By Hong Lau
We have officially started our Formula 1 European tour, and it’s been in full effect. We start at the Red Bull ring in beautiful Austria. This is one of the fastest and shortest tracks in all of racing, and man is it jam-packed. To list the obvious, it’s just below 70 seconds per lap with only ten turns and 3 DRS Zones. The whole time it’s action-packed with overtakes.
Red Bull dominated again this week, but I think that’s just become something we are accustomed to over the last two years. I’ve said this many times, and I’ll say it many times again. I don’t think anyone in the world doubts that Max Verstappen is the best DRIVER in the world. This makes it 5 in a row for him, and it doesn’t even feel fair. Besides in qualifying, where Charles Leclerc put in a BLISTERING lap (go check it out), he didn’t really sweat all weekend. To give context, he put in almost a full second per lap into his teammate during the Sprint Race. He won by 20+ seconds in 24 laps which is absurd. He followed that up with a dominant win on race day by almost getting another grand slam (fastest lap, pole position, win the race and lead every lap) and doing it convincingly. I worry about Sergio Perez’s confidence, as he has slumped over the last few races. It was nice to see Checo on the podium and put some real pace into the car, but he looks like a whole two tiers below Max Verstappen. For context, Max could miss the next three races, not score a point, and still be in the lead for the championship.
Ferrari continues to do the same as usual. Disappoint on race days, although my expectation of Ferrari has now become that, so I wouldn’t say they disappointed me. The SF23 continues to look like an incredible car on a single-lap pace but does not have the complete package during the race. Their tyre degradation continues to be high, and the car just doesn’t seem to have the same consistency as the Red Bull. Seeing their straight-line speed this weekend was impressive as they had a FAST car down the straights. It’s been an interesting year in the battle of the drivers, as, on any given weekend, both drivers have looked stronger at times. Carlos Sainz leads Charles by 10 points which are very misleading due to Charles retiring his car twice already this year. At the same time, Charles has had Ferrari’s only two podiums of the year. I can honestly say that I think Ferrari is doomed for the next 2-3 years and doesn’t have a shot to be a championship contender until the new era. Now on the positive side, the lap that Charles put in was incredible and such a fun lap to watch.
Mercedes had an interesting weekend. The team did not look strong, and it seems to be having such variances in its performances. Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We all know that Mercedes has thrown in the towel for this season and is gearing up its car for the 2024 F1 Calendar. I have no doubts that the team will be ultra-competitive when next March hits. I thought this would be a circuit on which their car could come alive. Seeing Lewis Hamilton “complain” as Max Verstappen did in 2021 was interesting, and people scolded him for that. I would say that if you’re going to scold one, you better scold the other. George Russell bounced back from a tough qualifying on race day. I would stick to my statement that these two are the best driver pairing on the grid at the moment.
Other notes quickly are Lando Norris looked INCREDIBLE this weekend. I would probably have him in race pace right behind Max Verstappen. Yes, that’s right, I have him ahead of Lewis Hamilton in race pace. The guy is FAST; I think he still has a lot of things to work on, like his awareness, his tyre deg and a lot more, but he’s fast. The McLaren team seems to have found its foot after about a year in a half with a struggling car. As I always say, it’s incredible seeing Valtteri Bottas at the bottom of the grid (not a fan, never will be). Aston Martin continues to look status quo; it doesn’t feel like their upgrade really elevated the car that much on this circuit.
See you guys in a week. We are headed to my favourite circuit, Silverstone!