Lewis Hamilton says he felt “lonely” during the F1 Austrian GP on the way to a gratifying result after his heavy crash in Friday’s qualifying.
The seven-time champion claimed his third podium in a row after an impressive race recovery from P8 on the grid on Sunday, rounding out a difficult weekend at the Red Bull Ring with a somewhat unexpected finishing position.
The weekend started off exceptionally well for Mercedes, who had expected the Austrian circuit to be nowhere near as suited to their car as the likes of Silverstone, but both Hamilton and George Russell showed impressive pace on Friday.
As it was a Sprint weekend, the field went straight into qualifying after FP1, and Mercedes had seemingly found the set-up sweet spot again for the W13. Russell and Hamilton were, at one stage, looking to be in the running for a front row start – until Hamilton crashed at Turn 7 in Q3, quickly followed by Russell spinning into the barrier at Turn 10 when the session got underway again.
The Sprint allowed Russell the chance to climb up to P4 – securing a second row start for Sunday with Hamilton P8. He climbed up to P4 in the race before Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari power unit gave way which gifted him the spot on the podium, and Russell the chance to follow closely behind.
Across the weekend, the pace of the Mercedes was never as spectacular compared to the remarkable British GP pace, although the car had shown flashes of serious potential to be running right up at the front come Sunday.
“I would argue that we’ve not yet been in a position where we’ve been the fastest car,” said Hamilton when it was put to him that Mercedes may have had the fastest car outright a week earlier at Silverstone. “These guys still have had the edge. I think we’ve sometimes been able to match their times but to the point where we’re actually ahead of them, we’re not quite there yet.
“So we’ve just got to keep… I think we’ve made some improvements in Austria to the car once again, but for some reason at this track it just wasn’t the same, as they were a little bit further ahead, particularly in race pace. Hoping that when we go to these next tracks it’s a little bit more favourable to us, a bit more like Silverstone. If that’s the case I would really love to be in the battle that they’re having at the front,” summed up Hamilton.
It was Hamilton’s fourth podium of the season in Austria, and it could be argued that the result marked a quiet turning point in the teammate dynamic at the team, with Russell’s command over the car and the results now firmly diminished. The Mercedes’ ahead-of-the-midfield yet a fraction off of the lead two teams position in the last few races meant that Hamilton soon found himself lapping well and truly by himself.
He explained post-race how the leaders had pulled away enough to surprise him when he first caught a glance of the trackside screens which show the race broadcast live for spectators. “Massively satisfying, so happy… I was a bit lonely once [the gaps opened up to the leaders]… These guys were like thirty-something seconds ahead of me, so I was just watching their race on the TV, down the straights I was just watching where they were.
“I could see them coming through Turn 6 as I was coming out of Turn 1. I was getting a bit of a fan view of what was happening. I saw some of the overtakes they were having, I think they did replays and stuff. But after such a difficult weekend, with the crash, with a monumental effort from the team to rebuild the car this is a really great result so I’m very grateful,” summed up Hamilton.
CEO and team principal Wolff admitted that the team were surprised by how much better the weekend turned out for the team than was expected, both prior to getting track action underway and after the gutting synchronised Q3 crashes, and explains how he tries to keep his emotions under control during live sessions.
“Inside of me, it’s like boiling,” said Wolff. “It’s just Formula 1, it’s not politics or any big stuff. No, so having said that, yeah we’re surprised. Spielberg was always a race where we were struggling in the best of our days,it wasn’t very good, so we were not expecting another step in performance.
“But slowly things come together. Interestingly, not like you would think in Formula 1, there’s one silver bullet, you’re bolting on a wing and it goes. But it’s tiny little steps, fantastic work from the engineers. I’m happy to see that.”
Here’s Lewis Hamilton, Toto Wolff on fan behaviour