F1 Austrian Grand Prix: Closing the Gap

f1-2015-austria-rosberg-victoryWe’re back with F1 coverage after apparently missing nothing of importance at the Canadian Grand Prix. Fortunately, the racing gods made up for that by allowing me to miss absolutely nothing at this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton had a slow start and that’s all Nico Rosberg needed to win the race.

The end of qualifying and the start of the race were somewhat similar. Qualifying ended with both Hamilton and Rosberg making massive mistakes. Nico’s mistake was the one that cost him pole and allowed Hamilton to lead the field again.

The race started with two big mistakes. Lewis had a slow start that he puts down to the clutch and the team puts down to some point prior to the clutch engaging. Either way, Lewis was beaten off the lights by Rosberg who never looked back and dominated the race in what would have been dreadfully dull fashion if there wasn’t a race happening behind them.

f1-2015-austria-raikkonen-alonso-crashThe other big mistake was major wheel spin from Kimi Raikkonen coming out of Turn 2 on the first lap. Already starting in the back because of a bad strategy call in Q1, the Iceman collected Fernando Alonso mid-tankslapper that resulted in the pair hitting the armco and forcing a safety car period.

Upon resumption from the safety car, Rosberg took off into the distance, never to be caught. It looked like Hamilton might have been able to catch him on pit stops but keeping him out for one extra lap on old tyres and Lewis crossing the pit-out line for a five second penalty secured the race for Rosberg. Hamilton is probably lucky to have finished 2nd if it wasn’t for a wheel nut problem on Sebastian Vettel’s pit stop which removed all pressure from behind the championship leader.

f1-2015-austria-podiumThe win was Rosberg’s third win of the year and third in the last four Grands Prix. Hamilton finished 2nd which saw his Championship lead drop to ten points over his teammate. Felipe Massa rounded out the podium in 3rd which marks his best finish of the year and Williams’ second-consecutive podium.

Sebastian Vettel should have finished in the top three but that failed pit stop dropped him to 4th by the finish. Valtteri Bottas crossed the line in 5th which gives him his 5th top five in seven finishes. Nico Hulkenberg converted his 5th place start into a 6th place finish. Pastor Maldonado scored his second-straight 7th place finish as part of what I can only assume is a deal with Satan. Max Verstappen finished 8th despite Maldonado nearly murdering him. Sergio Perez finished 9th. And Daniel Ricciardo showed that RBR still has a lot to do by rounding out the points.

While most teams are looking at revisions to their aerodynamics at this stage of the season, Ferrari is thinking about wheel nuts.

f1-2015-austria-vettel-ferrari-pitstopThat description sounds a bit unfair but examining wheel nuts is the priority of team boss Maurizio Arrivabene after Vettel was cost a podium after a delay on the right-rear wheel during his pit stop. After the race, Arrivabene told the press that the team “threw away one more time for a stupid piece that we need to fix as soon as possible.” So while many teams are focusing on new aerodynamic parts for the second half of the season, Ferrari will be focusing on new wheel nuts.

Interestingly, in his post race notebook, Ted Kravitz said that the issue with the Ferrari wheelnut is cross-threading which is preventing it from being properly tightened in pit stops. That is what caused the pit stop problem here, Australia and Bahrain.

When I went to my first NASCAR race in 2009, my dad was more interested in the pit stops. He was chatting with one of the crew members on one of the Chevy teams (I think it might have been the #1 or #01 Nationwide Series team) about their tyre changes. He said that the wheel nuts were made of a softer metal than the studs the wheel is bolted on to. That allows them to tighten the wheels without risking cross-threading.

While I’m sure the answer is one wheel nut versus five, how can NASCAR come up with such a simple solution while Formula One can’t? If a sport that didn’t use fuel injection until 2012 can figure out pit stops better than the most expensive form of motorsport on the plan, there’s something wrong with that picture.

Speaking of Ferrari, their new boss has made an interesting offer to Red Bull.

While the Austrian team has threatened to quit the sport because they are struggling massively under the current regulations, Ferrari’s Sergio Marchionne has offered Red Bull Racing a bit of a bailout. The Ferrari boss has offered to supply Red Bull with engines in place of Renault. That would certainly be a step up for the team considering how the Renault engines are working now.

The biggest problem for Red Bull would be the engine contract with Renault that runs through 2016. I’m sure they can buy the contract out because winning is probably worth more than buying millions of dollars worth of engines and ERS units that won’t win them Grands Prix. I’m sure Renault wouldn’t mind he extra cash either. They can use that to buy their factory team.

Nico Hulkenberg spent his weekend off becoming the first active F1 driver since 1991 to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s just a quiet weekend when he’s not at his day job.

Anyway, it looks like Hulkenberg’s future employment prospects may not have improved in F1 as a result of leading Porsche’s C-team to the win. While some reporters say that Hulkenberg hasn’t denied getting interest from top team, no one has been able to figure out who actually wants the Hulk.

One rumour that is being kicked around is Ferrari’s continuing interest in Hulkenberg. With Raikkonen’s contract expiring at the end of this season and a contract renewal seeming less likely with every race, Ferrari will need a replacement and the Hulk has been coveted by Maranello for some time. If Raikkonen comes back, Ferrari customer team Haas F1 could become a temporary stop for Hulkenberg until he moves to the big team.

The next round of the 2015 Formula One World Championship is in two weeks’ time as everyone comes home. Okay, all but three teams will be coming home for their home race. Seven of Formula One’s ten teams and three of the twenty drivers are British so there will be a lot of home support as F1 goes to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix.

So the two Mercedes are going to be battling up front for the win. That much is certain. The real interest will come from the battle between Ferrari and Williams. While Ferrari is probably quicker on the whole, the high-speed Silverstone Circuit would favour the Williams. We saw how good they were in Austria and it only gets faster at Silverstone

In the meantime, there is an in-season test at the Red Bull Ring this week. We’ll have our test coverage and analysis next week.


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