There’s no doubt that we all enjoy the Austrian Grand Prix. The scenery is stunning, it’s a great location for a race circuit, surrounded by tall, wooded mountains and even a bit of new snow this year! What’s more, Red Bull try and make it special for the teams, media and fans alike, the chance to see heroes and proper hospitality. It is a weekend to savour.
The Grand Prix itself wasn’t fantastic, but in many ways it was fascinating. The circuit – described by some youngster as ‘old school’, whatever that means – is really challenging for Formula One drivers and yet it’s safe. I’m sure no one counted the number of excursions during Formula One sessions and the race but it sure kept the drivers on their toes and yet there was scarcely any contact between cars and barriers – if any.
The excursions weren’t confined to the younger, more experienced drivers, either. You know where I’m coming from here: reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton suffered as much if not more so than almost anyone. Whereas I thought he might have been on the back foot in Canada after the Monaco race, it was here that he seemed to feel a lack of confidence, where he just couldn’t get it all together.
He was lucky to claim pole position; I can’t ever remember the two cars on the front row of the grid parked out in the countryside at the end of qualifying. It was the only mistake that Nico Rosberg made the whole weekend as far as I can remember; he was unlucky not to be on pole, maybe payback for Monaco.
When it came to the race, he was peerless. The team had worked on his clutch which was to his advantage if not to Lewis’s and he made a superb start and never looked back. OK, he was occasionally caught by Lewis, the gap was like a piece of elastic as usual and while Lewis made an error exiting the pits which would cost him a time penalty which eventually made no difference, Nico made no mistakes. He was worried by tyre vibration but even when managing that he was able to stay ahead of his rival and teammate. It was a great duel between the two teammates and one that for once – and I say that quite objectively – Nico Rosberg won.
However boring some people maintain this Mercedes domination may be, these inter-team duels do have their fascination. The two characters involved are intriguing, teammates yet poles apart. One brilliant yet fragile, the other more calculating, more stable yet just as quick on occasions. We are privileged to be watching these two at work, at one another’s throats if you like and yet mainly respecting the rules of the game.
Sadly, no one else is in with a shout. Williams may have got closer and once again had to fight a rearguard action from Ferrari – Massa this time rather than Bottas – but they were a distant third with the Finn hobbled by brake problems. Massa drove a good race but it was some way behind the Mercedes pair and they had just upgraded a car that finds itself suited to the Red Bull Ring.
Ferrari claimed third on the grid but at a circuit where they should have enjoyed lots of support from across the border, there was little evidence that 1) their recent engine upgrade had made a massive difference or 2) that the fans had noticed. Pit stop delays are always possible in any team, but they cost Sebastian Vettel his third place and Kimi Raikkonen got the moment of danger that he had mentioned in Canada having suffered a lapse of communication at the hands of the team in qualifying which relegated him to the nether regions of the grid. Ferrari need to tighten up some organisational aspects, methinks.
Sadly there was embarrassment for the home team, who, even before the halfway point in the season are in the realms of penalties which they will surely suffer for the remainder of championship. They say that Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz is losing interest in F1 due to lack of success, but he’s had a lot out of Formula One and given a lot to it. No doubt a chat with Mr E will have been instructive to both; Christian Horner once again reiterated his perfectly correct assertion that Formula One’s problems should be solved by those at the top of the sport.
And finally, McLaren-Honda. Oh dear, so many penalties at this race – pre-mid-season – that they nearly started in Graz. It is surely becoming an embarrassment to both parties. Sure, one doesn’t want to hit them when they’re down, but at this stage a year ago all the major engine manufacturers were in the same position, but certainly without the angst that surrounds this partnership. And they had been running V8s in F1 the year before while developing these engines, something that Honda didn’t have to do.
Generally speaking however, it was a good weekend in Austria as usual, followed up by the second and last of the pre-season tests, taking place – or not, due to rain – as I write this. Interestingly, there are a number of GP3 drivers taking part. After the Canada – Le Mans – Austria programme, Goodwood comes next on my schedule and then, of course, the British Grand Prix. We saw a one-stop strategy in Austria as opposed to two the previous year, which does tend to make for a more predictable race. I shall be writing a British Grand Prix preview in a week’s time, so watch out for that. In the meantime, some welcome down time…
By Bob Constanduros