Mercedes dominate despite deficit | 2014 Austrian GP report

Nico Rosberg won the 2014 Austrian Grand Prix this Sunday in a tense and closely-fought battle between Mercedes and Williams.

The first race at the Red Bull ring since 2003 (when it was known as the A1-Ring) saw Mercedes really challenged for the first time in 2014 as Williams locked horns with them, culminating in Mercedes’ 5th 1-2 finish of the season, and Valtteri Bottas’ first ever podium.

A BRIEF HISTORY

The last time Formula One was in Austria was 2003, where Michael Schumacher – who you may have heard is now out of his coma and back at home – won for Ferrari. Barrichello was third, and Raikkonen, who finished second, was one of only four drivers who took part in that race and are still racing today; the others being Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, and eventual polesitter, Felipe Massa.

FW36
Bottas joins the list of successful Finns including Hakkinen, Raikkonen, Salo, Lehto and Kovalainen

QUALIFYING

The aforementioned qualifying session was a fairly routine one at first, with the regular fall guys succumbing to the knock-out zone in Q1. Q2 was a bigger surprise; both Vettel and Button missed out on the shoot-out and languished in 12th and 13th. Their losses were the gains of Magnussen and Kvyat who have seldom been in the top-ten session all season.

The final session of Q3 was a hotly-contested battle between team mates with Mercedes engines, but it was not those of Rosberg and Hamilton – Massa and Bottas took the front row in a shock result for Williams with Mercedes running into trouble. Hamilton did not set a valid time in the last session; he ran wide and had his time invalidated at first, then suffered a brake problem on his final run. Romain Grosjean started from the pit lane.

RACE DAY

At the start, Hamilton made perhaps the best get-away of his career. Starting 9th, he surged past Raikkonen and Kvyat, then got down the inside of Ricciardo at turn 1. He lunged at Magnussen at turn 2, and on the penultimate corner of the lap, got the better of Alonso as well. Going from 9th to 4th in one lap corrected his blunder on Saturday, and let him race with the leaders.

Rosberg initially passed Bottas, but was caught napping on the run up to turn 2 and was re-passed by the Finn, as Massa led. Lap two saw Sebastian Vettel suffer a loss of drive. The reigning champion coasted along the straight between turns  2 & 3 as his Renault power unit malfunctioned, but kept the system somehow re-booted itself. He gained power again, but he found himself lapped by half the pack.

The pivotal moment in the race came at the first round of pit stops. Williams suffered quite bad tyre graining on their first sets of tyres. Noticing this, Mercedes brought their cars in a few laps earlier to perform what is known as an ‘Undercut‘, pitting for fresh tyres, knowing full well that the other cars are on deteriorating rubber. It worked to perfection for Nico Rosberg. He pitted first, followed by Hamilton. When the Williams drivers made their first stops a few laps later, Rosberg led the race. Hamilton, however, was still stuck behind Massa.

This all changed at the second round of stops, Rosberg again pitted first, and again, Hamilton ended up behind one of the Williams cars – this time Bottas. Bottas seemed to have more pace than Massa, and so when he re-joined the train of cars after his stop, he had jumped the Brazilian. Hamilton forced Bottas’ hand and eventually the Finn had to succumb to the better rear stability of the Mercedes works team.

Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel’s day further deteriorated when he snagged his front wing on the rear left tyre of Esteban Gutierrez’ car coming through the slow turn 4. The German later retired, due to a mixture of ‘too-far-behind-ness’, his dodgy driveshaft, and a potential penalty hanging over him for whacking the back of Gutierrez.

Thirsty for more overtaking after his incredible first lap, Hamilton began to hunt down Rosberg on the twisty track. In the closing laps of the race, the Brit clinched back crucial seconds. In both his pit stops he had lost nearly two seconds to Rosberg, who had flawless stops of around 2.5 seconds, and it led some disgruntled viewers – and presumable Hamilton fans – to speculate that Mercedes favoured Rosberg simply because he was German.

Regardless of crowd speculation, the duo battled as they have all season long. Lewis got ever-closed to the rear wing of Nico, and was finally within DRS range on the final lap. He got the gap down to barely half a second, and when the leader locked up at turn 3, it looked like Hamilton’s chance had arrived. However, he got too hasty on the brakes himself and dropped all the time he gained when the back of his car stepped out and he had to correct it.

That eased the pressure, and Nico Rosberg went on to take his sixth career win, his third of the season. Valtteri Bottas held on to take his first ever podium, and the first for Williams since Maldonado’s win in 2012.

FINISHING POSITIONS

1) N Rosberg, Mercedes AMG
2) L Hamilton, Mercedes AMG
3) V Bottas, Williams4) F Massa, Williams
5) F Alonso, Ferrari
6) S Perez, Force India
7) K Magnussen, McLaren
8) D Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing
9) N Hulkenberg, Force India
10) K Raikkonen, Ferrari
11) J Button, McLaren
12) P Maldonado, Lotus
13) A Sutil, Sauber
14) R Grosjean, Lotus
15) J Bianchi, Marussia
16) K Kobayashi, Caterham
17) M Chilton, Marussia
18) M Ericsson, Caterham
19) E Gutierrez, Sauber

Out/Unclassified
JE Vergne, Toro Rosso  (Brakes)
S Vettel, Red Bull Racing (Electronics/ Engine Software)
D Kvyat, Toro Rosso (Suspension)

The result sees Rosberg stretch his lead in the championship to 29 points over Hamilton, who is a further 53 in front of Ricciardo. Williams’ huge haul of points moves them in to fifth place in the Constructors’ championship, withing touching distance of Force India.

NEXT RACE
The next race will be on July 6th at the historic Silverstone Circuit in Northampton. The race will be the 50th Grand Prix held at Silverstone, and is likely to involve a legendary scrap between Home hero Lewis Hamilton and last year’s race winner (and current championship leader) Nico Rosberg.

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