The Austrian Grand Prix was the first proper win Ferrari has had in a long time, beating Red Bull on merit for the first time since Charles Leclerc’s last win in Australia. Ferrari didn’t need trouble to strike Red Bull to win this race. The car was working well, they had it in a good place, they got the right compromise on set-up and they knew what they could do with the tyres.
While Red Bull suffered badly with the rear tyres, Ferrari was able to be aggressive on strategy with how long they extended the stints for. Of course, Leclerc had to pass Verstappen three times on track and manage that throttle problem at the end so even when Ferrari’s brilliant, it’s still not easy! But it was very important to win this way – for him, for the team psychologically, everything. It’s a much bigger boost than scraping through and sneaking a win through lucky circumstances. This should give Leclerc hope.
On the other side, Verstappen has stressed how important it is that Red Bull understands why it struggled so much with the tyres in the race. It could be a simple answer: heavy overnight and Sunday morning race that washed the track green and moved it away from the RB18 and towards the F1-75. Because there was no indication from the sprint that this problem would arise. The Ferrari was just still in a window that worked on Sunday whereas the Red Bull had been moved out of it a little bit. Red Bull had no real reason or explanation for it at the end of Sunday, so clearly something happened to catch them out.
I think that’s really interesting, because it shows how finely balanced it still is between these two cars. Maybe the Red Bull will dominate in France, where the track is a bit more like Silverstone and the upgraded RB18 looked really strong there. But it seems like even if one circuit suits one car, small changes can suddenly create an advantage for the other.
Sometimes I wish F1 was a single-make formula so that everyone was in the same car and battling it out fairly. But it’s fascinating when there are different strengths and weaknesses because it adds a little bit more of an extra dynamic into the battle. And Leclerc should be optimistic now. If the car works well and Ferrari does a good job then he could win the next two races and cut Verstappen’s points lead to less than a single race win. It is possible. Whereas just a week ago we were talking about Leclerc risking falling out of touch completely.
Ferrari fans can see the glass half full. If Verstappen had won the grand prix after winning the sprint, then it’s a different story. But he didn’t, so let’s be optimistic this season isn’t over. The one question mark is obviously over reliability at Ferrari, something Carlos Sainz gave us all a fiery reminder of in Austria. It feels like there’s no guarantee that the Ferrari is going to make the finish of the next couple of races, but they should have a reliability fix soon. The team knows what problems are, especially with the V6. But even then, longer term, there’s going to be another grid penalty for Leclerc. At least one more this season because of the number of power unit components needed so far and how long there is left to go in the season. So at some point in the near future, Leclerc’s going to drop more points.
But there is a long way to go and plenty of opportunities for him and Ferrari to come back, especially on Sunday’s form.Leclerc’s now clawed back points on Verstappen two races in a row. Ferrari handled one of those races poorly and one of them very well. With the latter, Ferrari’s set the bar for the level it must perform at every time to have any chance in this fight.