There are a few things that F1 rounds in Austria have grown to be associated with. Entertaining fare. And that, somehow, things will happen here, and some of them will be unusual. This one, the whole Austrian Grand Prix weekend indeed, can be said to have lived up fully to the local reputation. This ring, the Red Bull Ring, delivered a circus act.
And even with what has gone before probably none of it has surpassed what we got on the final lap this time. There was a Mercedes-on-Mercedes fight for the win. Nico Rosberg led, but the chasing Lewis Hamilton was faster, helped by a more ideal tyre compound. It got close, but just as the final tour began and Nico appeared to be just enough out of reach he made a mistake at turn 1 which allowed Lewis a run on him into the turn 2 hairpin.
The Infamous Clash
Nico covered the inside, Lewis went to the outside, and then Nico it appeared simply speared straight on in a crude attempt to force Lewis wide, and there was contact. But the biter got bitten as while Nico emerged ahead his car, its front wing bent, was hobbled meaning Lewis passed easily to win. Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen also got by leaving Nico a sheepish fourth.
Nico, almost alone, blamed his team mate but the stewards indeed put the blame firmly at his own door, and he was fortunate that the various penalties did not diminish his finishing place yet further. Perhaps worse for him it is but the latest example of him being clumsy around Lewis in battle, as well as not the first time he’s eschewed the sensible option of playing the percentage game. Worst of all, it all means Lewis is now just 11 points behind in the championship table.
Curiouser and Curiouser
We even had some strangeness in getting there. Saturday’s running was indeed odd, initially with vicious kerbs causing suspension breakages, one for Nico indeed wherein the resultant smash meant he had to change his gearbox and therefore add five to his earned qualifying slot. Sebastian Vettel had to do the same also after changing his own ‘box since Baku. These plus a madcap wet-but-drying qualifying session gave us a rather jumbled starting grid.
It got curiouser still in the race in its own way, even indeed the cream of the Mercs rising to the top was against some expectation – Ferrari again rather shot itself in the foot on strategy and Vettel’s day was ended properly by a tyre bursting. Furthermore, Lewis starting on delicate ultrasoft tyres was meant to pit early to ditch them and thus open the way for his rivals, but he was able to nurse them for a whole 21 laps, apparently in so doing setting himself up nicely for the win. Yes Nico had got ahead when Lewis stopped, but he’d changed tyres much earlier and surely had to stop again. That was Lewis’s understanding at least.
But the day changed when Merc decided to bring both cars in one more time. Lewis at least got the opportunity to ‘undercut’ from stopping first, but a tardy stop then an error on his out lap meant Nico stayed ahead. Therefore to win he needed to pass on track. Which is where we came in, and we got a finish to remember. Even over and above the local reputation.