Apologies – I didn’t get around to doing a preview so this review incorporates a little of that. I missed the 2014 edition of this race, so I was glad to catch it this time around!
The track has few corners, being largely about a handful of especially tight right-handers coming at the end of long straights – there are a number of overtaking opportunities across this 71-lap race as a result. Turn 1, turn 2 and turn 3 all represent good chances to make a move, and the race itself did indeed see a few such moves, largely within the middle of the pack.
As mentioned, this track is the home (well, spiritual home) of Red Bull. However, any chance of a win here would be dependent on pretty much half the front-runners failing to finish, and indeed, a grid penalty for replacing components put Daniel Ricciardo even further down the pecking order of the starting lineup than he might otherwise have been.
This was a fate that awaited both McLarens as well. Alonso was trialling new upgrades to the car, but didn’t get a thorough chance to see what they could do (for reasons that will become apparent shortly), whilst Button retired due to a mechanical issue – a new engine in the car, and it failed on him!
In practice it appeared that Ferrari would be quite competitive, only fractionally away from the best Mercedes times, whilst in the ongoing battle between the two Mercedes cars, it was Rosberg would held the upper hand. Qualifying however, saw the Silver Arrows once again be simply too quick for anyone else to handle, though Hamilton would sneak pole after both he and Rosberg span during their final Q3 runs.
On to the race – and for the first time this year, Rosberg got by Hamilton at the start, leading swiftly into turn 1 and from there, was never really threatened. Austria appears to be a venue Hamilton just can’t get to grips with (he was beaten here last year as well), and all he could was watch as Rosberg gradually built up a steady gap, occasionally whittling away at it, but never enough to threaten.
For Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, the race was over on the first lap. For reasons not yet apparent, Raikkonen lost control of his Ferrari out of turn 2, veering hard to the left and collecting Alonso’s McLaren in the process, leaving Alonso’s car perched upon Raikkonen’s! Both drivers were unhurt, though Alonso did describe the incident as ‘scary’.
The Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Kvyat had been penalised before the race even began thanks to engine changes, and the race did nothing to dispel the team’s dissatisfaction with F1’s current rules. Ricciardo actually drove extremely well to bring the car home in the points, but a couple of years ago Red Bull were sweeping all before them – now, they’re thankful to get 10th place and a single point!
There was better news for Red Bull’s junior Toro Rosso team. Max Verstappen continued to show why he’s regarded as a future star, with a strong race and 8th place. His teammate Sainz had to retire on lap 35, but even so, it’s progress for Toro Rosso.
It was also progress for Force India – Nico Hulkenberg (fresh from winning the Le Mans 24-hour race) had qualified 5th and finished 6th. With teammate Perez in 9th, it marked an improvement in the team’s fortunes, one they will hope to build on.
Lotus also collected more points, thanks to Maldonaldo (Grosjean retiring with gearbox trouble on lap 35). It was also a strong showing from Williams, with Massa taking 3rd (his first podium of the year, and 40th of his career, after a pit stop problem for Vettel) and Bottas 5th. Williams have slowly been upping their game recently, and will have Ferrari in their sights.
So what does this mean for the title fights? Well, Rosberg is now only 10 points behind Hamilton, with Vettel 39 points behind his fellow German. In the constructor’s championship, Mercedes are streaking away, but behind them Williams have closed to 63 points of Ferrari. Red Bull are a long way back in 4th on 55 points, with Force India on 31 and Lotus on 29, both starting to reeling them in.
We’re off to Silverstone next, for the British Grand Prix in two weeks time!