The dust will take a while to settle from this one. A race that slow-burned at first came alive late on, with a moment of immense controversy that will have rumbling repercussions.
A word on the obvious story. Despite starting sixth (and initially slipping to seventh) Nico Rosberg was able to move up through the field and put himself in a position to get by Lewis Hamilton once the first set of stops was completed. Hamilton was left out on the ultra-soft tyres too long; whether this was Hamilton’s call or not, he ended up coming out of the pits just behind his teammate and would face having to pass him on track to win.
The variable of the safety car (triggered when Vettel’s rear-right tyre failed on the main straight – more on that later) didn’t impact the race a great deal – Rosberg and Hamilton both pitted toward the end, but interestingly, Rosberg was given supersoft tyres and Hamilton softs. This was partly due to Hamilton having no supers available, though Lewis was disgruntled by this at first. Nevertheless, aided by traffic and the ability to push harder on harder rubber, Hamilton closed in on Rosberg, but the German remained tantalisingly out of reach, until the final lap.
A little wobble from Rosberg and a great exit from turn 1 gave Hamilton the chance to close in rapidly as they approached turn 2. Hamilton slipped around the outside and as he turned to take the corner, Rosberg (who was on the inside line) failed to react to the corner until it was too late to avoid a collision. Whereas in Spain both cars went out on the opening lap, here Rosberg came off far worse – Hamilton was able to rejoin the track and win the race – the bump cost Rosberg his front wing, and saw him drop to fourth. To add insult to injury, he would later be given a 10-second time penalty (that did nothing to affect his finishing position) and two points on his licence. Rosberg was adamant the incident was not his fault – but the stewards clearly felt differently.
This latest coming together between the Mercedes pair is only to raise tensions within the team – how the team itself handles matters could be crucial to the title race (the gap is back down to 11 points). We’re virtually at the halfway point of the season and it’s hard to judge how this will go. Clearly the driver’s championship is between these two – so further wheel-to-wheel action between the pair is inevitable. Mercedes have thus far not handled things terribly but not brilliantly either. This is a major test.
Rosberg’s error led to Max Verstappen claiming second – the young man was once again composed, making the most of his circumstances as Red Bull closed the gap on Ferrari in the constructor’s championship. They were aided in no small part by a spectacular tyre blow-out on the main straight – Sebastian Vettel had not yet pitted when, at the start of lap 27, the rear-right tyre dramatically failed, putting him into the wall and back across the track (nearly collecting Haryanto’s Manor in the process). In theory the supersofts Vettel was running on were within their performance window – he might have clipped one of the sharp kerbs that line the circuit.
Hulkenburg’s promising qualifying faded into a disappointing race. He fell back through the order quite swiftly, and his Force India teammate Perez crashed out on the final lap. It wasn’t a weekend to remember for them.
There was better news for McLaren. Jensen had been promoted to third on the grid following penalties for Rosberg and Vettel, and whilst it was always going to be a tall order to stay there, Button did end up sixth, earning eight valuable points for his team.
There were also points for Haas (Grosjean with seventh), Toro Rosso (Sainz took eighth), Williams (Bottas finished ninth) and Manor – following his excellent performance in qualifying, Pascal Wehrlein was able to maintain a good pace and snatch the final points position (despite risking a penalty for reversing into his grid slot at the start, having missed his marks). Manor now move above Sauber in the constructor’s championship.
Next up is Silverware, for the British Grand Prix. See you there!