Nico Rosberg was leading the Austrian Grand Prix as he began the final lap. He finished that lap in fourth place, with his team-mate, world champion Lewis Hamilton, taking the chequered flag.
Hamilton started on pole. Rosberg had qualified second but was dropped to seventh due to a five place grid penalty he incurred as he had to change his gearbox. Sebastian Vettel also suffered such a penalty, starting ninth. Hamilton was joined on the front row by Nico Hulkenberg for Force India, the teams’ first appearance on the front row of the grid since the 2009 Italian Grand Prix. Jenson Button was a surprise third, as the Briton had again shown his class in damp conditions in the dying moments of Saturday’s qualifying session. Pascal Wehrlein was another star on Saturday, and he lined his Manor up in the twelfth grid slot, or at least he should have. Felipe Massa had to start from the pit lane, so there was an empty space on the 10th grid slot. Wehrlein absent-mindedly drove into the empty spot, before engaging reverse gear and tracking back onto his markings in 12th. The lights shone red, blinked off and the race began.
Hamilton made a good start from pole, with Button moving into second as Hulkenberg made a poor start and quickly found himself behind Kimi Raikkonen. The Red Bull pair of Verstappen and Ricciardo swapped positions on lap two, with the teenage Max Verstappen taking no prisoners and passing his more experienced team-mate around the outside of the penultimate corner. Raikkonen passed Button on lap seven, and attempted to reel the lead Mercedes in. Nico Rosberg had been working his way through the field from seventh, and had done well to overtake cars. Vettel had begun to move up the field as well.
Rosberg was the first of the leading cars to pit. Hamilton had stayed out until lap 21, with Raikkonen stopping a lap later. Raikkonen ended up stuck behind the Red Bull pair and his shot at challenging Hamilton disappeared. Yet another race with a questionable – at best – strategy call from Ferrari. Rosberg had been lapping faster than Hamilton. The British driver’s pit stop was slow, and Hamilton emerged from the pits several seconds behind his team mate. Vettel was continuing to circulate, attempting to extend his initial stint as long as possible so as to have a one stop strategy, and fresher tyres come the end of the race. This bold strategy may have brought him into contention for the win, but his right rear supersoft tyre disintegrated on the start-finish straight in spectacular fashion. Vettel spun, hit the pit wall and the Ferrari swerved back across the track. His race was over and the safety car was deployed.
Hamilton and Rosberg pitted again, emerging behind Max Verstappen. The Dutchman was on far older and more worn tyres, and was eventually swallowed up by the battling Mercedes duo. The pair traded tenths, but Hamilton was on the more durable soft compound tyre than his team mate’s supersoft tyres, and as such his tyres had more life and performance in them the longer the race wore on.
Hamilton was within a second of Rosberg as the fateful 71st and last lap began. Rosberg made an error going into turn one, and Hamilton had far superior exit speed and momentum as they raced along the straight to the second corner. Hamilton saw his opportunity and darted to the outside as the two silver arrows approached turn two. Rosberg attempted to cover off Hamilton’s entry into the corner by going straight, attempting to force the other driver off the track. Hamilton turned into the corner regardless, and smashed his front wheel off Rosberg’s front wing. Both cars skittered off the track. A flash of sparks as Rosberg re-joined the track ahead of Hamilton was a clear indication that his desperate gambit to retain the lead had failed. His front wing detached from its pylons and became lodged under the car. Hamilton, still compromised and driving slowly, overtook Rosberg into turn three. The German was quickly swallowed up by Verstappen and the close-following Raikkonen who he had been battling for several laps. Hamilton crossed the line, pumping his fist in victory, joined on the podium by Verstappen and Raikkonen. Rosberg limped home in fourth. Ricciardo was fifth, Button a deserved sixth, Romain Grosjean seventh for Hass, Carlos Sainz eighth, Valterri Bottas ninth and Pascal Wehrlein a superb tenth for Manor Racing, picking up the team’s first point since Jules Bianchi took a celebrated ninth at Monaco in 2014.
The stewards apportioned blame for the incident to Rosberg, giving him a time penalty that didn’t affect his finishing position. This was just the latest in a long series of incidents involving the Mercedes pair colliding on track.
How will both Mercedes drivers respond to this latest controversy? Will Rosberg be able to re-assert himself and claim an important victory (both literally and psychologically) at the next race, or will Hamilton begin overtake his rival for the lead of the championship by winning his home grand prix?
F1 makes its way to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix this weekend, with Nico Rosberg’s championship lead now a mere 11 points.