By Callum Springall
Mercedes‘ Valterri Bottas took a controlled win of fine margins in Spielberg – but with a 35-point deficit to the Formula 1 championship Sebastian Vettel, does this mean that he’s truly in the hunt to become world champion?
Well, not really; 43 points out of the last 50 does indicate the new ‘Iceman’ is on a hot streak, but the gap would be significantly bigger had the last two grands prix gone more smoothly for the two main protagonists.
Lewis Hamilton’s head rest debacle and Vettel’s Baku head rush means they both could have extended their lead over Bottas had things gone to plan, while the Brit’s gearbox penalty in Austria took away a potential victory – or at least a guaranteed podium.
So in a parallel universe Hamilton and Vettel could be a further 10 points ahead – in which case Bottas would be around two race wins in arrears and ostensibly consigned to a natural supporting role to his team-mate.
But even with things as they are, the Mercedes number two would reasonably need another four or five wins between now and the season’s end if he is to take his first crown.
That being said, his main rival in the second half of the season could well be Hamilton, since Ferrari have dropped off their perch in the last few races as their main enemies seek greater gains in downforce with the arrival of the European season.
Now couple that to the fact they appear to have surmounted the tyre issues that severely hampered Hamilton in both Sochi and Monte Carlo. If Nico Rosberg’s replacement is to win the title, he may need a few more of those hiccups to resurface given their three-times champion tends to be the one who react more adversely to tyre troubles.
Mind you whether Ferrari have faltered or not, Vettel keeps working his miracles and could have returned to the top step – having only been off the podium once – and were it not for his hot-headedness last time out, he would have a totally unblemished copybook.
On the other hand, a home win at Silverstone – and no, this isn’t a reference to Jolyon Palmer – would really put the cat among the pigeons, reducing the German’s lead to at most 13 points. Then things would start to look precarious, as the circuits from here until after the summer break instantly feel like Mercedes territory.
Daniel Ricciardo worked a miracle of his own again to take a fifth-straight podium in bang-average Red Bull machinery, by coolly keeping a fast-charging Mercedes at bay despite its known advantage on the straights. The Honey Badger has been outshone in talent alone by Max Verstappen for much of the season – largely over one lap – but Ricciardo has more than once put himself in a position to succeed, which is now less of a habit and more of a canny knack. Good on him.
Behind him – and I mean right behind him – was Hamilton, who couldn’t really have expected much better on a track with the highest average speed of any on the calendar, and where overtaking opportunities are fairly sparse. Conversely, his car should sit pretty for the next few races – notwithstanding a Ferrari development surge – and possibly until around Singapore or Suzuka. Although in fairness, Vettel does often turn it on as the season reaches its climax. Just check his record!
Further down, Verstappen was again unlucky as a poor start sent him into anti-stall mode, which sent him tumbling down the field before Daniil Kvyat came in ‘like a torpedo’ in trademark fashion, sending Fernando Alonso careering not only into the Red Bull, but also into another McLaren retirement.
Force India‘s battle with Williams was quiet once again, although I haven’t a clue how Williams ended up in the points so their long-run pace must have been as handy as Felipe Massa claimed it to be. In the constructors’ fight, it’s Force India who seem to have it all but signed, sealed and delivered.
Elsewhere, Jolyon Palmer finished 11th for Renault to cement his status as the new Esteban Gutierrez, and McLaren missed out on possible points with Alonso out before he really got going. As for Stoffel Vandoorne, he felt the stewards come down on him like a tonne of bricks when a drive through penalty ruined all chance of a points finish – for not letting the leaders through soon enough.
Still, for him to narrowly miss out on Q3 on a power dependent circuit is promising – despite the relative backward step in engine performance this year.
♦ Callum Springall is a blogger with the NRF1. You can follow Callum on Twitter @callumspring18