Ambient 14° Track 27° Humidity 44% Wind 1-2 kmh
The 2015 edition of the Austrian GP was won and lost in the very first corner, as Nico Rosberg pulled a blinder of a start up the inside, neatly taking the lead into Turn 1. Although Lewis was right on him a safety Car 2 laps later, the result of the unfortunate love child of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen coming together shut down the pursuit and it was never really close again at the top.
The race was not without incidents though and Rosberg gave himself a bit of a scare on the way into the pits by hitting the grass and almost losing the car. He was helped by a most unusual error by Hamilton, who, in his haste to exit the pits strayed across the line on pit exit lap 37, gaining a 5 second penalty and effectively ending the race for the top step lap 41 when the penalty was confirmed.
The rest of the field did was not bothered and it was the Maldonado Verstappen show at the end providing the most entertainment for all the reasons one might imagine, particularly the late move by Maldonado that caught Verstappen unawares, causing the man from Venezuela to most remarkably avoid a crash and then gain the position as Verstappen went straight on at Turn 1. No word as to whether young Max changed his braking point, however.
A good recovery for Ricciardo coming into the points after his penalty and after the loss of Alonso it was inevitable that Button would have to retire, making it a perfect race yet again for McHonda. Honda’s CEO must have been impressed, to say the least.
It also turned out that Ferrari was equally capable of giving away podium positions, this time to Massa as a result of another slow pit stop for Vettel just to keep things fair. Vettel valiantly fought back and was well within DRS the last 7 laps or so, but could not seal the deal and thus finished 4th. Once again, Ferarri’s vaunted race pace appeared to evaporate once Mercedes, you know, actually tried.
A flat grey light punctured by the occasional beam of sunlight illuminated the Styrian hills in Spielberg as the drivers and engineers made their final adjustments before the formation lap. The long run up to Turn 1 loomed as the lights went red.
Technically the battle for first was not over till Turn 3, at least according to Rosberg in a post race interview, which I guess is some small improvement over the Turn 1 that was rapidly becoming the standard. More to the point, the battle was ended with Rosberg in front after a brilliant start that saw him claim the inside of Turn 1 with Lewis riding his gearbox for the next 2 turns until the Safety Car was brought out for the Raikkonen-Alonso incident, which had to be the exclamation point on a Weekendus Horribilis for Kimi.
Whilst I would dearly enjoy reporting exactly what happened, a lack of onboard footage from Alonso’s car(apparently FOM weren’t recording as they lack the facilities to record all the onboard footage simultaneously(???!!!) according to Crofty) plus the FOM camera man being occupied further up the grid resulted in a singular lack of images. So as of this review the incident is still being investigated by the stewards. Here’s a hint, have the circuit CCTV required to cover all the track for FIA accreditation and then require the footage to be made available to FOM and stewards as necessary within a set period of time, say 5 or 10 minutes. Also, portable hard drives are cheap, why not buy a few more and record all the footage from the cars. Holy 20th century Batman!!
At any rate, it appeared to those on site that Kimi lit his tyres up and lost the car, collecting Alonso who was next to him. Alonso rode up on top of Raikkonen’s car and the Finn was lucky to walk away unhurt as the McHonda was well atop the Ferrari in a most unusual configuration. Post race speculation from Sky was that the Kimi’s Launch Map for the throttle might once more have been at fault as in Canada, but again, no official word as of the writing of this review.
Kvyat managed to get into the back of Perez during his launch which was most rapid, ruining his front wing, floor and race all in the same moment and requiring for starters an extra pit stop to get the damage sorted. Stevens punctured his radiator with run over debris and was forced to retire as well. Button punctured as well but everyone knew it didn’t matter as there was little chance he would finish. And just to make it a busy day for the stewards, Ericsson came under investigation for a jump start for which he was later penalized.
Aside from Nico, on the plus side of the ledger both Verstappen and Sainz had made strong moves before the Safety Car suspended the action. Lap 6 saw the Safety Car in and the action rapidly concentrated on P6-10 with the usual gaps of 1-2 seconds becoming established between the top 5 almost immediately, though Vettel did drift back to the 6-8 second range after a few laps.
Lap 9 was the end of Button’s run, so it did turn out to be a real “testing” situation as it were, with the Honda CEO no doubt less than impressed with the utter failure of his staff of wizards to produce anything resembling a usable engine at this point in the season. Rumours that he was misled into believing the initials DNF stood for “does nicely finish” by his underlings and was furious when he discovered otherwise are completely scurrilous and not the least bit true.
Grosjean found himmself stuck behind a recalcitrant Perez and it took Bottas till lap 15 to wrk his way round Bottas to claim P6. Verstappen had a go at reclaiming the spot but there wasn’t much in it as Bottas had retained DRS from the previous timing and was simply able to power away as soon as he got his car pointed in a straight line.
By lap 20 Perez was doing an excellent Trulli imitation having stacked both the Lotii behind him. Hamilton was hanging about 2 seconds or so behind Rosberg but no one expected any real action till the pit stops began and the fast laps would be put in. The Mercedes lads did, however run up the juice to the point where the undercut was not on for Ferrari, leaving it the usual leading driver gets strategy call rules for the Silver Arrows.
Grosjean gave it up lap 24 and hit the pits while Bottas continued his forward momentum and finally hauled in Hulkenberg on the next lap. Bottas passed him between Turns 4 and 5 and at the end of the lap Hulkenberg dove into the pits.
The next lap Bottas followed suit and got a bit dodgy on his exit from the pit box, just about cutting off Verstappen. The result was Hulkenberg back in front and it would take Bottas all the way to lap 35 to reclaim the spot. Ricciardo meanwhile had been quietly taking care of his Prime tyres and as a result had wandered up to 9th as his teammate began to roll back down the hill with his wounded beast, as first Verstappen and then Grosjean rolled by him.
Rosberg, having decided that 33 was an auspicious number, made his rather exciting way into the pits on that lap, hitting the grass and very nearly losing the race in the process as only a monster recovery kept him on the black stuff. Lewis helped out, though, as they brought him in 2 laps later instead of the bog standard 1 and on leaving the pits, he strayed across the white line that delineates the pit exit from the racing surface. This resulted in the automatic application of a 5 second penalty which would just be tacked onto the end of his race time, effectively ending the race for P1 (barring unreliability from Nico). Had this been a couple of years ago, however, Hamilton would have had to reenter the pits to serve his time and would have been hard pressed to gain enough time on Massa and Vettel to emerge ahead of the pair.
Grosjean and Stevens both added to the body count in the meantime as Grosjean retired with terminal gearbox issues and Sainz had similar problems but with his control electronics unit.
Massa came in lap 35 in a stop filled with a total lack of drama whilst Vettel came in the following lap and proved that Ferrari are happy to give away podiums to Williams every race weekend, as a cross threaded wheel nut delayed Vettel’s return to the track, ceding P3 to the Williams of Massa. Maldonado meanwhile had not crashed or driven off track, but rather handily driven round the ailing Kvyat in search of redemption for the first miserable chunk of his season.
As Vettel set off to prove just how impossible it was for a Ferrari to get past a Mercedes powered car, even the Sky commentary seemed to be having a hard time coming up with things to say. At one point, Brundle even remarked “Let’s see, what else is going on” as the run up to the Finale rapidly began to resemble watching the gears go round in a clock, as Mercedes had parked themselves well in front of the Vettel/ Massa duel to protect against Lewis’ penalty.
As the strategy choices played out FOM was forced into running replays of brake dust pluming out of Bottas’s right front wheel while the audience waited for the Ferarri to get within striking distance of the Williams. Ricciardo was told to turn it up as P10 was in site and it looked good for Maldonado as well as the audience as his closing in on Verstappen promised something to discuss at the end of the race.
Maldonado was the first to get there, catching up with Verstappen Lap 63 whilst viewers who looked carefully might have caught a glimpse of Hamilton adding ingredients to his slow cooker (that one was for faithful podcast listeners, FYI do come check us out). Vettel followed suit a lap later having finally whittled Massa’s advantage down to DRS range.
Immediately Maldonado almost lost the car after an attempt to get round Verstappem came up short. Vetterl continued to try to harry Massa, but it was clear that even with DRS the Ferrari was not going to get round the Williams unless Massa made a mistake. Given that his former team was in his mirrors, a highly unlikely circumstance.
To entertain us further (and certainly not in a bid to get more screen time for Mercedes) Rosberg hit the airwaves to complain about an increasing vibration in the wheels, though he had not flat-spotted his tyres. AS the laps dwindled he sounded increasingly anxious, one of the more human moments of the race, reflecting the enormous pressure these drivers operate under when they are on track.
The end of the race proved to be the Maldonado/Verstappen show, though not because they had a massive shunt, but rather because they most miraculously avoided one. After several laps of getting alongside Verstappen but not being able to get all the way by, Maldonado lined up the young Dutchman coming onto the start/finish straight and under DRS had him dead to rights. AS Maldonado went to pass up the inside, in a very late move Verstappen hauled over the very same direction, forcing Maldonado to snap the opposite way, breaking the rear loose and sending him tank slapping down the middle of the track with sparks flying from underneath the car as the suspension struggled with the unusual lateral load at insanely high speed. Verstappen, no doubt distracted as his mirrors filled suddenly with unexpected Lotus, went completely straight on at T1. This allowed Pastor, who remarkably seemed to have lost little actual speed despite his gymkhana-esque maneuvers to claim P7 on the last lap, a compelling result for at a time when he really needed it. Though I am compelled to point out that no one appeared to question Verstappen about this move afterwards, perhaps because no damage was done this time round.
Also coming good were Hulkenberg in a stellar P6 and Ricciardo managing a single point in coming from the back, and no that point was not about the Renault engine. In fact the midfield indeed made good as late race silliness aside Verstappen in P7 and Perez in P9 rounded out solid efforts and promises much fun once Red Bull don’t have 9 million place penalties and assuming Kvyat can keep his car in one piece.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks, sooner if you watch the Podcast livestream.
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