2015 Austrian Grand Prix: Saturday Analysis

The folk at Brackley are becoming showmen – as are the two pilots of the Mercedes cars. For a dominant team, they regularly provide mouthwatering entertainment and despite taking their nineteenth consecutive pole position and making it an entire calendar year of Saturday glory, Hamilton and Rosberg were at the heart of late drama in Spielberg. It was the former, who held on to claim his 45th career pole, yet more through luck than judgement, as he found himself heading backwards into the turn one run-off area, ruling himself out of contention to improve as the clock ticked down to zero in Q3. Moments later, Nico Rosberg also found himself on an off-road adventure and therefore, ended second best again.

 The Margin Returns

After a Friday is which balance issues were evident on Hamilton’s side of the garage, it seemed as though qualifying would present the sternest of tests for Mercedes, as despite facing reliability woes, Ferrari were a potent force. As such, I would deem the latest Hamilton pole position among his most surprising.

For Nico Rosberg, he will surely be ruing a missed opportunity. As late as Q2, the German had had the measure of his chief rival, but a stunning effort from Hamilton bettered Rosberg’s benchmark by two tenths – a substantial margin on such a short lap. While Nico came close to eclipsing the Briton’s time on his second run, it was clearly a lap where he was exceeding the limit and pushing the envelope of adhesion a fraction too far. Ending the day in the gravel at the last corner was the result of this.

What was the most surprising element of the duel at the front, was the extent to which Mercedes controlled the front-row. While Sebastian Vettel’s final effort took him to within three tenths of splitting the Mercedes, his table-topping credentials shown in FP2 and FP3 disappeared at the moment of truth. However, this is probably unfair on Vettel and Ferrari, as it was in fact Mercedes who dramatically raised the bar in the closing stages of the day, rather than their failure to deliver.

Considering the Scuderia’s race pace, it is likely that even from third, Vettel will push the Mercedes pair tomorrow. Kimi Raikkonen’s dreadful qualifying, which saw him fall out of the reckoning at the Q1 stage, means that Vettel will, however, be fighting the tide of silver alone.

Force India’s Mixed Fortunes

One week on from his heroics at Le Mans, Nico Hulkenberg has clearly lost none of his Formula One prowess, as he produced his best to put his Force India in fifth on the grid. The largely undisputed driver of the day managed to split the Williams duo, with a performance which bodes well for Force India’s short-term future, as they prepare to bolt the substantial aerodynamic updates to what is still ostensibly a 2014 specification of car.

However, Sergio Perez joined Kimi Raikkonen in exiting stage right after a dismal Q1. Like the Finn, he was seemingly caught out by the rapid track evolution, which meant that no-one was ever safe in the latter stages, with times tumbling right until the flag fell. Perez reported that traffic had hampered his final lap and, unable to improve, he was swamped by the field.

Even the mighty Mercedes looked vulnerable in the closing moments of the opening segment, with Hamilton falling to P13. As such, Perez and Raikkonen’s misfortune is most certainly not a barometer of their respective Sunday fortunes. Both are still capable of points tomorrow. I’m sure that Force India fans will remember that Perez managed to climb from P15 on the grid to an eventual P6 in Austria last season, leading the race along the way.

Power Struggle

As anticipated, the Renault runners endured a tricky day. With the clouds that appeared on the horizon refraining from depositing their promised precipitation, much of the hope of Red Bull having a glorious home-coming soon ebbed away. Daniel Ricciardo could only manage P14, having an off-track excursion along the way, while Daniil Kvyat managed to break into the top ten, albeit P8 was the best the Russian could manage.

Of course, qualifying was always going to be a rather academic exercise for Red Bull as both cars carried ten place grid penalties into the session. It will be interesting to see how far the pair can climb tomorrow, but with straight line speed being an sizable issue, I doubt they will carve through the field in the manner which we are likely to see Raikkonen complete.

FP3 Timesheet

1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:09.994
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.017
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 0.183
4 Sergio Perez Force India 0.227
5 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 0.338
6 Felipe Massa Williams 0.414
7 Valtteri Bottas Williams 0.423
8 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 0.442
9 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 0.582
10 Romain Grosjean Lotus 0.869
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1.015
12 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1.064
13 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1.145
14 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1.145
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1.174
16 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1.825
17 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1.912
18 Jenson Button McLaren 2.622
19 Will Stevens Manor 3.334
20 Roberto Merhi Manor 3.966

Qualifying Result

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:08.455
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 0.200
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 0.355
4 Felipe Massa Williams 0.737
5 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 0.823
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams 0.864
7 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1.157
8 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1.239
9 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1.258
10 Romain Grosjean Lotus
11 Pastor Maldonado Lotus
12 Marcus Ericsson Sauber
13 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso
14 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren
16 Sergio Perez Force India
17 Jenson Button McLaren
18 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
19 Roberto Merhi Manor
20 Will Stevens Manor

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