July 15, 2024
10 things we learned from the 2023 F1 Austrian Grand Prix

On-track, the 2023 edition of the Austrian Grand Prix offered plenty of wheel-to-wheel action, arguably yielding one of the more exciting Formula 1 races of the year.

But many of its biggest talking points were off it – and quite literally too, as a track limits storm raged during and after the race at the Red Bull Ring.

The result itself was familiar, as Max Verstappen streaked to his seventh win in nine races, although Ferrari enjoyed an uptick in fortunes in Austria to beat its rivals at Mercedes and Aston Martin. Although multiple track limits violations pockmarked the field with in-race penalties to serve, Aston’s post-event protest uncovered more offences and shuffled the final results once again as the FIA dished out more punishments.

Here’s our customary 10 things that we’ve learned from this year’s Austrian Grand Prix.

1. The Verstappen train is not slowing down

It’s becoming increasingly likely that Red Bull is going to achieve what McLaren could not in 1988. Max Verstappen’s fifth F1 win in a row continued Red Bull’s stranglehold on 2023 and did so with pole, fastest lap, and a sprint race win to boot. If any other team is going to win this season, it needs Red Bull to fall down spectacularly – and it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case any time soon.

For Verstappen’s part, he barely looks as though he’s being challenged within his own team. Sergio Perez’s early flashes of performance and whisper-it-quietly innuendo that he could genuinely factor in the 2023 title battle appears to have eroded away having grappled with compromised qualifying sessions and indifferent race performances despite the all-conquering machinery at his disposal.

PLUS: The VSC tactic that encouraged Red Bull to lose the lead in Verstappen’s Austrian GP triumph

Even if Ferrari offered sporadic thorns in Red Bull’s side in Austria, Verstappen overcame them all and had enough in reserve to pit towards the end to claim the fastest lap point on soft tyres. The other teams simply do not have an answer to Red Bull and Verstappen at this current time.

But, just as Jean-Louis Schlesser wiped out Ayrton Senna in Monza 35 years ago, Verstappen cannot take it as granted that he’ll have it all his own way over the remainder of the season.

2. Track limits furore hits its nadir

Lewis Hamilton copped another 10-second hit to slide down to eighth

Lewis Hamilton copped another 10-second hit to slide down to eighth

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Over 1200 reports of track limits violations reached the FIA’s recording systems over the Austrian Grand Prix. While track limits strikes for going over the white line at Turns 9 and 10 were handed out, and penalties dished out accordingly, the result at the end of the chequered flag was conspicuously provisional. When Aston Martin protested the result, suggesting that the FIA had missed more run-off exploration in the final two corners, a further flurry of penalties were levied to rearrange the order once more.

Carlos Sainz was dropped from fourth to sixth, giving Lando Norris and Fernando Alonso positions further up. Lewis Hamilton copped another 10-second hit to slide down to eighth, while Pierre Gasly’s added race time doubled Lance Stroll’s haul from the race.

Esteban Ocon, who had already been lumbered with penalties throughout the race, was hit heaviest. The FIA found another 10 instances of track limits abuses in his name and sucker-punched him with 30 seconds added to his race time. He’d finished outside of the points anyway, but it nonetheless capped off a miserable afternoon and ended his four-race points-scoring streak. So it goes.

Regardless, the uncertainty over track limits and lack of a physical deterrent took an exciting race and allowed it to degenerate into a circus. The FIA, to its credit, had suggested gravel traps should line Turns 9 and 10 after last year’s race, but the Red Bull Ring circuit chiefs had rejected it. With everyone now calling for an alternative, it might be time to revisit that suggestion…

3. Inconsistent Ferrari shows competitive streak…

Leclerc's strong opening gambit brought him to within touching distance of Verstappen

Leclerc’s strong opening gambit brought him to within touching distance of Verstappen

Photo by: Alessio Morgese

Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz showed excellent form on Friday. The sole practice session hinted that the two SF-23s could hold an advantage over Mercedes and Aston Martin, and qualifying duly delivered on those promises as Leclerc and Sainz completed the top three behind Verstappen.

Then the team went mysteriously off-the-boil on Saturday, at least, relative to its Friday promise. Sainz at least broke into the top three, but Leclerc’s grid penalty for impeding Oscar Piastri placed him into the midfield – and a pitstop for slicks didn’t pay off.

Things changed on Sunday once more, and the team manoeuvred its way back to its Friday form, at least proving consistent in its inconsistency. Leclerc’s strong opening gambit brought him to within touching distance of Verstappen but, after a short first-lap skirmish, his bid to upset the Dutchman amounted to little. Pitting under the virtual safety car at least afforded Ferrari some time in the lead, Leclerc leading 10 laps, but Verstappen’s charge to catch up resulted in an all-too-familiar end product.

On a day where tyre degradation was greater than expected, Ferrari seemed to have a handle on it. Although it’s some way off Red Bull, ironing out the vast creases in race performance at least means the Scuderia can beat Mercedes and Aston Martin on a more regular basis.

4. …but Sainz points to disagreement with strategic calls

Ferrari's rigidity with regards to strategy caused some degree of consternation in the ranks

Ferrari’s rigidity with regards to strategy caused some degree of consternation in the ranks

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

For all of the plaudits that Ferrari has earned for its efforts in Austria, its rigidity with regards to strategy caused some degree of consternation in the ranks. In particular, the driver of its #55 car felt that he had been stifled by the team’s eagerness to retain the status quo in the opening stages.

Sainz may have a point. He was sitting on Leclerc’s gearbox until the call came to preclude him from attacking his team-mate, and the situation was such that when they pitted under the virtual safety car, a slow pitstop for Leclerc caused a delay for Sainz amid their double-stack efforts. The VSC came to an end when Sainz crawled out of the pitbox, costing him further time and dropped him behind Norris and Hamilton. Brow furrowed and teeth clenched, Sainz hurled his Ferrari past them to reclaim lost positions, but reckoned that trying to recoup lost time had caused his track limits violations. Without that, he reckoned a podium was for the taking.

The Spaniard did not speak in hindsight, having conveyed his frustration at the time. He may have been better served to call his own shots, as he has done in the past, and taken the risk to pass his team-mate and press on with his own race. After all, it’s sometimes easier to apologise than ask for permission.

5. McLaren updates look promising in Norris’s hands

Norris showed a far greater turn of pace than has been possible over the preceding eight races

Norris showed a far greater turn of pace than has been possible over the preceding eight races

Photo by: Alessio Morgese

A new floor and sidepod package, the next step in McLaren’s overhaul of its MCL60 chassis, had been fast-tracked for the Austrian Grand Prix – but only one was available. Norris was the lucky recipient, and showed a far greater turn of pace than has been possible over the preceding eight races. Qualifying fourth for the grand prix and third for the sprint race demonstrated the effect of the new upgrades, particularly relative to Oscar Piastri’s fortunes – or lack thereof – with the older specification.

Driver Ratings: 2023 Austrian Grand Prix

While a dash of anti-stall bogged Norris down in the sprint, there were fewer issues in the full-fat 71-lap race. Sure, he lost a position to Hamilton at the start, but he caught and passed the Mercedes driver to reclaim lost ground and later had enough performance to give former team-mate Sainz a run for his money. The attack fizzled out when Sergio Perez disrupted their battle, but fifth on the road (which later became fourth when Sainz got dropped to sixth post-race) showed that McLaren seemed to be on the right path.

Even Norris admitted his surprise with his race performance, despite feeling that the MCL60 still had a way to go to in delivering the drivers with more confidence behind the wheel. “I was a bit nervous coming into the race, that the race pace was going to let us down today but actually it was better than I was expecting which was a good surprise,” the Briton noted. “Still not great, Fernando was clearly quicker, a chunk every lap, and I am almost crashing in every corner but to be fifth shows we’ve made a good step forward, so I am very happy with that.”

6. Mercedes, Hamilton “surprised” by lack of pace in Austria

Mercedes suffered a difficult weekend in Austria

Mercedes suffered a difficult weekend in Austria

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

When Mercedes finally dropped its unique design concept and opted for a more conventional arrangement, its improved performance in Monaco, Spain, and Canada hinted that it had made the right decision. Austria’s struggles may prove to be an outlier, then, but a comparatively glacial turn of pace at the Red Bull Ring had flummoxed the team as it scrabbled around for answers.

It could be as innocuous as a set-up direction that did not agree with the W14’s new arrangement, and that the race could offer a learning experience for the engineers in what not to do. Winding out too much front wing appeared to be Hamilton’s main assessment into why Mercedes struggled, noting that the team over-compromised in trying to cure a still-tricky rear end.

“I definitely didn’t expect to be as bad as we were today,” he said. “I don’t really have an answer for it. It’s definitely surprising but the feeling of the car was very much the same as the feeling I’ve had all last year, so in that respect it’s not the biggest surprise.

“The last two races were way, way better than today. We knew that we had really bad rear end here, so we took out a lot of front wing to try and keep that balance so that we could do a long run and go long. We massively overdid it and I was almost full lock around the last two corners. Going into Turn 10 I was just sliding, and I couldn’t do anything about it. Through the stops we then added a lot of wing and the car started to slowly come back to at least getting round and staying on track.”

7. Projected 2026 rules earn mixed reviews amid early simulations

Christian Horner has been among those to express concern about the 2026 plans

Christian Horner has been among those to express concern about the 2026 plans

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

In two-and-a-bit seasons’ time, F1 will mix up its engine formula for the first time since 2014. The MGU-H, which has proven expensive and has offered little road relevance to the manufacturers, will be dropped and the MGU-K will play a much greater part in the overall package. The aim is for the MGU-K to produce 350kW of power (about 470bhp) – a considerable increase from the current 120kW (160bhp) unit used now. Active aerodynamics are set to play a part too in a bid to mitigate the continued issues in following other cars.

However, there have been concerns that the energy regeneration to deliver the full 350kW of power over a lap will be marginal at best, and that cars will be at risk of running out of battery power.

“Perhaps where we need to pay urgent attention before it’s too late, is to look at the ratio between combustion power and electrical power to ensure that we’re not creating a technical Frankenstein which will require the chassis to compensate to such a degree with movable aero and to reduce the drag to such a level that the racing will be affected,” Christian Horner reckoned. The suggestion is that the moveable aero and drivers’ inputs would have to be changed considerably to achieve the right energy regeneration.

Max Verstappen also stuck the boot in, suggesting that “it looks pretty terrible.”

“If you go flat-out on the straight at Monza, and I don’t know what it is, like four or five hundred [metres] before the end of the straight, you have to downshift flat-out because that’s faster,” he expanded. “I think that’s not the way forward. But of course, probably that’s one of the worst tracks.”

Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, however, accused Red Bull’s hierarchy of using a political play in the event that its Ford-partnered powertrain project was not going to deliver the returns expected.

“I think what frightens him more maybe is that his engine programme is not coming along, and then maybe he wants to kill it [the rules] that way. So you always have to question what’s the real motivation to say something like that?” said Wolff.

“We have developed these regulations over many years, with all the auto manufacturers being involved. It was a compromise that attracted Audi to finally joining the sport, and for Honda to stay in there. This is the best possible case that that one could imagine for F1.”

8. AlphaTauri to change clothes again – but won’t revive Toro Rosso moniker

AlphaTauri is set for another rebranding exercise

AlphaTauri is set for another rebranding exercise

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Ahead of the 2020 F1 season, the Scuderia Toro Rosso team metamorphosed into AlphaTauri in deference to the clothing brand owned by Red Bull GmbH. With its new name, Pierre Gasly carted the team to victory at that year’s Italian Grand Prix, and continued to star in the following year as the team was in the ascendancy.

On-track decline aside, as the team has struggled to get its head around the 2022-spec ground effect regulations, it appears that the team is set for another rebranding exercise as the AlphaTauri “deal” has run its course. What that could be remains to be seen, but the management explained during the Austrian GP weekend that this would not herald a return to the Toro Rosso name – which entered F1 in 2006 when Red Bull bought out Minardi.

“I don’t think [it will revert to Toro Rosso],” explained Franz Tost. “I think there’s another possibility to get more money out of it.”

“First of all, at this period of the year, all the teams negotiate with sponsors. And of course, we have also negotiations, and the title sponsor is very attractive one, and we will see then what the negotiations will bring in the next months. But currently, we are talking to different companies. Fortunately, there is a big interest in Scuderia AlphaTauri. But nothing is confirmed, nothing is signed so far. And this will also not happen in the next few days. I think this will take a few months until everything has been fixed.”

This comes as the team is expected to further its links to Red Bull and take as many transferrable parts as it can within the bounds of the regulations, as well as expanding its operations in the UK.

9. De Vries finds himself on borrowed time

De Vries is in dire need of a strong British Grand Prix as he faces continued pressure

De Vries is in dire need of a strong British Grand Prix as he faces continued pressure

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

When a driver’s future in F1 is under threat, their response can either earn a reprieve or exacerbate any ill feeling within the team. Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s advisor who largely deals with drivers across the two teams it owns on the grid, piled further pressure on Nyck de Vries prior to the Austrian GP weekend amid the diminutive Dutchman’s difficult start to 2023 – and de Vries’ performance at the Red Bull Ring will have done little to ease that.

After qualifying last, de Vries’ car was given a set-up change to prompt a pitlane start for the grand prix. While he seemed to be more comfortable with the overall package thereafter, he was guilty of overdriving and once again caused ructions with Kevin Magnussen for the second race in a row. Although Magnussen’s bid to pass de Vries around the outside at Turn 6 was ambitious, he was sufficiently alongside to earn racing room. Instead, the Dane was forced to run across the gravel as the AlphaTauri pushed him off the track.

De Vries earned a five-second penalty for his part in the incident, while Magnussen managed to mask any irate feelings afterwards. “He’s racing for his future and [is] maybe in a bit of a desperate situation,” Magnussen concluded. “There’s nothing I can say, really. He got a penalty so it is what it is.”

As a result, de Vries is in dire need of a strong British Grand Prix if he is to keep the baying wolves from the door.

10. Wet weather wheel arches to be trialled at Silverstone

Mercedes and McLaren will conduct testing to explore how spray during wet races can be mitigated

Mercedes and McLaren will conduct testing to explore how spray during wet races can be mitigated

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Following this weekend’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone, both Mercedes and McLaren will conduct testing on behalf of the FIA to affix wheel arches to their cars in a bid to explore how spray during wet races can be mitigated. This was originally conceived after the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, notable for featuring no racing laps as visibility was far too limited to allow for anything other than cursory running behind the safety car.

This test has had an extra level of importance placed upon it by the unfortunate passing of Formula Regional European Championship driver Dilano van ‘t Hoff, who perished in an accident at Spa on Saturday following a crash at the exit of Raidillon in wet conditions. Amid poor visibility, the 18-year-old crashed on the Kemmel Straight and another car caught him unsighted amid the spray.

This prompted condolences and pockets of anger within the F1 community, which reasoned that drastic changes were necessary to eliminate the possibility of such circumstances ever happening again. Lack of visibility has long been a growing concern among drivers, and it is hoped that the wheel arch test can begin to provide solutions towards fixing the issues created by spray in the wet.

The 2023 Austrian GP saw a familiar result, with both Red Bulls on the podium

The 2023 Austrian GP saw a familiar result, with both Red Bulls on the podium

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

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