Austrian Grand Prix

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.

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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.

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2015 Austrian Grand Prix: Friday Analysis

It may only be a Friday, but such is Mercedes’ dominance and reliability this season, Sebastian Vettel topping the FP2 timesheet is somewhat of a talking point – particularly given the German’s reliability issues which curtailed in first session and truncated his second. However, Vettel’s messy day summed up today’s running up and down the field, as countless drivers not only found the limit but exceeded it, on the small but mighty circuit filled with challenges. Lewis Hamilton in particular was one of those who regularly took to the run-off area, with the most costly occasion coming when the Briton was one corner away from recording a representative qualifying simulation run.

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2015 Austrian Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

The hills come alive this weekend, with the sound of 20 F1 cars pounding around the small and mighty Red Bull Ring. Lewis Hamilton leads the championship, heading into an event that teammate Nico Rosberg prevailed at 12 months ago, and Nico Rosberg will hope to make it an Austrian double this time out. Meanwhile, at a circuit in which they starred last season, Williams’ Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas will aim to build upon a promising weekend in Canada, which saw the latter make his first appearance at the podium club this campaign.

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2014 Austrian Grand Prix: Race Analysis

Rosberg Restores The Balance

After Daniel Ricciardo’s heroics in Canada, balance was once again restored this afternoon, with Nico Rosberg taking his third win of 2014, in what proved to be a highly tactical affair. He led home his teammate Lewis Hamilton, as the two were once again glued at the hip throughout the entire race, despite the Brit’s disappointment in Qualifying. Despite failing to convert the front row lockout, Williams are undoubtedly delighted with their efforts, finishing P3 and P4, with Valtteri Bottas claiming his first Formula One podium – perhaps the first of many.

Conspiracy Theories – Conspiracy Theories Everywhere…

A Mercedes 1-2 was perhaps an unexpected result, following their comparatively poor qualifying performance yesterday. However, a determined Lewis Hamilton was evidently not prepared to let his starting position of P9 hold him back. An incredible launch saw him leap up the field to P5 by the time the pack reached Turn Two. Then, a superb opportunistic overtake on Fernando Alonso at Turn Eight saw Lewis settle into P4 by the end of the first lap. The Brit made the move look so easy, on a corner where overtaking is highly improbable. A serious contender for overtake of the afternoon, along with Daniel Ricciardo’s magnificent move on the final lap to displace Nico Hulkenberg at Turn Five. 
While Lewis’ climb to P2 largely hinged on strategy, coupled with an overtake best described as a ‘Hamilton-special’ on Felipe Massa, his race was perhaps lost in the pit-stops – or at least, that is what many fans are suggesting. Both of Hamilton’s stops were unquestionably poor by a usually rapid Mercedes pit crew. With times of 3.5 and 4.0 seconds and considering Rosberg’s winning margin, people have been claiming that the win for Nico was manufactured by the team. Personally, I have several problems with this.
Firstly, Lewis’ race was not lost today – It was lost in qualifying yesterday. Had the Brit qualified higher, or perhaps even ahead of Nico Rosberg, the poor pit-stops may not have had such an influence on the outcome, and we would most certainly not be talking about them now. In addition, to say the team would deliberately hinder one driver, through a pit-stop, for the benefit of the other, seems totally ludicrous. After all, this is the greatest team sport in the world and the team have not once expressed any preference to either driver. The idea that a German team would want a German driver to win is also bizarre as Mercedes are a team based in Brackley – And I for one, did not see Mercedes-Benz executives from Stuttgart changing Lewis Hamilton’s tires. 
Ultimately, luck has once again conspired against Hamilton here. It cannot be expected that a pit crew will perform within an accuracy of 100%. Incidents such as this will happen up and down the pit-lane each and every race, yet when they do not influence the outcome of a race, they do not make the headlines. As such, conspiracy theorists should drop this particular story. Hamilton came second and Nico came first and that is the story.

Podium Finn

Well, now that my rant is over, its time to congratulate Williams on a job thoroughly well done this weekend. After their front-row lockout yesterday, they achieved their first podium of 2014, with Valtteri Bottas finishing P3. With Felipe Massa following him home, Williams maximised their potential today as beating the Mercedes was a step too far. However, they will take great pleasure from the fact that they managed to keep the silver arrows honest at the front of the field. They even looked as though they could challenge for the win while Rosberg was held behind Sergio Perez, who started on the prime compound.
What Williams’ performance does show is that Mercedes are being reeled in by their rivals. The Red Bull Ring is not dissimilar in nature to circuits such as the Hungaroring or even Silverstone and therefore, their rivals pace is perhaps not the flash in the pan performance that it could be perceived to be. With Fernando Alonso challenging Massa towards the closing stages, even Ferrari seemed to be more competitive. Yes, the Mercedes struggled with brake temperatures, but the pace of their rivals is unquestionably food for thought.

Not Good To Be Home

After spending millions of euros to upgrade the A1 Ring, Mr.Mateschitz could be forgiven for feeling aggrieved tonight after his teams suffered an abysmal homecoming. Toro Rosso’s day was unquestionably one to forget, as they experienced their second double retirement of 2014. Daniil Kvyat was the first to fall, as his suspension failed heading into Turn Three, followed later by Jean Eric Vergne who suffered a rather dramatic brake failure after black dust had been billowing out of the left front wheel for several laps. Up until then, the weekend had looked reasonably promising, with Kvyat running solidly in the top ten and Vergne demonstrating decent pace.
Meanwhile, Red Bull’s weekend was far from enjoyable. Sebastian Vettel’s afternoon was eventful for all the wrong reasons, after ANOTHER electrical fault caused an unresponsive throttle pedal. Miraculously he regained power after falling a lap down, but eventually retired to save engine components after a collision with Esteban Gutierrez proved to be the straw that broke the camels back, (although to be fair, it was a rather hefty straw.) Daniel Ricciardo may have managed to salvage P8 after running almost the entire race without the use of his “overtake button” but this weekend has been almost a total write-off for all those sponsored by the famous drinks manufacturer. When your driving an RB10 and you are even struggling in the turns, you know you are in for a tough weekend. Silverstone should be much better, although it really has to be!

Driver of the Day 

Sergio Perez
Ultimately, there were a number of worthy candidates. Lewis Hamilton’s climb from P9 to P2, or Valtteri Bottas’ first podium finish are both deserving of the Driver of the Day tag, but Sergio Perez stood out for me. Starting from P16, after serving a penalty that he felt was unjust, it would have been easy for Checo to cruise through the race and endure a quiet Sunday drive. However, his determination to earn points was evident. Once again, the Mexican demonstrated how tyre preservation should be done and by jumping Jenson Button at the start, he became the lead soft tyre runner. He kept Nico Rosberg at arms length for several laps to lead before his first stop and managed to utilise his super-soft tyres to great effect at the end of the race to pass Kevin Magnussen for P6. Oh, and he recorded the fastest lap as well. An impeccable drive and one which put Nico Hulkenberg very much in the shadow.      

2014 Austrian Grand Prix: Saturday Analysis

Massa’s ‘Mojo’ Returns

Truly remarkable. Just when you thought 2014 could not throw up any further drama to follow the Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying in Austria provides incredible excitement. It was another front row lockout, but on this occasion, the Mercedes were trumped by Williams, with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas edging out Nico Rosberg to claim the team’s first lockout since 2003. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton will start from P9 after a disastrous end to the day saw the Brit end up pointing in the wrong direction at Turn Two. The stage is set for another classic race tomorrow.

FP3

An intriguing and action packed FP3 session was topped by an unlikely candidate, as Valtteri Bottas highlighted Williams’ short run strength by posting the fastest time, edging out the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton by 0.05 seconds. In close company, Felipe Massa claimed P3. With the field appearing to be relatively evenly matched, the question is, have Mercedes been sandbagging, or does the Red Bull Ring bring their rivals into play.
The qualifying simulation runs were nothing short of fascinating for this very reason. While fuel loads are undisclosed and timesheets have to be analysed with caution, the field seems super competitive. Williams are undoubtedly harsh on their tyres and degradation could be a serious issue for them in  the race, but they do seem to have maximised short run performance in the FW36 this weekend. Meanwhile, Red Bull may have finished P7 and P10 on the timesheet, but this was perhaps influenced by several factors. It is anticipated that Red Bull were running a heavier fuel load throughout the session and the characteristics of both cars on turn in to the high speed corners in the middle sector supports this suggestion. In addition, Sebastian Vettel’s final attempt to improve on the super-soft compound was scuppered when Kamui Kobayashi practised his ballet routine on the exit of the final corner – Not quite as dramatically as Sebastian’s excursion yesterday, but it nonetheless prompted a yellow flag. All things being equal, Red Bull could well challenge Williams in a similar manner to their battle on Saturday in Canada. 
While this season looks as though Mercedes are cruising towards both titles, Red Bull are continuing to develop the RB10. Adrian Newey was seen in the garage early on in the session, seemingly evaluating the results of a flow-vis paint experiment on the new barge-board. Its still too early to determine how successful this particular upgrade package is.
Meanwhile, McLaren had a dismal morning, with Jenson Button in particular suffering significant issues which resigned him to the garage for almost the entire session. The Brit reported a loss of engine braking, as the MGU-K failed early on. With the rear brakes being overworked as a result, they overheated and the right rear calliper caught fire when he entered the pitlane. With significant damage done to the right rear corner in general, including the floor, the number 22 failed to post a competitive time and the lack of super-soft running will surly hinder Jenson later on today. What is even more concerning is the fact that the team did not detect any signs of the imminent failure, as they reported to Button via team radio. Perhaps a sensor malfunctioned as well, or just a glitch in the telemetry. I doubt McLaren have looked into that yet, considering their pile of problems prior to qualifying. Certainly far from ideal preparation.   
One final point to consider was Daniil Kvyat’s late charge to finish P4 on the timesheet. A stunning lap time from the Russian in a Toro Rosso which has been somewhat caught out in the development race and fallen back in recent times. While it is likely that he was on the lowest of low fuel runs, it will still give the team a much needed boost heading into qualifying. Q3 is undoubtedly reasonable aim.
FP3 Timesheet

1 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:09.848

2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:09.898 
3 Felipe Massa Williams 1:09.901 
4 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:09.927 
5 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:09.999 
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:10.054 
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:10.392 
8 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:10.449 
9 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:10.488 
10 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:10.562 
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:10.683 
12 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:10.776 
13 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:11.043 
14 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:11.103 
15 Sergio Perez Force India 1:11.235
16 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:11.294 
17 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:11.558
18 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:11.848 
19 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:12.320
20 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:12.892 
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:12.915  
22 Jenson Button McLaren 1:14.237

Qualifying

Brazil may be hosting a World Cup, but Brazilian attention turned to Formula One this afternoon, as their hero, Felipe Massa, claimed his 16th career pole position and his first since the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2008. He edged out Valtteri Bottas, who held top spot for the majority of Q3, with Nico Rosberg in P3. While third will disappoint Nico, the blow has been softened with his arch rival Lewis Hamilton only managing P9, after failing to post a time in Q3 – a suspected MGU-K issue led to a bizarre spin at Turn Two. With his first attempt disallowed due to track extending at Turn Eight, Hamilton was left without a time.
Williams’ success has been welcomed by most fans, as the perennial underdogs are perhaps the most popular in the paddock – If their not your favourite team, they are your second. A similar popularity always gravitates towards Felipe Massa and after the recent turbulence following his accident with Sergio Perez, his first pole in six years is just the tonic that he was looking for. However, it could have easily been Valtteri Bottas starting from the front tomorrow, as he held top spot for the majority of the final session. The Finn carried his impressive FP3 performance into the afternoon, yet a mistake on his second run meant that Massa was given the opportunity to seize the moment. Consequently, a slightly reserved Valtteri, (even more than usual) was understandably a touch disappointed in the post session presser. The young Finn is nothing if not ambitious and quite rightly so.
Meanwhile, Mercedes faltered. The Silver Arrows of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton had their stranglehold over pole position lost with a culmination of issues. Firstly, the team looked familiarly impeccable on the soft compound and even Williams had no answer to the pace of the Mercedes team in Q1. However, inexplicably, the team were unable to perform on the super-soft rubber and could only gain 0.2 seconds, when the delta between the compounds is typically around a second. In addition, Hamilton looked out of character in Q3. His initial run was discounted as an early apex at Turn Eight led to a wide exit and significant track extending. Then, on his final attempt, the Brit locked the rear brakes heading into Turn Two and spun into the run-off area. Ironically, this brought out yellow flags which scuppered Nico Rosberg’s final lap, (however, in slightly different circumstances to a similar incident in Monte-Carlo.) Hamilton’s excursion was unquestionably strange. It will be intriguing to see if an MGU-K fault contributed to the spin as it was extraordinary.
Meanwhile, home favourites Red Bull were caught out on the Red Bull Ring, as Daniel Ricciardo could only manage P5, while Sebastian Vettel fell out of qualifying at the Q2 stage, with a disappointing P13 ending a far from positive day. In all honesty, Vettel has struggled since he left the garage on Friday morning. It is suspected that the team have suffered due to the track surface not allowing the RB10 to bring its tyres into the appropriate operating range. Daniel Ricciardo’s P5 will supply Red Bull with hope that this weekend is not a total write-off, but the best of the rest crown looks like it will be heading to a new location this weekend.
Meanwhile, Button fortunately avoided any recurrence of FP3 gremlins, but instead suffered what he regarded as blocking on his fastest lap by a Lotus. The incident was not caught by the FOM cameras, so it is impossible to pass a judgement. Regardless, the subsequent result of P12 is perhaps a blessing in disguise for Jenson, who will now be the first driver to have a choice of tyre compound on the grid following Sergio Perez’s five-place demotion from P11. Sunday has the potential to be a far more positive day for Button and Kevin Magnussen’s promising performance today suggests that this weekend is far from a lost cause for McLaren. The Dane will start in P6.
Qualifying Result
1 Felipe Massa Williams 1:08.759
2 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:08.846 
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:08.944
4 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:09.285
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:09.466 
6 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:09.515
7 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:09.619 
8 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:10.795
9 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes No time
10 Nico Hulkenberg Force India No time
11 Sergio Perez Force India 1:09.754
12 Jenson Button McLaren 1:09.780
13 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:09.801
14 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:09.939
15 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:10.073
16 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:10.642
17 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:10.825
18 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:11.349
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:11.412
20 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:11.67
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:11.775
22 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:12.560
         

2014 Austrian Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

Well, its been too long, in more ways than one. Not only is this the first F1 weekend that I will be covering properly since Malaysia, but it is also the first Austrian Grand Prix since the V10 glory days of 2003. The circuit in Spielberg, (or is it Zeltweg) may look simple in theory, but it is a challenging circuit and what it lacks in technical, tight and twisty sections it make up for in raw speed. The circuit is undoubtedly a power track, with three daunting straights, climbs and descents. It may be called the Red Bull Ring, but the Austrian Grand Prix is theoretically, another Mercedes circuit.

Check out Sky Sports F1’s photo gallery from Thursday in Austria

The Facts…

  • This weekend is the first Austrian Grand Prix since 2003
  • The circuit was known as the Osterreichring, built in 1969. It held its first race in 1970 but was dropped from the calender in 1987. It then returned to the calender in 1997, with a new layout, (which is used today) and dropped again after 2003. 
  • Alain Prost is the most successful driver in the history of the Austrian Grand Prix, taking three wins in 1983, 1985 and 1986.
  • None of the current crop of drivers have ever won the Austrian Grand Prix and only four have ever competed at the venue before: Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa.
  • Kimi Raikkonen came second in 2003, behind Michael Schumacher.
  • The race will take place over 71 laps  

12 Months Ago…

The paddock was arriving in Silverstone, ready for the British Grand Prix. Of course, this is the part of the preview where I usually reminisce on the events of the previous season’s equivalent event. Last year, it was around this time, that Austria confirmed that it would return to the F1 calender – news which brought a great reception. The Red Bull Ring, as it is now known, has been revamped in the eleven years since the sport last arrived. A new grandstand has been erected along the pit straight, tarmac has replaced gravel in some spots and a new Bull statue has been constructed at the heart of the circuit – just in case you forgot who owns the track. 

The Happy One

You would be forgiven for thinking that Daniel Ricciardo’s smile could not get any wider. However, following his unexpected and simply astounding victory in Canada, the young Aussie seems to be wearing a hyper-extended grin at the moment. In today’s press conference, Daniel reflected on his victory, equipped with his trademark expression, but ensured the media that complacency would not be a factor for him in the coming races. “It’s just going to make him more motivated,” he stated. “I obviously can’t rest now and can’t get too complacent. Keep pushing and hopefully it works well for both of us to get further up the grid.”
While thoughts of Canada will undoubtedly put a grimace on the faces of those in silver, (non more so than Lewis Hamilton,) Ricciardo’s victory should largely be taken with a pinch of salt. Mercedes are still overwhelming favourites for anything they enter at the moment. Be it single lap pace, or long run pace, they are just that. Even their pit-stops are far from shabby affairs. On the long straights, Mercedes will surly kick the likes of Ricciardo into the long grass this weekend, in a similar manner to the first half of the Canadian Grand Prix. Assuming they do not all foul of more technical issues, two in a row for Ricciardo will be a tall order, to say the least.

The Argument Continues

Sergio Perez or Felipe Massa? Who’s to blame for the accident on the penultimate lap of the Canadian Grand Prix, which put both drivers into the barriers at frightening speeds. It has been an argument which has raged for the past two weeks, with fuel added to the fire by Force India, who are supposedly preparing to appeal the decision made by the stewards to give Perez a five place grid-drop. Twitter has been at the heart of the disagreement, with Force India taking to the social media site to defend their driver.
Even in today’s press conference, Perez was quizzed on the incident. The question was in relation to Massa’s recent comments, suggesting that he would no longer trust Sergio on the circuit. In my opinion, this situation can only affect both drivers negatively – it has to be solved quickly. I expect both Perez and Massa to speak to each other in regards to the collision this weekend, as what seems to have been a racing incident, (at least from my perspective) is becoming a saga which could threaten the prospects for their weekends.

Prediction Corner

It’s that time again! Prediction Corner, which has been remarkably successful for me in the first three races this season, is where I make predictions, (bold or otherwise,) as to the results for the weekend. Firstly, Saturday should be a case of normal service resumed, with two Mercedes drivers split by a fraction for pole position. On such a short circuit, the margins between the drivers are likely to be minimal and Mercedes, despite their strength, are unlikely to take pole by over a second from P3. Considering his bounce-back-ability, (for use of a contemporary term) and his usual impressive ability to squeeze every last thousandth out of the braking zones, I predict a Lewis Hamilton pole. For these same reasons, it will be another Hamilton victory, with Rosberg in close company behind and Sebastian Vettel, taking P3.