2015 Austrian Grand Prix: Race Analysis

Rosberg Romps Home

Having had the measure of his teammate for all but one lap this weekend, few could take anything away from Nico Rosberg as he saw the chequered flag first at the Red Bull Ring this afternoon. After being beaten to turn one, Lewis Hamilton had no answer to his championship rival’s blistering pace and an uncharacteristic mishap on the pitlane exit extinguished what was left of his already dwindling hopes of a race victory. Rosberg has now claimed three of the past four possible victories, and this, the sweetest of the year to date.

Momentum Shift

Perhaps it is too soon to suggest that the momentum is beginning to swing in the duel for title honours. However, today’s victory should fuel Nico to achieve greater feats in the weekends to come. In many regards, it was a breakthrough for the German.

All too often last season, he failed to steal a march on his teammate when the two were in close combat. Despite leading after turn one in Austin, for instance, he could not extend and maintain an advantage, eventually being swallowed up by Hamilton. In this respect, a new Nico Rosberg was on display in Austria – unflappable under pressure, breaking the DRS bridge to his teammate early on and proceeding to keep Hamilton at arms length. This victory was somewhat of a collectors item, but I am sure that it will spur Rosberg on to win more head-to-head tussles with the Briton in the future.

Certainly, Rosberg’s third win of the campaign did not come as a huge surprise. His advantage over Hamilton has been evident since FP1 and barring one lap from Lewis in Q3, where he finally managed to eclipse his opposite number, Rosberg has looked far superior. I am inclined to think that had Rosberg slotted in behind Hamilton for the first stint, he would have placed substantial pressure on the Briton with a strong challenge for top honours, excluding the effect which Hamilton’s penalty had on proceedings.

To coin a phrase commonly deployed by the great Murray Walker, what a “sensational” penalty it was. It is rare to see an F1 driver exceed the white line on the pit exit, with it being such an academic mistake to make. Somehow, Hamilton managed to, in what could only have been a lapse of concentration. More surprising to me, was the fact that over the team radio, he appeared unaware of his error – demonstrating the extent to which his focus was elsewhere. Ultimately, it did not effect the outcome of the race, but it did serve to extinguish any hope that Hamilton had of snatching the victory out of Rosberg’s grasp.

Rosberg’s third victory of 2015 has ignited the Mercedes battle, as his previous two triumphs came when Hamilton’s race was compromised. This has provided the evidence to support Rosberg’s claims that by stringing together a near-perfect weekend, he can not only compete with his chief rival, but also have the measure of him.

Ferrari Trip Up

Williams managed to obtain their second piece of silverware of the season today, as Felipe Massa crept into third place, while Sebastian Vettel suffered a stubborn wheel nut at his only pitstop of the day. Otherwise, the German looked set to seal his sixth podium for Ferrari, albeit running at a pace significantly adrift of that relative performance shown by the Scuderia on Friday afternoon.

For the third time this season, the Ferrari found the Williams ahead to be an immovable object in the latter stages of a race. Felipe Massa’s defense should be commended, but in truth, a combination of the Ferrari’s inability to follow closely to rivals coupled with the Williams’ straight line speed, meant that the podium evaded Vettel.

It was, however, a hugely entertaining chase in which the duo appeared on the limit, after the safety car called as a result of Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso’s frightening accident had alleviated the need for tyre and fuel management. This was a flat-out battle between two of the sport’s fieriest competitors and as such, was thoroughly enjoyable, even though the promised wheel-to-wheel antics were missing.

Busy Day To Be A Midfielder

Behind the first four, the midfield scrap was at its entertaining best. The frantic nature of the action was characterised by the intriguing race-long battle shared by Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas, in which the Finn twice found a way past the Le Mans winner. Much like yesterday, Hulkenberg was one of the star performers, recording Force India’s best result of the season so far in sixth and in battling hard with the Williams throughout, has given Force India renewed hope that they can fight for the larger points paying places when their upgrades arrive.

Meanwhile, Max Verstappen and Pastor Maldonado experienced a fiesty encounter in the latter stages, with the Lotus rather disconcertingly facing the barriers on more than one occasion. Pastor did eventually find his way past, but as we have come to expect from 17-year-old Verstappen, the pass was not an easy one to make.

Conclusions

Driver of the Day

Nico Rosberg

Stunning performance to conclude a superb weekend. The German has now closed the gap to his teammate down to just 10 points and having had the measure of Lewis for the past three days, Rosberg is poised to spoil Hamilton’s homecoming party.

Overtake of the Day

BOTTAS vs Hulkenberg (1)

It must be noted that the DRS worked perfectly this weekend, as it allowed drivers to both attack and defend depending on the individual situation. Heading into turn three, the DRS had allowed Bottas to draw up on the outside of Hulkenberg and in a bold maneuver, the Finn held his ground on the outside to snatch fifth place.

Team of the Weekend

Force India

Nico Hulkenberg would have been good value for the driver of the day accolade, but certainly, Force India warrant the team of the weekend status. The car could look decidedly different in Silverstone, as the team bolt the new aerodynamic parts fresh from Cologne to the car, but despite the undeveloped nature of the VJM08, Force India’s damage limitation mission has been going well.

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