F1 Austrian Grand Prix: Here We Go Again

In racing, it’s not who leads the first lap, the halfway lap or even the most laps. Nico Rosberg led the most laps of the Austrian Grand Prix but he didn’t taste the winner’s champagne. In fact, he turned out to be a villain of Maldonado-ian levels after the chequered flag flew. A last lap collision with teammate Lewis Hamilton while defending the lead left Rosberg worse for wear, as is often the case when this occurs, and handed the win to Hamilton.

The race started interestingly. Pascal Wehrlein, who made it through to Q2 for the first time and nearly to Q3, missed his grid slot and had to hastily reverse to the right position. Felipe Massa had to start from the pits so the slot in front of the young German was vacant when he mistakenly entered it. Surprisingly, there was no rule against reversing on the grid before the lights activated so he went unpenalized because he started in the correct spot.

The start was clean with polesitter Hamilton leading away from the lights. Nico Hulkenberg’s dreadful day began by going backwards through the field at the stop and not really stopping his descent until the team called it a day early. That allowed Jenson Button, who started 3rd because of a surprising quali result on penalties to Rosberg and Vettel for gearbox changes, to assume 2nd. He didn’t last long before Raikkonen got him, though.

From the start, it was a game of pit strategy and expected tyre mileage. Lewis Hamilton expected to get five laps out of his ultra-softs but got 21 laps out of them. The problem was that the undercut taken by teammate Rosberg promoted him to the effective lead of the race after starting 6th on super-softs. However, it was believed that Hamilton could go 49 laps on the softs while Rosberg would need one more stop.

What likely changed that strategy was the safety car on Lap 27. Sebastian Vettel had been leading the race until his right-rear super-soft exploded on the front stretch and sent him into the wall. It seemed that might have caused everyone to get a little apprehensive about tyre lives. So both Mercedes ended up making late stops for fresh rubber. Hamilton went on the softs, the only new set of tyres he had left, while Rosberg went to the super-softs, again, his only new set remaining.

While Hamilton complained about the split strategy on his radio, it looked to be working in his favour in the dying moments. Luck with traffic and an apparent brake issue on Rosberg’s car brought him in touch with his teammate, a situation he hadn’t found himself in since the safety car. Hamilton tried an outside move on the pair’s last lap run through Turn Two. Rosberg tried to force him wide but Hamilton had none of it. The resulting collision left Rosberg’s car wounded and allowed Hamilton to cruise to victory.

Hamilton’s victory is the 250th Grand Prix victory by a British driver which is a fact that only the Brits care about, I would imagine. Max Verstappen came home in second for his 2nd career podium and a much-loved result in Red Bull’s home country. Kimi Raikkonen finished in 3rd which is a result that Ferrari needs with Red Bull threatening them for 2nd in the World Constructors’ Championship at only 22 points behind.

Nico Rosberg dragged his wounded car home in 4th and stayed there despite receiving a 10-second time penalty for the crash with Hamilton. Daniel Ricciardo finished in 5th. Jenson Button fell down the order but managed to hold on well enough to finish in 6th. Romain Grosjean brought Haas back to the points in 7th. Carlos Sainz finished in 8th. Valtteri Bottas was the first car one lap down as he does little to inspire confidence in anyone for a 2017 F1 seat with his 9th. And Pascal Wehrlein rounded out the points in 10th which gives Manor their second ever points finish.

So let’s talk about that last lap. What is indisputable is that Rosberg and Hamilton collided in Turn Two.

What I don’t understand is the rush to vilify Rosberg for this. I understand that the majority of Formula One press is British so they are seldom objective when it comes to a British driver but the problem is that their homer attitude informs the beliefs of most fans.

It’s amazing to see the fans attacking Rosberg after this (showing there is such a thing as a sore winner). Granted, it’s not like you expect anyone to wait for Niki Lauda to say he had a brake-by-wire failure and Toto Wolff to say that his brakes were marginal. However, it’s also not like we haven’t seen aggressive moves from Hamilton to take or defend positions from his teammate. If Rosberg was “reaping what he sowed,” as so many on Twitter claimed, when he lost out in the collision with Hamilton, wouldn’t you say the same if Lewis came off worse for wear in the exchange. Of course not, because we all love Hamilton, don’t we?

By the way, people are allowed to cheer and boo whoever they want. If you went to a football match, should you be forced to cheer the visiting team? Hell no! Everyone has people they like and people they don’t like. That goes for motorsport too. I’m offended by people who are offended by booing.

One piece of info that we missed covering during our little F1 coverage break is that the Halo driver head protection device will be on the cars in 2017 after Red Bull’s aero screen struggled in FIA impact testing. Working plans call for the screen to be refined for a possible introduction in 2018. Until the FIA is happy with the performance of the aero screen, the halo will be used as an almost stop-gap solution.

This could be the last Formula One race on the current configuration of the Red Bull Ring. Red Bull is looking into extending the circuit on to the old “Western Loop” that formed a part of the former Osterreichring, the track on which the A1/Red Bull Ring is built and shortened from.

As the overhead photo of the circuit shows, the old Osterreichring extends beyond Turn 1 and 2 and runs roughly parallel with the current circuit. Running that part of the circuit would add about 1.6-km to the length of the lap which is currently in the 1:07 lap time range and will only get faster with F1’s target of reducing lap times with the new aero formula.

There are a few hurdles that need to be cleared before this gets underway. The provincial government would have to allow that part of the circuit to re-enter use. It’s reported that noise complaints are the main obstacle there.

The track is also likely to be re-designed to modern F1 standards. I’m concerned this means tight chicanes. The current Red Bull Ring works because there is no chicanes to screw up the so the cars have a chance to overtake into the slow corners (Turns 2 & 3). With longer runs to Turns 1 and 2 in the Western Loop, there could be a lot overtaking in the 2017 Austrian Grand Prix. They just have to not screw up the track with needless corners to interrupt straights.

Looking at that overhead photo, I think something mirroring Turn 1 in Bahrain (the hard right with a kink back to the left) and another hard right similar to what currently is at Turn 2 in Austria would make for the best circuit. Of course, building tracks for good racing seldom seems to be what happens in Formula One.

Happy days could be coming soon for Sauber. After late payment of wages from February through May, the team’s June salaries were paid on time. While nothing has been officially announced, rumours in the paddock say that a new investor is buying into the team and taking a controlling share of it which will allow the team to continue operations. So far, there is no word as to who the new investor or owner may be.

The next round of the 2016 Formula One World Championship takes place next week. The stars of Formula One are coming home where Nico Rosberg is likely to be booed for just drawing breath. It’s the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

So we know that Mercedes is going to win unless the two drivers do something stupid and take themselves out of contention. The question is which of the two of them have the advantage. On current form, you have to like Hamilton who has won three of the last four races. Even history at the track favours Hamilton. Luck has helped Rosberg a lot this season but coming from sixth on the grid to lead should help motivate him to not let Lewis demolish him from this point on.


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