The 2022 Austrian GP was an action-packed race that perfectly concluded an exciting weekend of Formula 1. This was a special weekend for F1 because we experienced an F1 Sprint weekend for the first time since the 2022 Emilia-Romagna GP. In the Sprint format, qualifying is on Friday, determining the grid order for the Sprint race on Saturday. The sprint results determine the grid order for the GP on Sunday. The Top 8 score points in the Sprint. In qualifying, it was an incredibly close fight for pole between Verstappen, Leclerc and Sainz. Verstappen clinched pole by 0.029 seconds from Leclerc, with Sainz being 0.082 off pole in P3. INCREDIBLE.
The Sprint race was exactly how a sprint race should be; it kept fans at the edge of their seats for a short burst of racing action. We saw a hectic start, aggressive battling between the Ferraris, and action in midfield, especially because of Perez making a comeback after a disappointing qualifying. But one thing was clear – Verstappen took an easy win. It was smooth sailing for him in P1. Leclerc only caught up and reduced the gap to 1.6 seconds later in the race.
Compare Verstappen’s strength in the Sprint to the Grand Prix. There’s a clear difference because Charles Leclerc sped to victory at the 2022 Austrian GP. Verstappen proved in the sprint and in qualifying that on pure pace he was stronger. But despite being close behind on pace, Leclerc was clearly stronger in the long run, which helped him to win this race. Ferrari’s strategy team also redeemed themselves with strategic victories throughout the race.
But it wasn’t all joy and happiness for Ferrari. Because even though Leclerc won for the first time since the 2022 Australian GP, Sainz suffered a retirement. Sainz’s retirement was gutting as his car and his hopes went up in flames. And that is something we will analyse further. Ferrari’s performance, Verstappen’s failure in the race, and the madness in the midfield are what we will analyse in this 2022 Austrian GP Race Review.
The 2022 Austrian GP Was Bittersweet For Ferrari
The 2022 Austrian GP was shaping up to be a fantastic race weekend for Ferrar. Both the Ferrari drivers were on Verstappen’s tail in qualifying. And in the Sprint, both Ferraris showed hints of being stronger than Verstappen in the long run. In the race, things were going swimmingly for Ferrari. In the first 10 laps, Ferrari faced a similar situation as they did in the Sprint. Verstappen was faster than both of their cars and was able to maintain his lead. But the difference was that both the Ferraris were able to stick to Verstappen, especially Leclerc.
Leclerc didn’t let Verstappen pull out of DRS range, meaning the gap remained below a second. This is where Leclerc’s driving makes the difference. At the end of Lap 11, Leclerc was closing in on Verstappen. And at Turn 4 on Lap 12, despite Verstappen defending, Leclerc made an aggressive and unexpected move up the inside to take the lead from Verstappen. That kind of opportunism is a characteristic of drivers who have exceptional racecraft. Charles Leclerc’s late braking shows his confidence in his car and his ability to do what is needed to be done and when it needs to be done.
At the end of Lap 13, Verstappen came into the pits. When he came out, he was stuck behind some traffic for a few laps. But after that, in clean air, he started consistently gaining time on the Ferraris. By Lap 26, Ferrari thought it was time for Leclerc to come in. Lap 26 was the perfect pit window for a one-stop from the Mediums to the Hards. But Red Bull, and many other teams, thought that this was a two-stop race. That’s why Verstappen pitted so early. Sainz pitted the next lap, allowing Ferrari to have both drivers against Verstappen.
After that, the Ferraris took advantage of their fresh rubber to gain on Verstappen. Leclerc reduced an 11-second gap in 5 laps to catch up to Verstappen. On Lap 33, Leclerc made the move into Turn 3 against a defenceless Verstappen. On Lap 37, Verstappen came into the pits for a 2nd stop. At this point, since Ferrari were supposedly sticking to the one-stop, Verstappen had until the end of Lap 71 to overtake Leclerc and Sainz to win.
Given how he had a lot of laps and fresh rubber, this was a risky position for Ferrari. That’s why, on Lap 49, Leclerc pitted, with Sainz pitting a lap later. Leclerc came out of the pits just behind Verstappen, putting him in a prime position to once again regain the lead. On Lap 53, Leclerc switchbacked Verstappen through Turn 3 to take the lead of the race from Verstappen.
READ MORE: 2022 Azerbaijan GP Race Review – Ferrari Double-DNF!!!!
This was the 3rd time in the 2022 Austrian GP that Leclerc overtook Verstappen on track. While Leclerc pulled away from Verstappen, Sainz got closer just as rapidly. On Lap 57, he was well within a second from Verstappen. And that’s when the engine failure struck. A solid 18 points, high hopes, and a Ferrari F1-75 went up in flames. This is a major issue for Ferrari. This is why it was a bittersweet day for them. They were on course to gain major points on Red Bull, but they only managed to gain 6 points. Sainz was about to overtake Verstappen for P2, but his car broke down. The retirement marked Ferrari’s 4th reliability-related retirement of the season. And all 4 of them were from mechanical failures. After the disasterclass at Azerbaijan, these reliability gremlins really should’ve been sorted out.
The car caught fire, with the fire being fairly large. The FIA and the marshals’ response was also suboptimal. Sainz had to wait for some time until he could be safely extracted from the car, despite the raging fire. This reliability issue was another mental blow for Sainz. He was “lost for words” after losing an “easy 1-2” for Ferrari. This is something that Ferrari desperately needs to fix. What’s worse was that late in the race, in the final laps, Leclerc had a reliability scare.
READ MORE: 2022 British GP Race Review – Sainz Wins Hectic Race
He reported that when he was braking for corners and he took his foot off the throttle, the throttle pedal was sticking. When a driver brakes, their foot goes completely off the throttle, so that the car doesn’t accelerate under braking. But late in the race, Leclerc’s throttle pedal was sticking, meaning his car would accelerate under braking. It was some mechanical issue. That not only made braking difficult, but it made it very difficult to downshift. That allowed Verstappen to come within around 2-3 seconds of Leclerc. But Leclerc maintained the lead and still came through to win the 2022 Austrian GP.
Why Couldn’t Verstappen Match His Sprint Performance?
One of the concerns that people had with the introduction of Sprint races was that the Sprint would take away from the unpredictability and the uniqueness of the Grand Prix. However, in the 2022 Austrian GP, there were clear differences that made both races exciting and unique. The biggest difference was the drivers’ performances. Since the sprint was 23 laps, but the Grand Prix was 71 laps, the element of strategy and consistency came into play. In a Sprint race, it’s all about a short burst of pace to make it to the finish line. It’s more of a 30-minute adrenaline rush. But the Grand Prix is much longer, and Verstappen and Red Bull proved to be weaker in the long run.
Max Verstappen struggled with tire wear, which is why he pitted so early in the race. On top of that, towards the end of the sprint, he lost pace in a similar fashion. In the Grand Prix, he not only struggled with pace but had to deal with a suboptimal strategy from Red Bull. After his first stop, Verstappen was left chasing after the Ferraris. He was catching them fast on his fresh rubber. It looked like Red Bull might’ve taken the right call after all. But after they pitted, the Ferraris used their fresh rubber to chase after Verstappen. The tables had turned, and since he had already spent quite a few laps on his current set, the Ferraris caught up to him so fast he didn’t have time to react.
READ MORE: 2022 Monaco GP Race Review – Cheers For Checo, Pain For Charles
This happened twice – Verstappen was left helpless again when Ferrari decided that their drivers had to pit for the 2nd time. So the strategy mistakes combined with a lack of pure pace to combat the Ferraris resulted in a suboptimal race for Verstappen. P2 is still a great result, along with a point for the fastest lap. But Ferrari beating Red Bull in Red Bull’s home race would definitely have been a blow for them. For me, the worst part for Red Bull was that Leclerc managed to overtake Verstappen 3 times in one race!
Max Verstappen isn’t the only driver whose Sprint race was stronger than his Grand Prix. Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez had a horrible Austrian GP. In the Sprint race, he started in P13 after a disappointing qualifying. Perez was absolutely on fire in the Sprint race. He kept fans entertained as he crusaded through the midfield. At the end of the Sprint, he finished in P5, meaning that’s where he started the race. Perez didn’t get the best race start in the GP. But ahead of him, Russell and Sainz were battling, which allowed him to pull alongside Russell into Turn 3.
Perez tried to overtake Russell into Turn 4. Russell defended the inside line, forcing Perez to go on the outside line. Russell did exactly what Hamilton did in 2020 – he was in a Mercedes, on the inside through Turn 4, and he clipped and spun a Red Bull into the gravel on the exit of T4. Perez fell to last and suffered a puncture and some damage, meaning he was in dead last and over 30 seconds behind the pack. Perez retired from the race on Lap 24. He said that he “had the whole race ahead of me and I thought I had good opportunities coming my way, so it was very painful. We had a lot of damage to the car, and we were going nowhere so we had to retire.” It marked a difficult and disappointing race for Red Bull after losing out to Ferrari.
Madness In The Midfield
The midfield battles that took place throughout this race were fantastic. There were gaps between when the leaders would battle because of strategy differences, and during those gaps, there would be battles in the midfield. In the first half of the race, Lewis Hamilton battled the Haas cars. He started the race in P8, with Magnussen in P7 and Schumacher in P9. Hamilton had battled with Schumacher in the sprint, and he won that battle. However, in the early parts of the Grand Prix, Mick Schumacher reignited that fight by overtaking Hamilton. A few laps later, however, Hamilton fought back and cleared both the Hass cars in one lap! A few laps later, Lewis Hamilton had a short battle with his 2021 Championship Rival Max Verstappen. Unlike in 2021, Verstappen breezed past the Merc after a couple of corners.
The next midfield battle was one of the most memorable moments of this season so far for me. Pictured above was the 5-way battle for the last couple of points-paying positions. That means P8-P10 since the Top 10 are the points-paying positions. This battle was a work of art. It was hard evidence of how racing has improved in 2022. It’s because of battling and action like this that Formula 1 has such a strong fan base and F1 is able to entertain that fan base. Compound this battle with the battle for the lead, and it’s a perfect race in terms of excitement.
The 5-way fight started with Fernando Alonso trying to overtake Zhou Guanyu at the end of Lap 23. Alonso tried to get Zhou into the final corner but was forced to back off, which invited Magnussen to the fight. By Turn 1, Zhou, Alonso and Magnussen were 3-wide into Turn 1. Magnussen used the inside line to gain 2 positions in one corner. Down the straight into Turn 3, Zhou was slow – he must’ve had a bad exit out of Turn 1. Alonso pulled alongside and tried to overtake Zhou into Turn 3. But suddenly, because of the fighting in Turn 1, Norris and Schumacher joined the fight. Five drivers slammed the brakes and entered Turn 3 together.
Norris overtook Zhou and Alonso into Turn 3, and was about to overtake Magnussen. However, he had the outside line out of Turn 3 and ran out of road. Norris tried again at Turn 4, but he couldn’t make the move while wrestling the seemingly unstable McLaren. In this fantastic battle, it was Zhou Guanyu who lost out and fell 4 positions as he struggled for pace. This is something we’ve never seen during the previous era of F1. But with the new regulations, it has been made possible for groups of cars like this to battle. With performance gaps between teams being minimised, the midfield is incredibly tight, and an area to watch as the season progresses.