The Austrian GP at the Red Bull Ring not only marked a successful return to Formula 1, but it also reaffirmed Mercedes GP as primary contenders for both titles.
After the struggles both Mercedes drivers faced in qualifying, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton had all to play for after a surprise performance showed by Williams Martini Racing. Not only did Rosberg fail to make the top two starting positions like he did for every race of the season thus far, but his teammate Hamilton couldn’t manage to set a time in both his timed runs. For reasons still to be disclosed, the rear of the Mercedes locked on Hamilton’s second run as he tried to set a timed lap. As a result, he spun out which brought out the yellow flags. It was a repeat of what happened in Monaco, only this time it was Rosberg who had to let up on his effort to topple the two Williams cars of Felipe Massa (pole) and Valteri Bottas. Ultimately, Rosberg lined up third behind the two Williams drivers, with Hamilton in ninth.
Once the red lights went out, it was Massa who managed a clear getaway from the field. Rosberg managed to pass Bottas by the first corner, but the Fin came back and reclaimed second spot. Behind the top three it was Hamilton who made the best charge up the field, as by the second last corner of the first lap he made the pass on the ever-struggling Ferrari of Fernando Alonso to take fourth position. At the start of the second lap it was four Mercedes-engine powered cars leading the pack: the two Williams followed in close pursuit by the factory Mercedes team.
Up until the first round of pit stops there was nothing to choose between the two teams, with engine power ultimately ensuring that all four cars enjoyed a great deal of top speed. Rosberg came in first at what seemed to be an early pit stop, but it turned out to be the right call as he was the one benefiting and taking provisional first place. Massa also entered the pits shortly after Rosberg, followed by the second Mercedes of Hamilton and his Williams teammate Bottas. As strong a showing the Williams drivers gave, their inability to make the right strategic calls cost them the top two positions, with Hamilton not taking long to pass Bottas for second place. By the middle of the race the order was reversed, as the two Mercedes drivers, led by Rosberg, controlled the race followed by Bottas and Massa.
What looked to be another weekend, in succession, where the Mercedes’ dominance will be broken, turned out to be a pipe dream to those wanting to achieve it. The experience and perfect execution of a race plan worked out for the team leading both championships. There does not seem to be, for the foreseeable future, any cure to stop the hurried dominance of a Mercedes team hungry for success.
Mercedes team boss, Toto Wolff, said in an interview over the course of the weekend that the inter team battle between Rosberg and Hamilton might affect the team negatively as the season progresses. But there were little evidence of any inter team battle that might hinder the team’s progress as both Hamilton and Rosberg went maturely about their business and ensured the maximum result for their team.
When the chequered flag dropped, it was Rosberg coming home first ahead of team mate Lewis Hamilton, and in doing so, stretched his lead to 29 points over the Brit. Bottas secured Williams a well-deserved third place and also his first appearance on the podium. In the other Williams Massa could not match the pace of the leading trio and came home in fourth despite a late surge from Alonso, who gave Ferrari a now-accustomed-to fifth place. His Finnish team mate, Kimi Raikkonen, came home in tenth.
For reigning champions Red Bull it was another horrid weekend, as what was to be a home race turned out to be a race to forget. Having retired for the third time this season, Vettel faced another difficult weekend. After qualifying in 12th place it was all about damage limitation and securing maximum points, but after losing drive in the second lap and retiring shortly after, there was nothing to write home about for the four time champion. His team mate, Daniel Ricciardo, struggled home in eighth place and gave Red Bull a mere three points in front of their home crowd.
Mercedes GP may have well and truly eliminated the gremlins that hindered them in Canada and the Formula One paddock can expect another strong showing in two weeks’ time at the British Grand Prix from the two men leading the championship. It is all but lost after seven of nineteen rounds of the season for the other teams to make up ground, but the question remains whether they will catch the Silver Arrows before it’s too late…
– Charlen Raymond