2016 Austrian Grand Prix Recap: Championship Fight Heats Up as Hamilton and Rosberg Collide Again
The Austrian Grand Prix is one of my favorite races on the calendar. The circuit, which has gone through several major renovations throughout its history, is one of the most beautiful of the season, located near Spielberg in the lovely state of Styria, Austria, where the mountains and abundant flora make for an impressive and gorgeous backdrop.
The track is also one of the shortest of the season, with nine corners and lap times only just over a minute long, but its fast, sweeping corners make it perfect for Formula 1.
Nico Rosberg won the Austrian Grand Prix both times since the circuit returned to the calendar in 2014 as the “Red Bull Ring,” and went on to lose the championship to teammate Lewis Hamilton both times as well. This time, after a spectacularly controversial crash on the last lap, Hamilton was the one to win it—and it still doesn’t bode all that well for Rosberg.
But let’s jump into qualifying.
Qualifying was made far more exciting than usual thanks to changing conditions and two five-place grid penalties that Rosberg and Vettel were going to receive for changing their gearbox. If a driver could use the conditions to his advantage and qualify near the top runners, he could find himself bumped up right at the front of the grid.
And that’s exactly what happened with 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Nico Hülkenberg and Jenson Button. The former simply outdrove his car and the latter once again proved why he was already famous for his skill in uncertain weather conditions. After the penalties were handed out—Rosberg to start 6th, Vettel to start 9th—Hulkenberg and Button had moved up to 2nd and 3rd on the grid, respectively, marking their best performance in many years.
Meanwhile, Hamilton comfortably grabbed pole and set his sights on his 46th career Grand Prix win.
Unfortunately for Hülkenberg, brake issues forced him to retire early, leaving a sour taste in his mouth after the sweetness of starting 2nd on the grid. Button did as well as he could to maintain track position in his underpowered car, finishing 6th for his best result of the year. Vettel had to retire for the third time in nine races after his tire inexplicably came apart on the pit straight and Räikkönen probably should have been able to finish 2nd, if not for the fact that Max “Tire Whisperer” Verstappen somehow managed to keep his soft tires alive for 56 laps and that Ferrari seems to continually muck up their strategy somehow. Meanwhile, Pascal Wehrlein finished 10th to score his team’s first points of the season.
But all of that was overshadowed by the last-lap drama between the Mercedes boys. After crashing into each other in Barcelona and handing their team their first double-retirement in ages, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg once again made contact at the Red Bull Ring. The two had been on a different strategy for the race, but the safety car period that began after Vettel’s incident cancelled the benefits of Hamilton’s strategy, which allowed Rosberg to take the lead. For a while it seemed as though he would keep that advantage and go on to win the Austrian Grand Prix for the third consecutive time, but his brakes were nearing the cusp of failing altogether and his car had received damage when he ran into debris from Vettel’s tire.
By the start of the last lap, Hamilton was right on his back. The three-time world champion got a better run out of the first corner and moved to overtake Rosberg on his outside on the straight. The latter went for an aggressive defensive maneuver by turning into the second corner much later than usual and Hamilton, not expecting it, turned into his teammate, driving over his front wing and then briefly going off track.
As a result, Rosberg’s wing came off and he lost enough time on the final lap to get passed by Verstappen and Räikkönen. Hamilton raced to the finish line unscathed to take the win, but Mercedes wasn’t happy about losing yet another 1-2.
The incident between Hamilton and Rosberg stirred many arguments online. Most agreed that Rosberg was at a fault and, after they had a proper look at it themselves, the stewards agreed and gave him a 10-second penalty, though it didn’t affect the final standings.
Personally, I don’t agree that Rosberg should be faulted for it, but I’ve already said my piece elsewhere on the internet and got lynched for it. The main argument I’ve heard against Rosberg is that “he didn’t even try to make the apex,” but people forget that drivers are entitled to be wherever they want on the track as long as they leave room next to them for another car if one is there—and Rosberg did. However, it was indeed a very late turn-in and so I wouldn’t blame Hamilton for not expecting it and accidentally turning into his teammate.
I think it was a racing incident, the same kind we’ve seen many times throughout the years in Formula 1. And honestly, what was Rosberg supposed to do?—just keel over and let Hamilton win it easily? Plus, if Rosberg’s move in Austria was worthy of a penalty, I don’t understand how Hamilton intentionally forcing Rosberg off the track at the start of the 2015 United States Grand Prix wasn’t.
In any case, the gap for the championship lead is back down to 11 points. The tension and drama only seems to be increasing and I have a feeling that Mercedes is going to start struggling to control their drivers if they don’t put a lid on it. Hell, if Rosberg manages to win the British Grand Prix next week, Hamilton might just explode.
Kurt Verlin was born in France and lives in the United States. Throughout his life he was always told French was the language of romance, but it was English he fell in love with. He likes cats, music, cars, 30 Rock, Formula 1, and pretending to be a race car driver in simulators; but most of all, he just likes to write about it all. See more articles by Kurt.