Five big storylines to emerge from Austrian Grand Prix media day

Oliver Harden
Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) celebrate on the podium at the Canadian Grand Prix. Montreal, 2023.

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton are at odds over Sprint weekends.

Happen to miss what the F1 drivers had to say on media day at the Austrian Grand Prix? Well take a seat and make yourself comfortable, dear reader, because you’re in for a treat.

Think back to the last race in Canada and it was as though world peace had finally broken out, Lewis Hamilton describing it as an honour to join Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso on the podium and our title protagonists of two years ago actually looking each other – in the eye! – as they talked over the race in the cool-down room.

The good news is that any truce between them was delightfully short-lived on the evidence of Thursday in Austria, where Max and Lewis were at it again and everyone else felt like they’d gone back in time to 2021…

Lewis Hamilton wants FIA intervention to slow runaway leaders like Red Bull

Sergio Perez let slip back in Barcelona that Red Bull “are not really bringing big upgrades any more” to the RB19 as they switch focus to the 2024 car and, exactly four weeks later, word has finally reached Hamilton.

And, it’s quite fair to say, he’s not very happy about it.

With Red Bull winning all of the first eight races of this season, Hamilton fears the World Champions will be building from a position of considerable strength when it comes to the 2024 car with the risk of their advantage being either conserved or – gulp – increased further still.

It led to the Mercedes driver putting forward – and without even the slightest hint of irony – a potential rule change to help close up the field.

“I think the FIA should probably put a time when everyone is allowed to start developing for the next year’s car,” he told Sky Sports F1.

“So August 1, that’s when everybody can start, so that no one can get an advantage from the next year. Because that sucks.

“Say for example you start the season and you know you have a bad car, you could just say actually I’m not going to bother with developing this car, I’ll put all this money into next year’s car and have an advantage.”

In fairness, Hamilton’s is not such a bad idea and limiting the amount of time a team can work on the following year’s car may indeed lessen the probability of teams consolidating their positions at the top and even increase the likelihood of developmental mistakes.

Quite how this rule would be policed is one obvious issue, but the biggest problem of all?

The idea came from him, Lewis Hamilton, after all his years of dominance with Mercedes.

If you suspect that he wouldn’t have cared so passionately about levelling up the playing field before last season, you are not alone.

Max Verstappen points to Lewis Hamilton hypocrisy

Verstappen was quick to spot perceived hypocrisy in Hamilton’s comments and was even faster in pointing them out to everyone else, politely reminding his old rival that teams like Red Bull and Mercedes work hard to put themselves in winning positions and work even harder to preserve that status.

“We weren’t talking about that when he was winning his Championships, right? So I don’t think we should now,” Verstappen bluntly told Sky Sports F1, before giving a birds-and-bees speech about the simple realities of life in F1.

“That’s how Formula 1 works. When you have a competitive car it’s great, but at one point you also have to look ahead to the next year.

“It’s normal, of course, [for] people behind to say these kinds of things, but they should also not forget how it was looking when they were winning and if people would comment these kinds of things then probably they would comment a bit different, but that’s how it goes in Formula 1.”

That’s him told, then. We await Lewis’s response with interest…

Lewis Hamilton: Red Bull’s ‘small’ cost cap punishment ‘didn’t cost them anything’

Of course, one of the main things preventing Mercedes from closing the gap to Red Bull is F1’s cost cap, introduced with the theoretical aim of levelling the playing field once and for all but in reality doing anything but.

In years gone by, nothing was to stop Mercedes from torching the zero-pod design at their earliest convenience and building a B-spec car with everything they’d ever need to reclaim their place on F1’s perch and be right back racing Red Bull for wins by mid-season, 2022.

But in a cost cap era? Progress, as they have discovered over the last 18 months, is painfully slow and an upgrade cannot be committed to without first consulting the balance sheet. recommends

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Mercedes reversed the development mistakes of the previous two winters by sprouting sidepods in Monaco, with another sizeable upgrade scheduled for Silverstone, yet it became clear from Hamilton’s comments on Thursday that Red Bull’s punishment for breaching the budget cap in 2021 – a fine and a 10 per cent cut in aerodynamic research – still rankles.

After his call for FIA intervention, conversation turned to Red Bull’s punishment and the possibility that – after eight straight wins for Verstappen and Perez combined in 2023 – it had no affect on them whatsoever.

“I don’t think it did anyways,” he told Sky Sports F1. “The penalty didn’t cost them anything. Definitely. Definitely, definitely didn’t.

“It was so small!” he added, holding up a finger and thumb to demonstrate the smallness of the whole thing.

Confirmed: Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz are avid PF1 readers

At we of course love all our readers equally – that goes without saying – but some readers are more equal than others. Particularly if their names are Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz.

This being the second sprint weekend of the 2023 season (sigh), over in the FIA press conference conversation turned to better ways to spice up the show and in particular the qualifying format.

Alonso and Sainz were in agreement that an old favourite with a very modern twist, one-shot qualifying with the addition of ghost cars, would be the right way to go – echoing pretty much everything written in a proposal by PF1 in January last year.

Great minds think alike, etc…

Alonso commented that a return to single-lap qualifying would be his “preferred option” – even seeing the positives in rain suddenly arriving mid-session, an argument routinely put forward by the format’s detractors – while Sainz, as the younger of the pair, called for ghost cars to finally make the crossover from the sim world into real life.

“I personally am a fan of it because I do like that feeling of suddenly having the whole track for you and having the pressure to perform only in one lap,” he said.

“That would be really good fun for us, I think for our sponsors and for everyone. But maybe, for the TV, it would be boring for you.

“But I don’t know, it depends on the technology.

“You could animate that single lap – if you could put a ghost car of the fastest lap. I think, with the technology that we have nowadays, something like that could be achievable with the mini sectors with ghost cars – that kind of stuff that I think we should look into.”

PF1 demands a substantial cut when ghost cars inevitably become reality.

Sergio Perez is already up against it after Thursday no-show

The most revealing statistic of F1 2023 so far? Sergio Perez has reached Q3 at only half of the eight races so far and is currently on a run of three consecutive Q1/Q2 eliminations.

That’s the same Sergio Perez who is driving the Red Bull RB19, proving to be one of the most dominant F1 cars in history in the hands of Verstappen.

On paper, the Red Bull Ring – with key traction zones in the first half of the lap – has the look of a circuit where Perez could rediscover his early-season form, yet a significant setback came on Thursday afternoon when Red Bull confirmed he would be absent from the paddock through illness.

“Last night I wasn’t feeling good, so we decided to go straight to the hotel in Austria to have proper recovery time to be 100% tomorrow,” he wrote on social media. “See you at the track on Friday!”

Perez’s sign-off may come as a punch to the guts for Daniel Ricciardo, desperate for just one go in the RB19 to remind the world of his qualities, but raises immediate doubts over whether he can reassume his role as Verstappen’s wingman this weekend.

A cynic may suggest – given his recent run of results and his refusal to take responsibility for his qualifying horror show back in Australia – that Checo is getting his excuses in early this time…

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