As is often the nature when you have back-to-back Formula 1 race weekends, there have been few fresh storylines arising so far in Austria that weren’t already doing the rounds in France. Besides Mercedes’ W09 updates and an intensifying of links between Charles Leclerc and a Ferrari race seat in 2019, there hasn’t been a huge amount going on that has been particularly outstanding or surprising.

Qualifying offered us a number of interesting points, though, with Valtteri Bottas’ charge to his first pole position of the season stealing the show. As Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel made errors on their opening Q3 efforts, the Finn was able to pull half a second clear. While the gap to Hamilton in the final classification was a more slender 0.019 seconds, it was nevertheless enough to deliver Bottas a breakthrough result that could prove crucial in the story of his season.

Yet the biggest focus post-session at the Red Bull Ring came with the proprietors of this fine establishment: Red Bull. The timesheets alone showed Max Verstappen (P5) and Daniel Ricciardo (P7) struggling for pace, but the story of their qualifying session went deeper than that as a row emerged over a team tactic to offer a tow to Verstappen.

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Radio messages between the Red Bull pit wall and the team’s drivers interjected between the final laps set by the Mercedes and Ferrari, with both Ricciardo and Verstappen’s frustration being made clear. Ricciardo told Red Bull: “There’s no point my running. I’m just punching a hole,” while Verstappen grew stressed over his teammate’s on-track moves. When the Dutchman was given the call to pass Ricciardo, he refused, saying: “It’s discipline.”

It was not immediately clear at the end of the session what had caused the friction between the two drivers, both of whom were left far from amused by their stablemate’s antics when talking to TV broadcasters in the pen after qualifying. Ricciardo simply said he was “not impressed” and that Red Bull “could have been more fair”. Verstappen meanwhile went into more detail, revealing the two drivers have a deal to alternate who goes out ahead of who in qualifying. “We always agree before the weekend so he was going in front as I was going in front at Paul Ricard,” Verstappen said. “He was going in front the race before so we discussed that. This was his weekend to go in front, that is how it is. It is very simple.”

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner also confirmed the agreement was in place between the team and the drivers. “We have a very simple policy here that's operated for the last seven years is that we alternate from weekend to weekend who drives out of the garage first," he explained. "It's the only way to keep it scrupulously fair from circuit to circuit. This weekend was Daniel's turn to drive out of the garage first ahead of Max. Obviously he felt that Max might be benefitting from that. That's why he started to back up a bit. They know the situation. There's nothing to explain.”

So with the first comments fired back and forth, it came as little surprise that the media sessions for the print and online journalists with the Red Bull drivers were the best attended of the day. Ricciardo shuffled through to take his seat, before joking: “Either I’ve won, or I’ve said something!” He then proceeded to take a picture of the assembled reporters, giggling about the pique in interest.

What followed was a very measured, reasonable explanation from Ricciardo of his view on the incident. With the issue defused, the Australian was back to his usual good form, putting it down to a miscommunication between the team and its drivers.

“I think that I had my concerns, but I probably expected some of that to be obvious and I didn’t bring everything up before qualifying thinking it was a bit more obvious than it was,” Ricciardo said.

“I think I probably should have just talked about it more beforehand. I had concerns and I spoke a bit with my engineer about it, but I guess as a team it wasn’t discussed.

“So from their point of view, when it gets into qualifying and they see us playing cat and mouse, they want to know what’s going on and they’re like ‘no-one talked about this, so what are they doing?’ It was probably a miscommunication, and if we talked about it, maybe it would be different.”

Typically drivers only get two hots laps in Q3, but the shorter lap in Austria meant Red Bull had the chance to squeeze in three efforts. As it was Ricciardo’s turn to head out on-track first, he did so just ahead of Verstappen, punching a hole in the air as they went around. Trailing his teammate for pace, and perhaps given they had an extra run, Ricciardo’s view was ‘why can’t I get a tow too?’ He said that a “conservative” estimate would be an additional two-tenths of a second, which around such a short lap could have been huge - and would have put Ricciardo ahead of Romain Grosjean, who will now start fourth tomorrow for Haas following Sebastian Vettel’s penalty for impeding Carlos Sainz Jr.

Perhaps swapping the drivers for one final effort would have been the fair thing to do - but it seems like a big assumption for Ricciardo to make just because they are three runs instead of two. If at every other race it has just been a case of sticking to the pre-agreed plan about who went out first, why should that have changed just because of a shorter lap? Red Bull should have had the outright pace without a tow to still beat Haas. Had Ricciardo focused more on that, maybe he would have still beaten Grosjean.

It will come as little surprise that Verstappen was rather deadpan in his post-qualifying media session when asked about the incident. “I think he explained it quite well,” Vertsappen said. “He tried to put us against each other but makes no sense. I think it’s quite clear. Last weekend I was ahead and the weekend before he was ahead - that’s how we do it. I kept to the plan, and they only said to me to overtake because he was driving so slow so it’s just for the tyres.”

Even with the added hot lap, Verstappen stressed that “you do the same programme”, but that “it’s just a bit more rushed to get three runs in” through Q3.

And that was that from Max. He didn’t speak about it any more. To him, there was nothing more to cover. He’d followed the team’s orders, ignored a call to go off-piste with their plan, and stuck to his guns.

Ricciardo said he wasn’t surprised Verstappen had shrugged off the call.

“I’m not surprised, but I can’t be mad as well, because he’s not the only guy on the grid that would do that and it is kind of each for their own,” he said. “I’m aware that they told him to do something and move on but I guess in his mind he’s like: ‘Well, I’m second out of the garage this weekend, so why should I?’”

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Had Ricciardo been in Verstappen’s shoes, would he have helped his teammate? “I guess not…” Ricciardo said with a wry smile.

All is fair in love and war - and between teammates, there’s an extra dimension to the battle in play. And while there may still be the questions about Ricciardo’s future and his place within Red Bull given the focus on Verstappen, he denied this incident was evidence the team favours his young teammate.

“No it’s not,” he said. “Obviously during the session I’m thinking, ‘OK, I’ve given him a tow twice so give me something’ - but generally, through my head, it’s not a concern."



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