Lewis Hamilton bounced back to claim victory for the first time in Austria after a last-lap controversial coming together with his team-mate as the lead changed hands.
Despite the Mercedes driver’s crash dominating the headlines, there were many surprises – with the likes of Manor Racing’s first points and a ‘surprise’ race for McLaren’s Jenson Button who finished 6th place on merit.
Hamilton vs Rosberg: How Mercedes’ race panned out
The last-lap contact between the two Mercedes drivers proved to be one of the highlights of the race, but it was initially puzzling why it got to that with Rosberg starting 5 places behind his team-mate.
Hamilton extended his first stint on the ultra-softs, making them last until the cut-off for a one-stop race, while Rosberg pitted early with the clear intention of pushing all the way to a two-stop strategy.
However, according to Paddy Lowe, Mercedes strategists realised after the safety car that Rosberg’s two-stop may have been faster than Hamilton’s strategy, and thus changed Hamilton to the same strategy. This proved to be costly for Hamilton, who had been losing over a second a lap to Rosberg as he tried to nurse his ultrasofts in the first stint, and Hamilton also made a small mistake on his outlap after his second stop which stopped him from making the undercut work.
Rosberg emerged ahead of Hamilton on the red-marked super-softs, and although Hamilton complained at the time on the radio it was later revealed that the yellow softs that Hamilton was on were the faster tyre, and Rosberg didn’t have any sets left. The pit stops were now done: it was a race to the finish. Hamilton then closed on Rosberg, as they both overtook Verstappen (who had 45 lap old tyres) and picked through the backmarkers.
Hamilton was within a second of Rosberg, and on the last lap the German made a mistake into turn one, giving Hamilton better traction and a clear run up the outside into turn two. Hamilton left plenty of space, but Rosberg’s brakes were not working properly (they had gone into default mode) – which also caused his mistake into turn one – and he therefore failed to turn in sufficiently. The two cars made contact, and Rosberg ended up with a broken front wing.
Hamilton went on to take the race win, while Rosberg was overtaken by Verstappen and Raikkonen as he nursed his broken Mercedes to 4th place. Rosberg was also later given a 10 second penalty (which did not change the race result) and 2 penalty points on his license for the contact, and a reprimand for driving a hazardous car around the lap. Most pundits ascribe the blame to Rosberg, and the anger and frustration evident on Toto Wolff’s face suggests the team debrief at Mercedes is going to be an interesting one. Hamilton is now only 11 points behind, and although he will take at least one grid drop for exceeding his engine allocation for the year, he has once again asserted by this performance that winning this year’s championship is not going to be a cakewalk for Rosberg.
Bittersweet for Red Bull and Ferrari
Both Red Bull and Ferrari managed to get a driver on the podium, but it was not all plain sailing for these teams. Ferrari lost Vettel early on due to a tyre burst, and Räikkönen’s strategy seemed not to have worked as he emerged 6th after his pit stop. However, he passed Ricciardo and closed on Verstappen by the end, and if not for the yellow flags due to the Mercedes collision, he may have passed Verstappen for 2nd place.
At Red Bull, the strategies were split. Max Verstappen once again showed the same ability to extend his tyres as he had in Barcelona, by making his softs go 56 laps. He was lucky to have yellow flags on the last lap, which ensured Räikkönen couldn’t overtake him, and the Merecedes collision allowed him to pick up 2nd place – his 2nd career podium and Red Bull’s best result at their home track. However, Ricciardo struggled for much of the race, changing late to a two-stop but altogether never really having the same pace as his teammate. Ricciardo believes there was a problem with his car, and this will be looked into before next week’s race at Silverstone.
Brilliant Button and Wehrlein
Mclaren’s Jenson Button started 3rd after a scintillating qualifying session and shot up to 2nd on the first lap, but he realised that his Honda powered McLaren was no match for the frontrunners during the race. However, he drove a brilliant race on a perfectly timed strategy to take 6th place – his best finish of the year. He was understandably delighted after the race, thanking his team, but also admitted that it was unlikely McLaren would be so high up the order next week in Silverstone.
A special mention also has to go out to Manor driver Pascal Wehrlein, who first qualified a career best 12th, and then drove an aggressive race to finish 10th and score Manor’s first points since the late Jules Bianchi did so in Monaco 2014. The German DTM star is a Mercedes protegée, and is finally starting to show why he is so highly rated by the Silver Arrows. Both Button and Wehrlein will be mightily pleased with their results in this race.
Force India Nightmare
Force India went into Sunday’s race with high hopes, firm in the knowledge that their car had real pace around this track. Hulkenberg had pulled out a scintillating lap that gave him a front-row start, and Perez also seemed quick until he had a suspension failure in qualifying.
However, the race quickly unravelled. Hulkenberg lost positions off the start and suffered from vibrations and graining in the early stages, which continued throughout the race. He was then retired from outside the points due to the fact that he was critical on brake wear, ending his hopes of a decent race – after qualifying, he was aiming for a podium finish.
Perez’s race was much better, as he scythed up through the field and was on course for a decent haul of points, but on the last lap his brakes failed and he careened into the wall. Thus Force India, who have been on an upward curve recently and were hoping for another good race, finished with a mightily disappointing double DNF.