An Ignorant American: Why The Austrian GP Was So Good
Welcome back to Ignorant American F1! I know I'm a little late on this week's write up, but think of it as an overcut. Hey, I know what that is now. Also, I'm still a lap ahead of both McLarens, so I guess I could be an F1 car if I wanted. Wow, I can't wait for your papaya-tinged hate in the comments. Like, next week because McLaren is slow.
Anyway, Austria was the 9th Grand Prix I've ever seen, and I could give you a noob's recap sprinkled with jokes to hide my idiocy as I usually do when I'm late to post. But because Austria was such a good race, it has already been recapped and summarized and sung as minstrel's ballads a hundred times over, all across the world, and frankly you don't need me to tell you what Rob Burnett already told you better than I can do. But speaking of Rob, there was an... erm, "gentleman" who commented on his write up of Austria, comparing the excitement of fans over the race with a very indecent and anatomically unlikely act of self-gratification. Even that is saltier language than I like to use, so my apologies, but his point was that there was nothing special about Austria to warrant such rave reviews. Instead of a recap, this article is what follows a sassy "OH WASN'T THERE?" in response to said gentleman's attitude, as I give my two ignorant bits about what makes a great F1 race. Because as a sporting event, Austria was a great race from start to finish, and here's why I think most of us agree on that.
So, a great race is great when it gives us...
Human beings like to be surprised. What's somewhat ironic about this F1 season is that what should be a surprising event - a massive wreck on lap 1 - has actually been the rule rather than the exception. Watching Bahrain in my innocence of several months ago, I was delighted to see contact between F1 cars at the first turn. But by Canada, I was already a little bored with a big crash right away. "Get that Rosso off of that Williams and let's get back to racing," I found myself not really saying. But in Austria, very unexpectedly we saw a great start with place changes among the leaders, everyone racing hard, and no real contact. It was actually quite thrilling - and more of a surprise than a pile-up at this point - to see the drivers of the Ferraris and the Mercedes and the Red Bulls use their superhuman skill to keep their cars millimeters apart through the first turns. Maybe picturesque Austria just has really serious anti-littering laws, and that accounts for the almost complete lack of carbon fiber shrapnel strewn across the piney mountains, but it was cool to see the cars tested against each other instead of smashed against each other for once.
Now, another layer of unpredictably that added flavor to Austria was the DNF list. No one is really surprised to see Vandoorne and Hartley not finish a race, and if the only other car to give up was Nico's Renault there would be about 30 seconds of "What happened to the yellows?" and then back to crowning Lewis king of the leadfoots. Leadfeet? I’ll ask Samwise. But to see Ricciardo with smoke pouring from his engine and a DNF next to his name after the Red Bulls have really gotten their act together this year was a bit jarring. Then to see both Mercs go down due to mechanical issues for the first time since 1955?! And Hamilton with only 8 laps to go? No one saw that coming. I would bet that a lot of gamblers lost a lot of cash. Put it all together and fans really got something they didn't expect, which is objectively exciting.
Something I've learned in six months of F1 fandom is that most people love Kimi Raikkonen. And why not? The man could win every race of the season by 20 minutes, and when a reporter asked him how he did it he'd just say, "I drove faster than the other cars." In a world of loud-mouthed sports celebrities trying to be flashy enough to get movie deals, Kimi shows up to work. He’d be a great bus driver (greatest of all time?), but instead he drives an F1 car. To a Finn I guess it’s all the same.
Opinions are more divided on Max Verstappen. Depending on who you ask he's either the avant garde, future of the sport, love child of Michael Schumacher and Jackie Stewart, or an idiotic toddler in a fireproof romper who is the living illustration of everything that's wrong with F1. But what Max and Kimi have in common is that no one expected them to go 1 and 2 in Austria, but we all loved to see them do it.
Why? Because we love to see unlikely heroes conquer, because we all have obstacles that seem too big for us to overcome. Whether it's Cheryl from accounting who's not very nice, or the automotive dynasty of Mercedes that has set the benchmark for precision engineering for over a hundred years, we all have our giants to face. I know Ferrari and Red Bull are hardly underdogs, but seeing Max and Kimi do so well when Lewis and Bottas already had their names inscribed on those awkward trophies is inspiring no matter who you are. Then seeing Haas go 4th and 5th, both Force Indias and both Saubers in the top ten, and Alo in 8th? Anything is possible now. Go tell Cheryl you need a new stapler and you're not leaving until you get one.
Proof That Goliath Can Bleed
To hear some commentators commentate before Austria, Lewis was already unbeatable in the driver's championship, and with the predicted one-two from Mercedes the constructors' was basically over already as well - at the halfway point of the season. Sure, Mercedes has had a few issues, but among them have not been car reliability or driver mistakes, and after their latest updates and before Austria I probably would have agreed that, barring some strange accident, Mercedes was on pace to take the season. Then, suddenly, some giant purple dude went overboard with his bejeweled glove and annihilated both Mercedes cars instead of half of them. To know that even the genuine frontrunners are subject to the same laws of physics and chaos and mechanical unpredictability as everyone else has to put a spring in the step of every other team. Goliath has stumbled. Every race is once again a race, not a game of follow the silver arrow. This is exciting for fans because it means there are sports competitions happening, not just a parade of really fast cars as has often been insinuated. Like Leonidas’ spear at the end of 300, Austria proved that even gods can bleed, and fans love to see it.
Major Consequences for the Season
The final thing that made Austria great was the fact that the results matter for the rest of the season. It wasn’t just that Mercedes showed an uncharacteristic weakness – it’s that the races for both the drivers’ and the constructors’ championships are now very close, very interesting, and very good. Ferrari and Mercedes now have the exact same number of wins (3 each) and the same number of podiums (10 each). Vettel leads Hamilton by a point, and Ferrari leads Mercedes by 10 points. If there was a 50-point margin in both championships going into Austria, the same results would have been interesting but less monumental and therefore less exciting. As it stands now, Austria matters for the rest of the season because it closed the gaps between the leaders. As with any other sport, regular season games are fine or whatever, but it usually doesn’t get exciting until the finals. F1 has no playoff system, so with the points this close every race has that final sense of urgency, which makes minor things like a huge blister on Max’s rear tire vitally important. If you care about F1 at all, it’s absolutely exciting to have things this delicately balanced.
So there it is - Austria was a great race because it was exciting without relying on the cheap thrill of massive crashes, it was unpredictable, it was close right to the end, and it had important consequences for the rest of the season. To quote an old mystic named Maximus, “If you read everything looking for faults to show yourself smarter than the writer, nothing you ever see or hear will be of any value to you.” I think the same is true for almost everything. There will always be flaws in whatever you observe, but if that’s all you can see your world is a sad place and you have my sympathy. I enjoyed Austria, and a lot of people did too, for very good reasons. I’ll admit that a lot of my enjoyment comes from starting every race weekend with excitement and anticipation, which makes me biased toward finding the good in it. But what’s the alternative? Be biased toward finding the negative? I’d rather live in the world as I see it, and believe me – we all have to choose how we see the world.
I think the triple-header is proving to be a really serious test of the cars, teams, and drivers, and I can’t wait to see what happens at Silverstone. Expect the unexpected! Tell me why I’m wrong and what I missed in the comments. Also, give me some more suggestions for F1 content to increase my learning experience – y’all have put me onto some really excellent films and videos, keep it coming.
Until next week my friends, may you always finish first when half the grandstands are wearing your color.