When the teams fired up their cars for Friday practice, the Austrian Styrian mountains were rudely stirred from their eleven-year slumber, curious as to what was causing the unfamiliar deep sounds reverberating the air – the last time F1 cars blasted around the sleepy and tranquil hills was over a decade ago, when engines screamed and howled as though strangled.
Mercedes headed to the Red Bull Ring with some concern after reliability issues in Canada saw Lewis Hamilton retire and Rosberg lose his lead to Red Bull’s race-winner Daniel Ricciardo.
However, it didn’t take long for Mercedes to hit the top of the time sheets, Rosberg fastest in the first session, and Hamilton in the second. Fernando Alonso showed his skill and determination by managed third in both Friday sessions. Ferrari teammate, Raikkonen struggled to break the top ten – more fuel for the critics as to whether Kimi’s seat is safe at Ferrari.
Everything looked to be “business as usual” for the Mercedes camp going into Saturday practice until Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa not only split them, but also took the fastest time off Hamilton. This was certainly encouraging for the Williams team, especially since they’ve been out of the game for so long. It did leave the question: “Were Mercedes sandbagging?”
Saturday qualifying answered that question with a plain and simple: no. For the first time this season Mercedes didn’t make the front row. Williams took their speed and confidence from the morning’s practice and locked out the front of the grid, Massa taking his first pole since 2008 – the irony didn’t go unnoticed in the Ferrari garage, and it was especially nice to see ex-teammate Alonso give the Brazilian a pat on the back.
Despite William’s stunning performance, Rosberg still managed third, although teammate Hamilton tried so hard in Q3, he spun twice, which resulted in a disappointing ninth on the grid.
Another surprise was rookie Daniil Kvyat placing his Toro Rosso in seventh, only two behind Red Bull’s Ricciardo and five ahead of the current world champion, Vettel.
Alonso showed his “never say die” attitude by slotting into forth, teammate Raikkonen redeeming his practice efforts by taking eighth. McLaren had one car in the top ten thanks to rookie Magnussen taking an impressive sixth – teammate Button just missed out in eleventh.
Just when F1 was starting to become a little predictable and boring, Williams find some speed and inject some excitement into the sport, making the Mercedes appear slightly vulnerable.
Qualifying Top 10:
- Felipe Massa – (Williams-Mercedes) – 1:08.759s
- Valtteri Bottas – (Williams-Mercedes) – 1:08.846s
- Nico Rosberg – (Mercedes) – 1:08.944s
- Fernando Alonso – (Ferrari) – 1:09.285s
- Daniel Ricciardo – (Red Bull Racing-Renault) – 1:09.466s
- Kevin Magnussen – (McLaren Mercedes) – 1:09.515s
- Danill Kvyat – (Toro Rosso) – 1:09.619s
- Kimi Raikkonen – (Ferrari) – 1:10.795s
- Lewis Hamilton – (Mercedes) – No Time (Q3)
- Nico Hulkenberg – (Force India) – No Time (Q3)
As the lights flashed out at the Red Bull Ring, all eyes were on the silver streak slicing through the field and making up a handful of places all before Turn one. Hamilton made up for his poor qualifying effort by passing Raikkonen, Kvyat, Magnussen and Ricciardo – by Turn one he had jumped from ninth to fifth.
Massa managed to hang on to the lead as the field streamed through the first corner, his teammate, Bottas momentarily losing out to Rosberg before reclaiming his second place. Hamilton hadn’t finished his charge and attacked Alonso, sweeping past into forth.
Vettel received another dose of the “Mark Webbers” as his car lost power. The world champion coasted back to the pits before coming to a complete stop – just as everyone thought the German was out, the Red Bull found its power and Vettel rejoined the race, albeit a lap down.
The first round of pit stops came on lap 10, where Ricciardo, Magnussen and Hulkenberg all changed to the soft compound tyres. Rosberg was the first of the leaders to pit on lap 12, Hamilton staying out an extra lap.
Lap 14 saw Esteban Gutierrez leave the pits with three wheels, whilst Massa took on fresh rubber a lap before his teammate. Unfortunately Williams didn’t react quickly enough to Mercedes; this saw Bottas rejoin behind Rosberg in third and Massa lose out to Hamilton, Bottas, Rosberg and Perez, who had yet to pit.
By lap 20 race officials issued Gutierrez with a 10-second stop-go penalty after his unsafe release. Meanwhile, race leader Sergio Perez, Pastor Maldonado and Jenson Button still had to pit.
Toro Rosso’s high spirits were dashed as their rookie star, Kvyat ran off at Turn five on Lap 26, shredding his right rear tyre – apparently he had lost all braking.
Staying out nearly 20 laps after the first set of pit stops clearly had taken its toll on Perez’s tyres – Rosberg, Bottas and Hamilton made light work of passing him and he finally pitted.
Vettel’s day only got worse after he shunting into the back of Gutierrez, contact that left him no choice but to pit for a new nose. Meanwhile, another German nearly went out, Rosberg running off at Turn One. Although he saved it, the incident allowed Bottas and Hamilton to close the gap.
Lap 35 saw the last nail hammered into Vettel’s coffin as his team told him to box and retire the car. It wasn’t looking good for Red Bull as their hopes rested on Ricciardo, who, having qualified fifth, now ran in ninth – what a transformation a year makes.
The second round of stops left Hamilton scratching his head, questioning his mechanics pit stop abilities – his stop was a full second slower than that of Rosberg, and not for the first time.
The following laps were a game of cat and mouse between the Mercedes drivers, both setting fastest lap times as their fuel burned away. Rosberg started to edge away and Hamilton received news that his front left brake was over its limit.
In the closing stages Perez made an easy pass on Magnussen into Turn Two, claiming sixth, and despite earlier brake issues, Hamilton started homing in on Rosberg.
There just weren’t enough laps remaining in the end and Rosberg took another win, increasing his championship lead. Although their qualifying performance didn’t translate to the race, Valtteri Bottas still gave Williams reason to celebrate with his first ever podium in third.
- Nico Rosberg – (Mercedes)
- Lewis Hamilton – (Mercedes)
- Valtteri Bottas – (Williams-Mercedes)
- Felipe Massa – (Williams-Mercedes)
- Fernando Alonso – (Ferrari)
- Sergio Perez – (Force India)
- Kevin Magnussen – (McLaren-Mercedes)
- Daniel Ricciardo – (Red Bull)
- Nico Hulkenberg – (Force India)
- Kimi Raikkonen – (Ferrari)
- Jenson Button – (McLaren-Mercedes)
- Pastor Maldonado (Lotus)
- Adrian Sutil – (Sauber)
- Romain Grosjean (Lotus)
- Jules Bianchi – (Marussia-Ferrari)
- K Kobayashi – (Caterham)
- Max Chilton (Marussia)
- M Ericsson – (Caterham)
- E Gutierrez – (Sauber)
- Jean-Eric Vergne – (STR-Renault) DNF
- Sebastian Vettel – (Red Bull Racing-Renault) DNF
- Daniil Kvyat – (Toro Rosso) DNF
Standings Top 10:
- Rosberg – 165 Points
- Hamilton – 136
- Ricciardo – 83
- Alonso – 79
- Vettel – 60
- Hulkenberg – 59
- Bottas – 55
- Button – 43
- Massa – 30
- Magnussen – 29
Although Mercedes took another 1 – 2 today, they certainly didn’t dominate and win by a large margin. Is this the point of the season where the tide changes and technological advancements give other teams an advantage? Will we see Williams step up at Silverstone, and will Ferrari find a few tenths and see their ever-consistent Alonso notch up a few podiums?