Hamilton broke his streak of poor launches and held P1 at both the start and finish of Lap 1 for the first time this season. The Mercedes driver was perhaps a little relieved to have his teammate four spots back on the starting grid in Austria. Rosberg, though, would bounce back from his penalized starting position.
Jenson Button also maximized his own start as he drove from fifth straight to second following his fellow Brit through the exit of turn one. The British pair would lead the escape as the rest of the grid settled in line leaving a displaced Rosberg in 5th at the start of lap 2.
As the first round of pit stops began several laps later, Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari began sharking up through the grid. Vettel finally inherited the lead from Hamilton when Lewis pitted at lap 23. Vettel’s tires started to show visible degradation, but his lap times stayed relevant enough to stay on pace and in the lead. It started to look as if he was going for serious contention on a one-stop.
Rosberg pitted initially on lap 11, leaving Hamilton on the primary strategy to win his own race against Vettel. When Hamilton pitted on Lap 22 to set himself up to get an out-of-step performance advantage over the Ferrari later on - he inadvertently allowed Rosberg to complete an eleven lap undercut. When Hamilton rejoined the circuit following a slower than average pit stop he found himself behind his teammate. Mercedes could not have guessed at how Rosberg’s luck would shift next.
Suddenly on lap 27, Vettel smashed front-wing-first in to the pit-side barrier after a snap-slide down the front stretch. Strips and slags of tire rained down from the sky. The 32 lap tried Pirelli that began service in qualifying on Saturday started to strip away at the outside edge moments before bursting as much as maybe even Sebastian’s championship hopes in a furious hail of rubber composite. Vettel exited his car and walked off the track over the remnants of ominous black confetti. Today was his birthday.
Ferrari’s strategy of “Hey, we’ll just stay out on the super-softs until everybody pits and then we’ll take the lead,” didn’t work out. It maybe should have, though. Lots of other teams did more laps than Vettel on the same compound. Was it Ferrari’s chassis or Vettel’s driving style that somehow contributed to the failure, or was it a manufacturing defect? The collective Italian racing mafia would only reveal the explosion to be an “isolated incident.”
When the pair of still running and again leading Silver Arrows pit for the second time and closer to in sync beginning on Lap 27 they ultimately return to the track ahead of Verstappen, Ricciardo, and Raikkonen - making up the top five. The aft three begin drifting back the usual one second per lap as Mercedes show their race leading pace can still walk with some swagger.
On lap 55 Hamilton pits first from second place and takes on what are presumably his final set of tires. Another technical error on this stop slows Hamilton’s attack by a few further precious tenths. An annoyance that’s multiplied when Lewis catches sight of the sidewall on teammate Nico Rosberg’s car after the leader maintained his position following a dis-similarly flawless pit stop.
To Hamilton’s annoyance, Rosberg got super-softs. During their pit stop both Mercedes were overtaken by Max Verstappen in his Red Bull, now surely looking himself to be going for a one-stop strategy. Hamilton pushed his car on warmer tires to within DRS reach of Rosberg as they quickly entered traffic chasing Verstappen.
Rosberg made quick work of taking back the lead after fighting off a well placed block from the rookie out in front upon first catching up. Lewis would eventually take advantage of a conveniently placed back marker to get around the Red Bull. This put Verstappen on the last step of the Podium with less than twelve laps to go.
Nico Rosberg, at this point on paper, had won the race. Lewis was going to be able to maybe stay with him, but he wasn’t going to be able to pass him. Rosberg needed roughly fifteen good laps from his last set of super-softs to gain some much needed breathing room in the driver’s championship and to take home this win.
In the last few laps Lewis started catching Nico. The front-running Silver Arrow’s front tires had massive dark banding across a large portion of their surface. The rears soon followed. All four of Lewis’ soft tires looked fine with only a few laps to go.
On the penultimate lap Rosberg was getting DRS as the pair weaved through traffic negating Hamilton’s only real advantage. Still, Hamilton was able to get right up on the crash structure of the car in front at several of the dwindling slow speed corners. The best place for Hamilton to pass looked like it could be at turn 1 on the last lap. As both Mercedes cars came down the front stretch to start the last lap it didn’t look like car 44 was close enough. The braking zone came and went. The cars stayed in form. Nothing happened.
For a moment it looked as if the dirty air of second place had locked in the race result at the white flag. Then, as both cars exited the corner Rosberg slipped his tires on a bit of the curbing. As suddenly as Nico Rosberg had taken the lead from Vetel on Lap 27 - Hamilton bolted around him on the outside with a burst of momentum heading in to turn 2.
The reported reason Rosberg ran wide at the entrance to turn 1 on Lap 71 was due to a braking failure. Hamilton himself reported that he had to manage his car’s braking temperatures during the race as they were reaching critical levels. Mercedes immediately identified the issue in post-race interviews, but that didn’t entirely explain what happened in turn 2 on the last lap.
Rosberg drove deep in to the corner on the inside, right under Hamilton and eventually followed the 44 car closely through the middle of the turn. Hamilton cautiously proceeded to the farthest outside of the racing line, leaving more than a car’s width gap for his teammate on the primary stripe. When Hamilton turned in to the corner on the outside edge he was stunned to find his team mate on his side-pod and directly in his blind spot - still heading almost straight at him.
Hamilton turned with his full force on the wheel expecting to resume the fight for the lead and the racing line off of the corner exit. Rosberg arguably drove his Mercedes directly in to his team mate’s car, only turning with a portion of the input required to make the turn on the racing line. This error, presumably, combined with his braking failure resulted in Rosberg holding the far outside of the line through the corner as he used his car to push Hamilton wide.
Rosberg continued on ahead proceeding to block Hamilton from re-entering the racing surface as the German regained the lead at the corner’s exit. The relief for Rosberg would be short-lived, as his battered front wing shortly came free and handicapped his chance to take the win. Hamilton, who only suffered minor damage, then drove around Nico’s car again as it dismantled itslef in the breeze. Verstappen and Raikkonen pursued.
Ferrari and Red Bull both caught Rosberg and ruined Mercedes press department’s dearest hopes of a double podium. Papa Toto looked particularly displeased with what he later described as a “brainless” collision.
Max Verstappen makes the one stop work and Raikkonen matches Vettel’s place in the driver’s points with this short-track podium. The number 6 Mercedes would fall back to fourth before crossing the line with what was later challenged by the FIA as a dangerously damaged car which had also caused an unnecessary collision. Sergio Perez unceremoniously ran head on in to the wall on the last lap after his own brake failure, which allowed Pascal Wehrlein to move in to 10th scoring his first F1 point following Force India’s troubles.
Hamilton wins the 250th for a British Driver, making up 45 of those wins now himself. Rosberg will bounce back. He still leads Hamilton heading in to Silverstone by 9 points. The real losers will be the fans if when Mercedes forces “team orders” either of these corporate robots actually obey. These are two proud drivers in the two fastest cars. They’re inevitably going to be close to one another. Rosberg racing Hamilton is some of the only action you can depend on with the way things have become. If you can’t afford to wreck them, you shouldn’t be racing them. Get with the show, Stuttgart. Lighten up.
2016 Austrian Grand Prix Result
|2||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer||71||+5.719s||18|
|5||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer||71||+30.981s||10|
|6||22||Jenson Button||McLaren Honda||71||+37.706s||8|
|7||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||71||+44.668s||6|
|8||55||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso Ferrari||71||+47.400s||4|
|9||77||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Mercedes||70||+1 lap||2|
|10||94||Pascal Wehrlein||MRT Mercedes||70||+1 lap||1|
|11||21||Esteban Gutierrez||Haas Ferrari||70||+1 lap||0|
|12||30||Jolyon Palmer||Renault||70||+1 lap||0|
|13||12||Felipe Nasr||Sauber Ferrari||70||+1 lap||0|
|14||20||Kevin Magnussen||Renault||70||+1 lap||0|
|15||9||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber Ferrari||70||+1 lap||0|
|16||88||Rio Haryanto||MRT Mercedes||70||+1 lap||0|
|17||11||Sergio Perez||Force India Mercedes||69||DNF||0|
|18||14||Fernando Alonso||McLaren Honda||64||DNF||0|
|19||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India Mercedes||64||DNF||0|
|20||19||Felipe Massa||Williams Mercedes||63||DNF||0|
|NC||26||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso Ferrari||2||DNF||0|
2016 World Drivers’ Championship
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||AUS||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer||88|
|6||Max Verstappen||NED||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer||72|
|7||Valtteri Bottas||FIN||Williams Mercedes||54|
|8||Sergio Perez||MEX||Force India Mercedes||39|
|9||Felipe Massa||BRA||Williams Mercedes||38|
|10||Romain Grosjean||FRA||Haas Ferrari||28|
|11||Daniil Kvyat||RUS||Toro Rosso Ferrari||22|
|12||Carlos Sainz||ESP||Toro Rosso Ferrari||22|
|13||Nico Hulkenberg||GER||Force India Mercedes||20|
|14||Fernando Alonso||ESP||McLaren Honda||18|
|15||Jenson Button||GBR||McLaren Honda||13|
|17||Pascal Wehrlein||GER||MRT Mercedes||1|
|18||Stoffel Vandoorne||BEL||McLaren Honda||1|
|19||Esteban Gutierrez||MEX||Haas Ferrari||0|
|21||Marcus Ericsson||SWE||Sauber Ferrari||0|
|22||Felipe Nasr||BRA||Sauber Ferrari||0|
|23||Rio Haryanto||INA||MRT Mercedes||0|
2016 World Constructors’ Championship
|3||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer||168|
|5||Force India Mercedes||59|
|6||Toro Rosso Ferrari||36|