Max Verstappen sent the first shot into the Austrian mountains.
Something was amiss with the alterations to the curbing at the Red Bull Ring. During the first day of practice for the Austrian Grand Prix, Verstappen ran over the newly configured curbs and spun twice. He ran off in Turn 8, breaking his front wing endplate. He met the curbs again in Turn 5 causing a suspension failure on the RB12.
The 18-year-old Red Bull Racing driver was critical of the new curbing which was redone during the recent repave of the circuit. The curbs were installed to prevent the drivers from extending the proper confines of the track. Verstappen called them “dangerous” and “higher than necessary”.
Initial reaction to Vertsappen’s analysis was more critical of the young Dutchman rather than the curbs themselves. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo called the curbs fine mentioning that running off the circuit should have some sort of penalty.
Sebastian Vettel criticized his former team, suggesting that Red Bull Racing build stronger front wings if they wanted to race on the curbing. Nico Rosberg called the curbs “fine” and simply suggested drivers “not go there”. Perhaps they were all thinking Verstappen’s lederhosen themed fire suit was just too tight and that his knickers were in a snitch.
Rosberg’s tune changed when he destroyed his Mercedes in the final 10 minutes of P3 during a practice qualifying run. Rosberg ran over the curbing at turn 2 and broke his left rear suspension. Rosberg’s crash made for a frantic time as the Mercedes team rushed to repair the car for qualifying 2 hours later. Rosberg also wound up with a 5 place grid penalty for the Grand Prix due to a gearbox change resulting from the accident.
Paddy Lowe attributed the failure to the curbing and Verstappen’s initial observations seemed to be prophetic and true.
Maybe there was more this curbing issue.
Come qualifying, Sergio Perez was the first to experience a suspension failure but was able to nurse his car back to the pit lane. Force India was leaning toward, you guessed it, the curbing as the source of the failure.
Then came Daniil Kvyats’ failure. The Toro Rosso driver had a spectacular crash as he went over the curbing at turn 8. Kvyat went over the new, higher curbs with his left rear tire and as he did the tires started oscillating laterally. Slow motion replay should this obviously stressor which then moved over the the right side of the car with the oscillation and causing the failure to the right side suspension.
Kvyat lost control, cascading across the track where his nosecone impacted the inner barrier at the entry to the pitlane before he went into the gravel trap and retaining wall. It was a big shunt for the Russian and will probably be the one that gets the attention of Charlie Whiting of the FIA.
With four failures leading up to race day, there is a call for some sort of alternation to the bold curbing. Haas F1 Team driver Romain Grosjean may have the most level headed reaction to the curbing issue stating that from a safety standpoint, it “might not be the best for us”. Grosjean made the statement in the context of understanding the need to respect the track limits but compromising safety of the drivers might not be the best way to accomplish this.
Formula 1 has been responsive to issues that come up during race weekends and they generally respond quickly. The grates in Monaco are a good example of getting repairs done to insure the safety of the drivers.
In truth, Max Verstappen was probably right on target when he first recognized that the curbing solution in Austria might have gone just a bit too far. This will be an interesting development leading into race day in Austria.