GRAND PRIX : Austria : Rosberg Superb

Posted on July 2, 2015.

Rosberg was the deserving winner
Vettel was heading for third until a bungled pit stop
Kimi's race ended underneath a McLaren: it could have been much worse

Report by Winston D’Arcy

And so to the lush verdant hillsides of Austria, and the slightly emasculated track that has taken the place of the old flat-out blind that used to sort the wheat from the chaff. First built in 1970 the track had lain dormant for many years, gradually being reduced to rubble, until Dieter Mateschitz purchased the site in 2005 and in 2008 began the rebuilding process.

Although the track was now considerably shortened and many of the ultra-quick corners were replaced by sharper, point and squirt ones, the undulating nature of the venue made it one of the better circuits and certainly better than most of the modern motordromes. Ironically it was Tilke himself who designed the revised layout…

Formula One politics were of course in full swing in the lead-up to the race. The big CVC bosses were at the circuit, amidst all the rumours that a US-Qatari consortium would buy their shareholding. Bernie still owns 5% so which way will he go? There’s even stories that the big four – Merc, Red Bull, Ferrari, Macca – will buy the business and turn it into a playground for themselves. Maybe that’s why Red Bull are doing their best to suppress the value of the F1 brand by their withdrawal threats.

For the average race fan excitement was high ahead of the race. There was a (slight) prospect that either the Ferraris or Williams’ might interfere with a Merc demonstration at the front, and it would be interesting to see whether Hamilton could cement his recent dominance over Rosberg. It was generally reckoned to be a one-stop race and therefore grid position would be all-important on a track where passing was not easy.

When Vettel topped the timesheets in practice session 2 and 3, with Kimi in third on both occasions, it all looked promising but come qualifying it all went a bit sour. Sure enough, Vettel put it into third on the grid but Raikkonen had a complete misunderstanding with the team and ended up 18th after he ran out of time for a final run. At the front, Hamilton grabbed what looked like an easy pole from his team mate, after both went off on their final runs, and was expected to disappear up the road once the lights went out.

Of the others, the Williams pair ended up 4th and 6th, split by the rejuvenated Hulkenberg fresh from his spectacular Le Mans triumph. The Renault engines were suffering again, causing further caustic comment and withdrawal threats from the Red Bull hierarchy. It’s almost at the point where they really ought to leave, their attitude is not good for the wider interests of F1 and I am sure that Renault can’t wait to get out of this unpleasant partnership.

Talking of which – right at the back were the McLaren-Hondas, their efforts seemingly going from bad to worse. They qualified badly and got docked 25 (Alonso) and 22 (Button) grid-places for additional engine and gearbox changes; things could not really get much worse, or could they? Just to cap their enjoyment of the weekend they had the big boss from Honda, Takahiro Hachigo, over from Japan. He must have been well impressed.

Although rain had been forecast raceday remained dry but the temperatures stayed cool and were down in the lower teens. There would be no problem for the tyres to survive a one-stop strategy which most teams were quite open about.

When the lights went out Rosberg simply made the better start, getting alongside Hamilton and was the first into the tight first corner. Hamilton had a couple of little looks but was nowhere near a passing manoeuvre. Vettel settled into third but at the back there was frightening accident as Raikkonen got a tank-slapper and piled into Alonso’s McLaren which ended up on top of the Ferrari. It could have ended so much worse, but in the meantime will have put another dent in the prospects of Kimi driving for the Scuderia next year.

Following a brief safety car period the race started in earnest. At the front Rosberg drew steadily away, went out of DRS range and continued to build a small lead that by lap 25 was out to 4 seconds, although by the time of the pitstops it had reduced to 2 seconds.

As per Merc team rules Rosberg was able to pit first and the slight advantage of the under-cut gave him a lead of some 4 seconds which Hamilton was simply not able to reduce. His 5 second penalty was neither here nor there in the final result. It was great and calm drive by Rosberg which will have made Hamilton very much sit up and take notice. This was not a chance victory, it was a world-class drive. It will be very interesting to watch the rest of the season pan out between these two, although I suspect the Brit will ultimately prevail.

Vettel was cruising towards a safe third place in the first half of the race, being unable to keep up with the Mercs in front but handily ahead of Massa in fourth, when a cross-threaded wheel nut during his only pit stop put him behind the Williams. He caught up with it again but was not able to get past before the chequered flag came out.

It was a disappointing race for Ferrari who had hoped for much more in the build up. In practice there were signs that their longer run performance could get the red cars in amongst the Mercs but there was clearly no way they were quick enough. Vettel would have cruised to a safe third had it not been for his pits top problem, and he remains in an easy third place in the driver’s championship. And as for Raikkonen… it’s no longer going his way, there are too many errors and ‘bad luck’ episodes. With some proven drivers waiting in the wings, like Hulkenberg and Bottas, I cannot see Kimi keeping his seat for 2016. The latest rumours also include Ricciardo in the list – he really must be fed up with the lack of Red Bull progress.

As of yet there is nothing and no one on the horizon who can threaten the Mercs. But don’t let that get you down too much, just enjoy some of the battles we will see at the front in the remainder of the season.

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