The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX : Austria : Seb Explodes, Mercs Clash and Kimi’s Podium

07-07-2016

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Image courtesy of formula1.com

Report by Tim Saunders

With mixed conditions throughout the Austrian GP weekend the prospect of an exciting and unpredictable contest come race day was on the cards. And we weren’t disappointed.

Some encouraging times in FP3 from the Ferraris, Red Bulls and even Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India made it look quite possible that Mercedes may actually have a race on their hands. The real star of the show in free practice for me was eventual 10th place finisher and single point scorer Pascal Wehrlein who finished FP3 12th quickest in a Manor which hasn’t benefitted from any go-faster parts all season – good job Pascal!

Qualifying on the Saturday was always going to result in an unusual business-end of the grid with wet/dry conditions and both Rosberg and Vettel receiving 5 place grid drops for gearbox changes. The Scuderia’s rare reliability issue resulted in an untimely penalty, having brought an upgraded power unit for this race, forcing Seb to start 9th on the grid after qualifying 4th with Kimi in 6th with his usual couple-of-tenths deficit to his team mate.

A revitalised Nico Hulkenberg took advantage of the slippery conditions and qualified a brilliant 3rd which, after the application of penalties, became a front row start in 2nd. The last time there were no exhaust pipes for Hulkenberg to aim for was at a similarly wet/dry Brazilian quali in 2010 for Williams where he achieved his first pole position and Williams’ first since 2005. Other notable quali performances where from Button (5th/3rd) timing his final run to perfection on a drying track in an improving McLaren Honda and again Wehrlein who kept the Manor Team’s dreams alive with a Q2 appearance and a very respectable 12th. What contrast to a stroppy Alonso escaping from the back of the McLaren garage after struggling to 14th. I should mention that Hamilton got pole shouldn’t I? Hamilton got pole.

So on to Sunday and a mostly dry race with only the odd spot of light drizzle to contend with at times. Finally Hamilton managed to get a good start, albeit without his team mate for comparison and was first to kiss the apex at turn 1 and blast his way down to turn 2. The writing was on the wall – or was it? A cracking start by Button and at least 7 laps worth of delaying the inevitable should have given Hamilton the chance to romp away but no, Button’s pace pegged Lewis to only a 2.888 second lead after 6 laps, that’s only 0.481s per lap quicker than the McLaren. A decent points haul for the Woking team was on, even after Alonso’s DNF, with Button eventually finishing 5th for 8pts.

Vettel's right rear Pirelli delaminated whilst leading on lap 27

Vettel’s right rear Pirelli delaminated whilst leading on lap 27

Once Button was cleared by Raikkonen, an ever racey Verstappen and a recovering Vettel the dice rolling began with the third race tyre option coming in to play. Ferrari were relying on Vettel’s Supersofts lasting for around 30 laps but his right rear exlpoded whilst leading lap 26 on the start/finish straight, launching him into the pit wall eventually coming to a stop just before turn 1. Pirelli later blamed debris for the failure but yet again a missed opportunity for Vettel and Ferrari. It must have hurt Seb even more when he learned that Kimi managed 20 laps more on the Ultrasofts – ouch. Out came the safety car and any lead the drivers had accrued vanished in the blink of Bernd Maylander’s eye.

After the inevitable swarm of pitstops the order was Rosberg, Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo and Raikkonen with Button protecting all of them from the rear a few more seconds down the road. Hamilton was somewhat surprised to be behind his team mate having not seen him all race and expressed his disdain on the radio. Rosberg’s low grid slot and early tyre graining meant a switch to a two stop strategy which resulted in some great pace and the race lead.

Vettel’s earlier tyre explosion caused concern in the Mercedes camp and both drivers were called in for new boots on their Silver Arrows rather than risk a double DNF – how ironic. With Rosberg on Supersofts and Hamilton on Softs we were treated to a rare and exciting unknown: would Rosberg’s tyres fall of the cliff at the end? Could Hamilton get enough pace from his slower tyres to mount a challenge in the last few laps?

Hamilton chased down Rosberg and on the final lap Rosberg, who was nurturing brake-by-wire problems, hit the kerb on the inside of turn 1 and compromised his exit speed allowing Hamilton to position himself alongside his team mate on the way into turn 2. On the face of it, it looked like Rosberg attempted the oldest trick in the book – run him wide and slow him down – as he went deep into turn 2, staying clear of the his usual racing line (which he had managed for 70 laps previous) and forcing Hamilton to the edge of the track but apparently this was caused by his brake issues. I didn’t realise that a lack of brakes stops a driver from turning the steering wheel because from the onboard camera footage it seems Rosberg was unable to turn right at the point he would normally do so. Strange.

The result is yet another clash of silver painted carbon fibre which luckily for Hamilton didn’t damage his car as much as it did Rosberg’s and he was able to retain the lead to the chequered flag with Nico limping home without a front wing in 4th. I don’t know anyone who has sided with Rosberg on this one and it seems the FIA are no different having given him a 10 second penalty and a reprimand for causing a collision which left his Austrian GP finish and Silverstone start unaffected – lucky boy. With a lucky escape from a potential double DNF the question on everyone’s lips is will Toto Wolff impose team orders from here on? I have a contact at the team and he has said it’s pretty much a done deal which is a shame because think of Mercedes’ recent domination what you will, you cannot fault their enthusiasm for racing and allowing their drivers to continue to race each other on track.

A timely podium for Raikkonen

A timely podium for Raikkonen

While all the fuss and fist banging was going on in the Mercedes garage the class in the youg gun Max Verstappen and vast experience in the elder statesman Kimi Raikkonen brought them both a fine podium. With ‘silly season’ looming and driver changes on teams’ agendas Kimi’s podium couldn’t have come at a more important time for the Finn. Although in my opinion the decision at Ferrari has already been made.

Poor old Nico Hulkenberg had a disasterous race and eventually retired his Force India on lap 64 from a lowly 19th place. There have been rumours about a potential move to Ferrari for Nico for years but performances like this, coupled with fierce competition from his team mate Sergio Perez, may have dented his chances. I for one rate Hulkenberg and would love to see him in a competitive car but it’s now looking unlikely.

To end on a positive, there was yet another points scoring finish for Romain Grosjean in his HAAS Ferrari finishing in 7th. To think only a few seasons ago Romain was the source of many a frown in the pitlane due to his gung-ho starts and wreckless racecraft. He’s developed into a reliable and fast driver as well as a nice bloke, can he speak Italian…?