Lewis battles back in the Austrian Alps

  • Rosberg and Hamilton collide once more
  • Mercedes bosses contemplate intervention

The team management at Mercedes must have been pulling their hair our after their two drivers made contact yet again in Austria while battling for the lead of the race.

The Austrian Grand Prix duly delivered a sizeable portion of edge-of-your-seat thrills and dramatic last lap spills when the lights went out at round 9 of the Formula 1 World Championship.

Perched amid the breath-taking backdrop of the Styrian Mountains, the Spielberg circuit produced a script that not even its namesake director could have written.

Brits Set The Early Pace

A great start by British drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button from pole position and third on the grid respectively saw them leading the pack after the first lap, with Rosberg further down the field but making steady progress early on.

After the leaders had pitted, Sebastian Vettel’s took up the mantle of leading the race from the front until lap 27. On the start/finish straight, the Ferrari’s tyre failed at high speed, sending Vettel careering out of control as the tyre exploded in spectacular fashion, leaving debris across the track for the other drivers to negotiate, triggering the safety car to come out for a spin until normal racing could get back underway.

“Out of nowhere, the tyre decided to blow up”

Button’s McLaren Honda, which was impressively quick all weekend, slipped back to fifth in the pack, having managed to fend off challenges from behind for seven laps of the Spielberg track.

Mercedes were then left to dictate the rest of the race from the front with Hamilton in front of Rosberg but, somewhat controversially, the team decided to split their driver’s strategies, putting race leader Lewis on a one-stop and Nico on a two-stop strategy. Tyre degradation on the number 44 Mercedes and the proximity of the chasing pack left the reigning World Champion in the unenvious position of having to adapt his race to a two-stop strategy.

Plain Sailing For Mercedes?

Rosberg’s car, fitted with the quicker Super Soft tyres, had a one second advantage over Hamilton due to a slower stop by Lewis’ pit crew at the final round of stops, prompting a less than impressed Hamilton to angrily question the tyre choice over the team radio going into the closing laps.

Tyre degradation would again prove key, as up front Rosberg’s suffered tyre wear, allowing Hamilton to close up behind him.

Sure enough, the closing lap of the race brought the drama that the Formula One Paddock Club hospitality guests craved and that the race had been threatening. Hamilton got a fantastic exit out of turn one of the final lap allowing him to get a fantastic tow in the slipstream of his team-mate before flicking his Mercedes to the left to draw level on the outside of the approach to turn two.

His German team-mate, looking to assert his authority and claim the race victory, had other ideas.

Rosberg, desperate to maintain his advantage on the last lap, delayed turning in for the corner and forced Hamilton out wide, resulting in the two colliding as Lewis tried to make the turn in. Lewis went off the track after the contact but was seemingly unscathed; however Nico’s front wing had sustained damage and sparks flew as it remained trapped under the nose of his car.

"Brainless"

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff was seen slamming his fists into his desk as he watched on almost in sheer disbelief from the garage as his drivers threw away what seemed a nailed on one-two finish.

Roars filled the air as F1 fans in the grandstands watched on as the two main title protagonists played out their own demolition derby in the heat of battle not for the first time this season.

Cheers and jeers greeted the chequered flag moments later, as some of the partisan Austrian crowd made their feelings known at having to watch the German nurse his stricken Silver Arrow over the finish line in fourth, having been overtaken by Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen.

Following a somewhat turbulent podium ceremony, both drivers were left to consider the potential fall-out of the race with an eager media.

What They Said

On the podium amid a chorus of boos from the crowd, Hamilton said “He made a mistake into turn one and I had an opportunity to go around the outside in turn two. I left a lot of room on the inside and I guess he locked up and crashed into me.”

Whereas Rosberg, penalised with license penalty points and a 10 second time penalty, offered an alternative view, “Absolutely gutted, we were battling and I was struggling a little with my brakes. I went a bit deep but that is fine because I am on the inside so I can dictate. So I was surprised Lewis turned in and caused a collision. It’s unbelievable.”

An exasperated Toto Wolff acknowledged after the race that the Mercedes management may have to consider “unpopular” team orders. “It makes me want to puke myself but if racing is not possible without contact then that is a consequence”.

One thing is for certain: all eyes will locked on the two Mercedes men as the Formula 1 World Championship marches on to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix this weekend.

Motor Sport Hospitality

Austrian GP 2016 Round-Up