After a weekend where Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes seized the initiative in their battle with Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari for the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship by winning the French Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul Ricard, the grid heads to Austria, and the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg for Round Nine of the championship, and the second leg of Formula One’s first-ever triple-header.
Hamilton (145 points) leads the world championship by 14 points over Sebastian Vettel (131 points) after dominating the first French Grand Prix since 2008 from pole position, leading all but one lap to claim his third victory of the season while all the carnage happened behind him, with Vettel being given a five-second time penalty for colliding with Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, which damaged both of their cars, with Vettel managing to drive his way back through the field to claim fifth, although over a minute behind Hamilton, in what was a strong damage limitation effort.
And with the difficulties for Bottas, Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer driver Daniel Ricciardo (96 points) has jumped back up to third in the championship, despite some difficulties during the race caused by a damaged front wing, which ultimately cost him a podium finish, finishing in fourth position, while Bottas (92 points) moves down to fourth position after a tough race in France, finishing seventh with a wounded car.
Kimi Räikkönen (83 points) is fifth in the world championship for Ferrari after securing his 25th podium in his last 103 races (102 starts), but with no victories in those 25 podiums after finishing third in France after showing some strong pace after a bad start, overtaking his ailing teammate in Vettel, who was struggling with his tyres, as well as the ailing Ricciardo, who had a damaged front wing, to secure his fourth podium of the season.
Max Verstappen (68 points) is sixth in the championship, but is quickly finding some strong form after picking up his third podium of the year, finishing second, and keeping Hamilton honest for much of the race. However, the hopes of Ricciardo, Bottas, Räikkönen, and Verstappen catching Hamilton and Vettel in the world championship battle appear to be evaporating by the race, and are slowly becoming non-serious championship contenders.
Behind the top six in the championship, Nico Hülkenberg (34 points) moves up to seventh in the standings for Renault after finishing ninth at the Circuit Paul Ricard, a position behind his teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. in what was a tough weekend for the German after starting in 12th position on the grid.
Fernando Alonso (32 points) has dropped a spot in the championship to eighth after being classified 16th after stopping late in the race with suspension issues with his car in what was a disastrous weekend for McLaren-Honda, while Sainz Jr. (28 points) and Kevin Magnussen (27 points) complete the top 10 in the championship for Renault and Haas-Ferrari.
Looking at the Constructors’ Championship standings, Mercedes (237 points) have extended their lead over Ferrari (214 points) in the championship to 23 points, while Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer (164 points) continue to lock down a comfortable third in the championship. Behind them, Renault (62 points) have pulled away from McLaren-Renault (40 points) in the battle for fourth, while Force India-Mercedes (28 points) hang onto sixth position by a point ahead of Haas-Ferrari (27 points), while Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda (19 points), Sauber-Ferrari (13 points), and Williams-Mercedes (four points) complete the standings.
So, who will win the Austrian Grand Prix?
I think if the new power-unit from Mercedes gives them the sort of advantage that they had in France, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will be very hard to beat, but I suspect Ferrari will also be a strong contender for the race win, particularly with Sebastian Vettel.