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Formula 1

The drivers who got lucky in F1 sprint – and those who didn’t

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Fernando Alonso’s inability to even start Formula 1’s sprint race was just one case of fortune defining the outcome of a driver’s Saturday at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Six other drivers were left to either count their blessings or rue the sprint – and some even found themselves on both sides of fortune at the Red Bull Ring.


Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo F1 sprint

First, a driver who almost suffered the same fate as Alonso – failing to even make the start.

At the end of the formation lap, Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo was notably, err, detached from the rest of the field.

His engine cut out as he approached the final corner, with the pace reduced to a crawl. He came to a halt in the middle of the track while the grid formed up ahead in the distance. Zhou was even passed by the medical car as he tried a sequence of engine restarts before finally getting going.

The good news is, as he was stuck in the middle of the track, the start was aborted and another formation lap began. The bad news was he would need to take the second attempt at the start from the pitlane.

Thereafter, though, he put in what team boss Fred Vasseur slightly generously called a “remarkable” recovery to make up a gap to the rest of the pack once he emerged from the pits and then pass several cars to finish 14th.

“It was tricky just because of the start,” said Zhou.

“Obviously I couldn’t start on the starting grid due to an issue, the engine switched off straight away so I tried to put the switch back and it restarted again – and nothing was happening.

“I did four procedures of switching off and got it going again so missed all that distance at the start.

“Everybody was waiting at the last corner and somehow my engine decided to switch off, very surprisingly.

“It’s the first time facing this issue so we need to figure it out and make sure it’s not happening tomorrow.”


Lewis Hamilton Mercedes F1 Austria sprint

Pierre Gasly’s wandering AlphaTauri made heavy contact with the front right of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes heading into the first corner after the start.

On the one hand this was unfortunate. On the other, it was a big impact, one that could easily have broken the steering, suspension or wheel – yet Hamilton could continue.

He described the car as “definitely not the same as the morning, but it was driveable” and expressed is gratitude to even make the finish – saying he was “so lucky”.

And though the Gasly impact was a moment of obvious drama, moments later Hamilton had another lucky escape. Sergio Perez made an aggressive move diving between Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas under braking for Turn 4, clipping Hamilton’s car in the process.

Had the pair made heavier contact, in the fashion Hamilton and Gasly did, the outcome could have been severe.


Esteban Ocon Alpine F1

Moments after crossing the line in a strong sixth place, Esteban Ocon radioed his Alpine team: “I have a problem, guys”.

Instructed to get back to the pits he said “I’m not sure I’ll be able to” and the response was: “Err, yes, we think you might struggle there. Standby for advice, keeping trying to…OK stop the car please, stop the car and switch off.”

Ocon came to a halt only halfway up the hill to Turn 3, on the bit of extra track that has been created for the MotoGP layout’s new chicane. He admitted afterwards he only “just” made the finish.

“We had an issue, I don’t know exactly what it is,” said Ocon.

“But I felt the car hesitating a bit and after Turn 1 it shut down completely.

“Hopefully it’s not too big of an issue.”

Had the issue struck sooner it seems Ocon would have lost three championship points and be staring at a grid position some 12 places lower for Sunday’s grand prix.


Austrian GP F1 sprint Pierre Gasly

A baffled Gasly had no idea what happened in his Turn 1 clash with Hamilton. He just expressed surprise to end “facing the wrong way of the corner”.

Gasly was the architect of his own downfall given he seemed to either not realise he was moving to the left, assumed he was far enough clear of Hamilton, or just bet on Hamilton moving across as well (which was not possible as there was a Williams in the way).

Whatever the reason, Gasly lacked the necessary awareness. The result was another first-lap clash on a sprint race. “Clearly the sprint races are not playing in our favour,” he bemoaned.

But he was at least lucky to continue. The hit was big but being pitched sideways mid-pack on the run into the first corner is a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately Gasly missed all the other cars and was able to get going, even managing to pick up some places and finish 15th – although significant damage, with “whole left of the car really broken and hanging”, meant no greater recovery was possible.


Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri F1

Gasly’s team-mate AlphaTauri Yuki Tsunoda didn’t have the same complaints of a damaged car, but his outlook was equally bleak post-sprint.

Tsunoda said it was a “different level” how slow he was compared to other cars – “not even close” and “slower than Pierre who had a lot of damage”.

He battled with an unpredictable balance and felt there was something wrong even in FP2 but nothing that showed up in the data.

It left him on a hiding to nothing in the sprint, in which he only finished ahead of one driver – an equally frustrated Nicholas Latifi.

Nicholas Latifi Williams F1 Austrian GP sprint

Driving the un-upgraded Williams, having rolled the dice and tried a set of softs, Latifi sounded like a man just wanting the race to finish.

In fact, he admitted that he just needs to get this weekend out of the way in a car that’s simply not competitive enough before he hopefully gets his hands on the upgrade package for the next race in France.

“It’s not really looking optimistic for [the race] for me because the gap is massive,” he said of the deficit to the upgraded car Alex Albon has.

“Qualifying I think was positive because I was exactly where I needed to be relative to the disadvantages I have, car weights and the upgrade package.

“But at this track it’s really just waiting for the next weekend, to be honest.”

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