There were thrills and spills in Spielberg after the most tense race of the season so far, with Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg clashing together on the final lap of a heated Austrian Grand Prix. The two championship rivals dueled late in the race, with Rosberg in the lead having to navigate his way through lapped traffic and Hamilton hot on his tail, constantly applying pressure.
The last few laps were quite reminiscent of endurance sports car racing where the leaders pick their way past slower cars. Rosberg and Hamilton continued to be neck-and-neck approaching the final lap, where Rosberg made a slight mistake clipping the inside curb at Turn One. Hamilton made a tremendous exit out of the same corner and immediately slipstreamed his teammate climbing up the hill to Turn Two.
With Rosberg moving out of the racing line, defending the inside line, Hamilton took to the outside and was slightly ahead of his teammate right before the turn-in point. The problem was Rosberg was determined to defend hard by forcing Hamilton to the very edge of the track. Hamilton turned in while Rosberg was just about to begin steering into the corner and that’s when the two Silver Arrows collided, yet again after their first lap incident at Barcelona last May.
The contact damaged Rosberg’s front wing while only damaging Hamilton’s side pod. The two even almost collided again as Hamilton was trying to rejoin the track and Rosberg was adamant to not give an inch of space whatsoever. But the damage to the championship leader’s car was bad enough for him to surrender his lead to Hamilton and drop a further two places before the checkered flag, limping home with a broken front wing underneath his car.
Thus, it was Hamilton who was victorious in Austria, cutting down Rosberg’s championship lead to eleven points. Max Verstappen finished a sterling second on Red Bull’s home grand prix, holding off Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Even though Rosberg received a penalty for (at least according to the stewards) causing the collision with Hamilton, he still retained fourth position ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in the official classifications.
Verstappen didn’t steal the spotlight from this race but he drove well enough to make his Soft compound tires last for a long time while holding Raikkonen at bay. The Dutchman momentarily had the lead after the two Mercedes came in to pit for fresh tires late in the race but didn’t fight the two Silver Arrows too hard as he tried to consolidate a podium finish.
The standout driver of the race, however, was Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein, finishing tenth and scoring his first career point, which also gives Manor their first point of the season. Wehrlein started to impress during Qualifying, where he placed twelfth and was only a few tenths of a second away from getting into Q3, even. Taking with him his experience of the track from DTM, Wehrlein had strong pace in the latter half of the race after being dead last on the safety car restart. In the midst of the Rosberg-Hamilton final lap incident, Wehrlein was actually challenging the Williams of Valtteri Bottas for ninth, while holding off Esteban Gutierrez in the Haas closely behind. Wehrlein was quick in a track he knew well and earned this impressive tenth place finish for his team.
Meanwhile, Jenson Button finished sixth after starting the race with his McLaren on third thanks to grid penalties to Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel. Button stormed to second on the start, maintaining a surprisingly strong early pace, keeping second place for the first seven laps. He also didn’t make it deliberately easy for the Ferraris and Red Bulls to pass him, proving that his Honda-powered McLaren was no pushover. This race was Button’s time to shine, similar to teammate Fernando Alonso’s performances in Hungary last year and Russia earlier this year.
One major disappointment of the race though was Force India. After starting the race on the front row alongside polesitter Hamilton, Nico Hulkenberg said on social media that he struggled massively with tire graining. The German never seemed to recover his pace to at least salvage a points-scoring finish, eventually having to retire before the race’s end. Tire management issues seem to be a recurring problem for Force India this year, as I believe they had similar problems at Bahrain and China earlier this season. Hulkenberg’s teammate Sergio Perez was on his way to an eighth place finish when he had a car failure and crashed out at Turn Three on the final lap. I hate to say it but after their recent string of success, this race brought Force India back down to earth.
I’m sure though, that they’re happy that the British Grand Prix already comes this weekend, giving them (and also Rosberg) a quick bounce-back opportunity.