Posted on October 30, 2022.
Report by Tony Cotton.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say about a Grand Prix, because it is so dull. Austin was the opposite, it’s difficult to know what to leave out. There was sadness, joy, anger, conspiracy theory, shock, drama, interspersed with comedy. Lots of comedy. Mainly at the expense of the FIA.
As qualifying was due to begin, the death was announced of Dietrich Mateschitz, from pancreatic cancer at the age of 78. In the early 80’s, as a Unilever marketing man he bought a bottle of Krating Daeng, a drink aimed at stopping lorry drivers and factory workers in Thailand from falling asleep into their machinery. He developed it into RedBull and with a genius stroke of marketing, sold it in much smaller containers at a much higher price, aimed at the affluent youth market. To reinforce the image the company sponsored edgy, adventurous sports – air racing, mountain biking and, of course, F1. By turning the mediocre Jaguar and often woeful Minardi into front-running RedBull and usually mediocre Toro Rosso/Alpha Tauri, he had a huge and positive influence on F1.
Whilst we would sooner our red Ferraris be ahead of his RedBulls, there is no doubt he brought fierce, innovative and worthy competition to the grids. Rest in peace, Dietrich you will be missed by all true race fans.
The top 10 partially reflected the fact that COTA/Austin has a bit of character, or “bumps” as they are also known. The result is that everybody runs a bit higher, so those already running high due to design issues (Mercedes and Aston Martin in particular) are at less of a disadvantage than at smooth circuits. As a result Stroll reached 7th in qualifying, and the Mercedes were competitive in 5th and 6th.
However, despite tricky wind conditions Ferrari simply nailed Q3, with Carlos recording a superb 1’34.356, 65 thousandths quicker than Charles and almost a tenth faster than Max Verstappen, despite the latter putting in a late “maximum attack” effort. Perez followed his team-mate into 4th.
Comedy (No.1 – Farce)
Various component changes resulted in the qualifying order being destroyed. Charles dropped 10 places to 12th while Perez and Alonso dropped 5 places to 9th and 14th. This resulted in Hamilton and Russell moving up to undeserved 3rd and 4th, which would have implications. There were other penalties too but even I’m bored by them.
At the front, the inevitable happened. Verstappen did his usual excellent start and outdragged Carlos. After it’s happened so many times it’s difficult to be either surprised or disappointed. Unfortunately, behind them the Mercedes were squabbling because Hamilton knows he isn’t as quick as he used to be and Russell knows he isn’t as good as he’d like to be. Hamilton won the fight, but Russell wasn’t good enough to notice and missed his braking and turn in for the first corner, where he T-boned the innocent Carlos. He spun round, was left last, and struggled to the pits where he retired with a water leak caused by the collision. Russell was penalised 5 seconds, but……
Comedy (No.2- Surreal)
….later claimed over the radio that Carlos had turned in on him. Obviously, he either isn’t very good at understanding racing, or isn’t very good at telling fibs. He did later apologise.
Disposing of Carlos proved to be remarkably helpful for the Mercedes team, as it allowed Hamilton to fight for first which would otherwise be impossible. Almost as if it was planned, but of course we know it wasn’t.
Leaving aside the unintentional surrealism of Stroll running 3rd for the first 4 laps, Charles benefitted a little from the mayhem surrounding the attack on Carlos by moving up to 10th on lap one. As surely as the over-promoted Aston driver dropped down, Charles moved up, first past Albon, and then Norris and Bottas for 7th. Usually, Charles is a victim of bad luck, if not so much as Carlos, but fate smiled on him when on his late, planned pit stop on lap 19, Bottas spun off and the safety car was deployed, giving a free pitstop and a move up to 4th place. By this time, Perez had carefully picked his way up to 3rd, helped a little by Russell’s 5 second penalty.
The safety car went in on lap 21, and Racing re-started. And as I’ve used the “R” word you may guess that Alonso was involved. He went to pass Stroll on the fast straight, but Stroll defended a bit too late and a bit too vigorously. Alonso hit the back of Stroll and, much like Webber or Dumbreck at LeMans, rose dramatically into the air, like a Typhoon or F18 pulling up. The car veered to the edge of the track and came down, striking the barrier. Everybody was ready for wreckage everywhere when Alonso drove away with a puncture. Stroll was out with a wrecked car. Surely Alonso would retire in the pits? But he didn’t. A new nose and tyre change and his Alpine was away, albeit looking like he was competing at a Hednesford Hills Hot Rod race. It happens a bit too often that Alonso gets away with a potentially major accident. I can’t help feeling that, more than most in the field, he unerringly reacts instantly to correct issues, perhaps even without knowing how or why he’s doing it.
Stroll was later penalised three grid places for his late move.
Tension and Drama!
Verstappen made the best of the re-start to stay ahead of Hamilton, with Perez behind the Mercedes in third place. However, Charles, on fresher tyres, closed in on Pérez and passed him after a pass-and-be-passed at turn 12, at the end of the longest straight. He then set off in pursuit of Verstappen and Hamilton.
By lap 34, the second pit stops came into play. Hamilton had a good pit stop, but Verstappen suffered a failed wheel gun, and his stop was 8 seconds slow – an epoch in F1. As a result Hamilton came out of the pits ahead of Charles, with Verstappen following immediately after the Ferrari man. How sweet it must have been to slip in front of him on being released.
While all this was happening, Perez had a brief moment in the sun by leading for 3 laps, but much more emotionally satisfying, Vettel had, by the freak of tyre stop timing, 2 laps in the lead which gave him a total of 3,500 F1 career laps led.
Back to Drama
A thrilling fight between Max and Charles then took place, Verstappen eventually getting the upper hand. On lap 39 he passed Charles in Turn 12 to take P3. As Vettel pitted after, probably, his last P1, Hamilton led from Verstappen and Leclerc. He attempted to build a buffer but as the laps counted down Verstappen edged closer to the Mercedes. Hamilton, spurred on by the improved competitiveness of the Mercedes, showed a little bit of his old style and put on a good fight, but on lap 50 Verstappen made his move, powering past into Turn 12. The seven-time champion tried to defend with a late move left but Verstappen was able to hold on through the following corners to seal the win from Hamilton and Charles.
Charles said “It was a fun race and I really enjoyed the battles with Max and Checo on track today. Unfortunately we had a little too much tyre degradation and couldn’t fight for higher positions.” It’s interesting (frustrating?) to speculate what might have happened if it hadn’t been necessary to use the tyres so much in working up from 12th. Even more frustrating to speculate how the race might have finished had Carlos not been pushed off.
Perez finished behind Charles, followed by Russell, Norris, and Alonso in 7th. Tsunoda was 10th while 8th and 9th proved enthralling.
More Drama as the Curtain Falls!
From leading, Vettel dropped to 13th following a poor pit stop (another jammed wheel gun). That was lap 42 of 56. He made up a place on each lap from 45 to 51 to be 9th and then in a breathtakingly frantic final lap just edged past Kevin Magnussen for 8th. “When I crossed the finish line, the adrenaline was really pumping” he said; that was apparent even from the outside.
Epilogue – Comedy (No.3 – FIA Slapstick)
Alonso’s Alpine was in a sad state thanks to the Stroll incident and it clearly decided that the best way to keep itself competitive was to shed weight. In particular, the right hand mirror. Haas “believed” that the car was “dangerous” and contacted Race Control, who did not act. Crucially, they then protested 54 minutes after the end of the race. There is a 30 minute limit. Initially, after issuing results with Alonso 7th, the FIA decided that mirrors are necessary (though using them is apparently optional for a number of drivers) and so Alonso was penalised 10 seconds and dropped to 15th. Haas gained sufficient points to move forward $3m in the rankings, which may explain the passion of the protest. Alpine’s appeal that the protest was later was over-ruled, but then they asked for a right of review and the FIA lost the will to live so reinstated them, on Thursday evening, around 100 hours and 2 British Prime Ministers after the race.
Well done on a great drive to Charles.
Whilst it’s reassuring that Ferrari can always be relied on for racing passion and fair play, its good that in the difficult times in which we live, Alonso can be relied on to bring racing entertainment, and the FIA will keep the laughs coming. It might be an improvement if they didn’t.