The storylines you might’ve missed from the Red Bull Ring…
Non-executive Chairman Niki Lauda enjoys the distinction of being the only Austrian ever to win his home Grand Prix.
Although he didn't manage it in his Ferrari days, Niki did it with McLaren in 1984, when he nursed an ailing car to the flag, disguising the problem well enough to discourage the following Nelson Piquet from chasing harder.
Lauda also shares a record three Austrian GP poles (around the original Osterreichring) with Piquet and Frenchman Rene Arnoux.
Despite racing in Austria at the reworked Red Bull Ring for the first time only four years ago, Lewis was already in a position to join the select group this year - until Valtteri stopped him by a hundredth of a second! Lewis, however, sets so many records, he didn't even know about this one...
Valtteri's wife Emilia was delighted by her man's first pole position of 2018 and was on the grid prior to the start.
Spotting her there was none other than Channel 4's roving reporter and multiple GP winner, Mark Webber. Mark, keenly knowledgeable about most sports, knew all about former Olympic swimmer Emilia and her Finnish records for the 50/100/200m Butterfly as well as the 200m Individual Medley.
"Talking Butterflies," said Webber, "You're a competitor, so do you get the same sort of nerves for Valtteri as when you were competing?"
"Worse!" Emilia shot straight back, "because there's nothing I can do about it..."
Sadly, her words proved all too prophetic as Valtteri found himself bundled down to fourth by a getaway not quite so spellbinding as a year earlier. But, he responded brilliantly by out-braking Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen into Turn 4 round the outside!
F1 is Never Simple...
If ever a race validated that, it was Austria. At first, the race looked straightforward enough. Lewis took advantage of Valtteri getting a bit too much wheelspin to take the lead, then Valtteri brilliantly got himself back to second after a difficult first couple of corners. In the pit garage, Toto, fists clenched, punched the air: the silver cars appeared to be in control.
For the first 13 laps nothing contradicted that. Max, who had pulled a brave move to take third from Kimi on the opening lap, was 2.5s behind Valtteri and had 3s in hand over the Ferrari, with Daniel Ricciardo running fifth. Lewis's main Championship rival, Sebastian Vettel, ran sixth, already 11s behind car No.44.
But then, on lap 14 of 71, Valtteri's hydraulic problem struck and the FIA instigated a Virtual Safety Car (VSC) period while the No.77 Mercedes was recovered.
Although perhaps a little earlier than ideal for the lone stop in what was widely predicted to be a one-stop race, the Soft compound Pirelli on which most would run the majority of the race was reckoned to be good for 60-plus laps, so it was no surprise to see teams taking advantage of the VSC.
Red Bull double-stopped Max and Daniel; Ferrari brought in Kimi and Sebastian: Haas called in Romain Grosjean. Out of the 18 drivers still running, only six failed to pit, one of which was Lewis.
Once the VSC period ended, Lewis's advantage over Verstappen was 13.1s and Raikkonen and Ricciardo were also within the approximate 20s pit window that it would take Lewis to make a stop under normal racing conditions. Vettel, too, at 23s behind Lewis and on fresh rubber, was also a threat.
"I have no time in these tyres..." Lewis radioed in, as it became apparent that Mercedes had made a strategic error. On his used Supersoft Pirellis versus the fresh Softs of his pursuers, Lewis was actually losing ground rather than gaining it. And with Vettel perilously close to his pit window, the team called Lewis in on lap 25.
"Is it right I am now fourth?" asked a frustrated Lewis when he rejoined behind the Red Bull pair and Kimi.
It was. Admirably, Chief Strategist James Vowles came on the radio and admitted, in front of millions of TV viewers, "I have cost you the win today but give us what you can".
It was hard not to feel the utmost sympathy for James. Times without number races are won as a result of quick-thinking, often complex strategy decisions. When they are, those who have engineered them remain unsung heroes
As ever, the situation and decision were not as simple as they looked. If Lewis had been called in, the team figured that Red Bull and Ferrari might split strategy with their two cars. For example, seeing Lewis stop, they could have left Max and Kimi out, to gain track position, while pitting Daniel and Sebastian. Feasibly, they might then have manipulated the race pace, backing Lewis into Vettel, say.
In fact, both Red Bull and Ferrari had committed to double stops but there was no way of Mercedes knowing that when they had to make the call.
But the key point was that the team believed, incorrectly, that the VSC would last a lap longer than it did - and that they therefore had time to react on the following lap to what competitors had done, rather than pulling the trigger as the first car to pit. It was this decision that sealed the mistake.
It all became immaterial when a fuel pressure problem spelled the first Mercedes double mechanical retirement of the hybrid era nine laps before the chequered flag fell.
The reversal means that Sebastian now leads Lewis in the Drivers' Championship by a single point and Ferrari moves 10 points in front in the Constructors' battle.
A Bright Future
Hot on the heels of his F2 feature race victory at Paul Ricard, Mercedes Reserve Driver George Russell backed it up with a stunning weekend in Austria - winning the main race and finishing second in Sunday's reverse grid sprint race.
With limited track time for practice in F2, it is particularly hard for a rookie driver to get a handle on tyre behaviour.
"The degradation of the SuperSoft tyre at the start on Saturday was absolutely enormous and after about the first lap and a half I was sliding all over the place," Russell admitted. "I thought I was really struggling and then I looked in my mirrors and saw that Lando (Norris) was as well."
Russell skilfully managed the right combination of pace and tyre management to take the 25 points for the feature race win, plus an additional two points for pole position.
If anything, Sunday's second place, from eighth on the grid in the shorter reverse-grid sprint event, was even more impressive. With a number of incisive early overtaking moves, pulled off without taking too much out of potentially fragile tyres, George quickly climbed up to second place to score another considerable haul of points.
His savvy weekend's work means that George leaves Austria at the top of the F2 Championship for the first time, with 132 points to Norris's 122 and Artem Markelov's 94.