Winners and Losers at the Austrian Grand Prix
23 June 2014 – Formula 1 returned to Austria for the first time since 2003 and it was Nico Rosberg who led home Lewis Hamilton to collect Mercedes' sixth 1-2 of the season. We also witnessed a first-time podium finisher in Williams driver Valtteri Bottas. GPUpdate.net presents its winners and losers from the eighth round of the season.
The Red Bull Ring was an unknown quantity to all but four of the drivers – in terms of Formula 1 standards – but across practice it looked as if Nico Rosberg was off the pace compared to Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Nonetheless, in qualifying it was Hamilton who dropped the ball by first running wide and then spinning under braking for Turn 2. Rosberg ran wide on his first lap while in an ironic twist of fate Hamilton's spin scuppered any hope the German had of improving on his second run. Rosberg profited from Williams' conservatism in the race but nonetheless passed Sergio Pérez at a crucial moment and repelled the advances of Bottas when his tyres were past their best towards the end of the second stint. A couple of slow stops for Hamilton gave Rosberg a breathable advantage and while the Briton cut the gap in the closing stages, Rosberg hung on. This was a weekend in which Rosberg was probably not the quickest driver, yet he remained composed to extend his championship advantage to 29 points.
Valtteri Bottas has had a solid start to the season but despite being within the top 10 throughout the year he has gone about his business in an unassuming manner, consequently not getting the attention his talent deserves. However, across the weekend in Austria he was on top form and proved it by topping third practice and setting a strong lap first time out in qualifying. But on his second lap he blew his chance by dipping a wheel onto the grass and had to play second fiddle to team-mate Felipe Massa. At the start he lost out to Rosberg but swiftly gained back the position on the run up to Turn 2. From there he jumped ahead of Massa during the first round of stops but in turn lost out to Rosberg, who he nonetheless challenged over much of the next stint. But while he ultimately regressed a little he retained third place to collect his maiden podium in the sport – a deserved success which can be a springboard for more top results in 2014.
Sergio Pérez arrived in Austria off the back of a couple of accident-related retirements, with his penalty from Canada hanging over him. However, Force India believed that 'new elements' – along with stewards being able to hear Pérez's side of the story – would result in the sanction being overturned. Ultimately Pérez's penalty was upheld and he was forced to start from 16th on the grid. But from there he made admirable progress and exploited one of his best attributes as a driver to eke out the life in his tyres. He ended up in the lead and from there maturely resisted the temptation to race faster rivals on a different strategy. Team orders allowed him past team-mate Nico Hülkenberg while an error from Kevin Magnussen, on fairly worn tyres, aided Pérez's advance to sixth. He felt afterwards that he could have finished on the podium; without his grid drop there's every chance he'd have been in the hunt.
The last few events have been troublesome for Lewis Hamilton. He was sauntering towards the title lead following four straight wins but was bested by Rosberg in Monaco before suffering another mechanical failure in Canada. Throughout practice in Austria he appeared seamless but when it mattered in qualifying he blew both of his chances, the first a slide wide while the second was an uncharacteristic spin. He was able to recover slightly after a bullet of a start and overhauled Massa by pouncing after the Brazilian's first stop. A series of rapid laps enabled him to jump Bottas but in missing his marks slightly he cost himself a second – a deficit which would prove crucial as he tried to hunt down Rosberg. Second place earns him a decent haul of points but he needs to return to the top step of the podium soon – what better place to do that than at Silverstone?
For four years the combination of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have swept all before them so company co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz duly decided to host a race at the renovated Red Bull Ring for this year. Vettel, however, was off the pace from the first practice session and he narrowly avoided damaging his RB10 when he dropped it on the exit of the final corner. His Q2 exit came as little surprise in the circumstances although he was once again usurped by team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. Vettel retained his position at the start but slowed on the second lap, before his car got going again – just as the field lapped him, ironically forcing Ricciardo to run wide. A collision with Esteban Gutiérrez was clumsy although the stewards restrained from handing him a penalty. Red Bull opted to retire him mid-distance to save the engine but this was another problematic weekend for Vettel, who has yet to click with the current spec cars. This was hardly an event for the team to remember either, as Ricciardo struggled to eighth place.
A couple of teams had underwhelming weekends in Austria – Lotus was off the pace while reliability problems for Toro Rosso masked what had been a promising situation, especially for Daniil Kvyat. But a loser for this weekend has to be Sauber. That their current position in the pecking order is expected is a sad indictment of their fall from grace, but a series of errors compounded a woeful Sunday. The team released Gutiérrez from his first pit-stop prior to his right rear wheel being securely fastened; as a result they ordered him to stop immediately. However, the radio message was also distributed to Adrian Sutil – circulating at racing speed on track – who duly obliged and lost almost 10 seconds before the mistake was realised and rectified. Sutil went on to finish 13th and while points weren't lost, it was an amateurish error from the team. To compound matters, Gutiérrez was handed the obligatory 10-place grid penalty for the British Grand Prix.