did his utmost to grab a podium finish after starting from eighth on the grid, but had to settle for fourth behind Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull.
“I had a bit of déjà vu in the end to what happened in Russia when he was right behind me,” said Bottas, who is now 19 points behind Hamilton in third.
“In the last stint, I had a massive blister on the rear left tyre, so that made it quite tricky. And I think it was the start of my life! I was just really on it today.”
Vettel said: “I was struggling a bit in the first part and much happier in the second stint. The last laps were very close – I think I needed one more lap because he was struggling to get up the hill.”
For Ricciardo, on his team’s ‘home’ Red Bull Ring circuit, it was a fifth consecutive podium finish and the 22nd of his career.
The Australian smiled: “It was a fun race with some decisive moments at the start and then defending Lewis in the last laps. It got pretty close!”
Vettel now leads the drivers championship with 171 points ahead of Hamilton on 151 and Bottas on 136, while in the constructors title race Mercedes lead with 287 ahead of Ferrari on 254.
Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion, came home fifth in the second Ferrari ahead of Romain Grosjean of Haas, the two Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon.
– perfect start –
On a warm afternoon in the Styrian Alps more than 12,000 Dutch fans had descended on the Red Bull Ring to add a festive atmosphere.
As the lights went out, Bottas made a perfect start – so perfect that his rivals were soon protesting and suggesting he had ‘jumped’ – and pulled clear, while behind him, in a cloud of carnage and debris, the ‘orange army’ sighed as their teenage hero Max Verstappen was forced into retirement under their grandstand at the first corner.
The luckless Red Bull driver had struggled at the start, due to a clutch problem, and was then caught when Russian Daniil Kvyat drove his Toro Rosso into the McLaren of Fernando Alonso.
Alonso’s car suffered serious rear damage and he was helpless as he rammed into Verstappen’s car. He was also forced to retire, again, with an extravagant shrug. It was Verstappen’s fifth retirement in seven races.
Amid this mayhem, the voice of Sebastian Vettel was heard on Ferrari team radio. Given his escape from further Baku ‘road rage’ punishment in Paris last Monday, it was ironic to hear him call for the stewards to penalise the Finn, who made the most of his second pole.
A stewards’ investigation followed during the race and found there was no evidence against Bottas, who had settled into a strong rhythm at the head of the field.
By lap 12, the field had settled with Bottas leading Vettel by eight seconds and Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Hamilton, who was the first of the leading men to pit on lap 32, switching to ultra-softs.
Vettel soon followed but Bottas stayed out for a further seven laps when he came in, re-joining second behind Raikkonen, who had yet to stop.
On fresh super-soft tyres, Bottas swept past Raikkonen on lap 44 to take command again. The Ferrari man pitted immediately, re-joining fourth behind Hamilton who was struggling for outright pace behind Ricciardo.
Vettel, second, began trading fastest laps with Bottas, who responded. By lap 51, with 20 to go, the Finn led by only four seconds ahead of Ricciardo and Hamilton.
With seven laps remaining, Bottas led Vettel by two seconds and Ricciardo led Hamilton by just one – perfect for the tense finish that unfolded.