Mercedes master the Ring

This sculpture clearly indicates that Spielberg is Red Bull territory

This sculpture clearly indicates that
Spielberg is Red Bull territory

After what was, by their incredibly high standards, a disastrous Canadian grand prix, Mercedes were looking to reassert their authority in Austria. The omens weren’t all that positive, however. Having been beaten by Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo in Montreal they now had to visit the Milton Keynes based team’s ‘home’ track; the old A1 ring which, under the new ownership of Dietrich Mateschitz has now been renamed the Red Bull Ring.

Add to that the fact that Mercedes didn’t have qualifying their own way and fans could have been forgiven for thinking that their domination might have been on the slide. For the first time this season Mercedes were not on pole position. Indeed, neither championship leader Nico Rosberg nor his team-mate Lewis Hamilton were even on the front row following Saturday qualifying. Instead, it was Williams who locked out the front row of the grid. Rosberg at least managed third, but Hamilton had a disaster, failing to set a time after making two mistakes in Q3 and starting down in ninth place, despite looking like he had the ultimate pace.

Going into the race it was clear that Mercedes were not going to have things all their own way. The Williams cars, using the Mercedes power units, were extremely fast in a straight line. On a track that is all about straight-line speed passing them would be a challenge, and with Hamilton starting in the middle of the pack his chances didn’t look all that promising.

Both Mercedes cars started well.

Both Mercedes cars started well

Hamilton soon put his starting disadvantage behind him, though. The Briton made a lightning start and made up a hatful of positions on the opening lap. By the time that he overtook Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari into turn eight he was fourth, just a place behind Rosberg. The German, despite passing Valtteri Bottas off the line was immediately re-passed by the Finn on the run down to turn two, again highlighting the straight-line speed advantage of the Martini liveried Williams cars.

As we have seen so often in modern formula 1 the race hinged on the pit stops. Williams didn’t seem to make the right calls, allowing Mercedes to gain an advantage by stopping first and not reacting to those pit stops immediately. Rosberg was able to jump ahead of both Williams at the first stop and while Hamilton only managed to pass pole-sitter Felipe Massa, he was able to get the job done on Bottas at the second round of pit stops as Williams again fell victim to the undercut.

Hamilton lost nearly two seconds to Rosberg through slower pit stops

Hamilton lost nearly two seconds to
Rosberg through slower pit stops

While Hamilton secured the advantage over the Williams cars through the pit stops, though, he lost out badly to his team-mate. The 2008 world drivers’ champion’s pit stops were a total of 1.9 seconds slower than Rosberg’s. Considering that Rosberg won the race by exactly 1.9 seconds, and that Hamilton backed off in the last couple of corners after being just half a second behind his team-mate earlier on the final lap, those slower pit stops proved to be the difference between a win and second place.

Truth be told, Hamilton was the faster of the two Mercedes drivers this weekend. Despite his stunning start to the race, he was never able to recover from the mistakes in the final part of qualifying, though. Those mistakes ultimately cost him the pole position he almost certainly would have secured. He was a huge four tenths of a second faster than Bottas after two sectors of his first run, and given that Massa only beat his team-mate’s time by under a tenth of a second you can see for yourself who had the true pace.

Instead, of pole and a likely victory Hamilton instead had to watch his team-mate win and extend his lead in the world drivers’ championship to 29 points; the biggest that it’s been all season. Even a win for Hamilton at his home race in two week’s time and a first DNF of the season for Rosberg would not be enough for the former to overhaul the latter in the standings. Hamilton certainly has his work cut out for him.

Perhaps not as much as Red Bull Racing, however. The world constructors’ champions headed to their home race on a high after Ricciardo’s opportunistic win in Canada, but they were quite simply nowhere in Austria. Sebastian Vettel didn’t even make it into the pole position shoot out in qualifying, and although Ricciardo did, he could only manage fifth on the grid, nearly three-quarters of a second slower than Massa’s pace-setting Williams.

Vettel retired from the race on lap 35

Vettel retired from the race on lap 35

Things went from bad to worse for the Austrian owned team in the race. Vettel, starting down in 12th place, suddenly slowed on the opening lap reporting to his team on the radio that he “lost drive”. Although the German was able to get back up to speed again, he lost a lap. Vettel continued, but then retired his car on lap 35 saying “We stopped because we wanted to save some mileage. We were hoping to get a safety car but it didn’t happen and there is no point continuing when you are a lap behind…I just hope Daniel [Ricciardo] can keep moving through the field and get some points.”

Perez drove impressively to finish sixth for Force India

Perez drove impressively
to finish sixth for Force India

As it happened, Ricciardo did score points, but only a paltry four after finishing eighth thanks to a stunning last lap move on the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg. The highly-rated German is being outshone by his team-mate Sergio Perez at the moment. Despite starting 16th thanks to a five place grid penalty for his collision with Massa at the last race, Perez showed great pace and led the race at one point after running a very long first stint of the race on the harder prime tyres. The Mexican eventually finished sixth to Hulkenberg’s ninth, but still trails his team-mate by just over 30 championship points.

There doesn’t seem to be any catching the Mercedes cars, though. Yes, Bottas finished just 8.1 seconds behind Rosberg in his Williams, but I don’t think that’s truly representative of the actual speed of Mercedes and Williams. Don’t forget that both Mercedes cars were held up by the Williams cars at various stages of the race. Had the Silver Arrows showed their true pace in qualifying, the gap to the rest may well have been a mammoth one.

As it was, Mercedes will be happy with a smaller margin of victory. They have reasserted themselves at the front of the pack, and with Red Bull faltering and Mercedes engines occupying the first four positions in Spielberg, and seven of the top ten places, the team are justifying the investment of the board in Stuttgart.

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Dan’s the man in Montreal

Mercedes dominated qualifying yet again, with Nico Rosberg surprisingly beating Lewis Hamilton to pole position. With the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve seemingly designed to suit the strengths of the Mercedes W05, it looked like the Canadian grand prix would be another straight fight between the two Mercedes team-mates.

The Mercedes cars battle into turn one

The Mercedes cars battle into turn one

And so it proved, but only for the first 37 laps or so of the race. Rosberg was actually beaten off the line by Hamilton, but managed to squeeze the Briton into turn one and maintain the lead. As it turned out Sebastian Vettel managed to manoeuvre his Red Bull ahead of Hamilton, too, as the Mercedes driver was forced onto the grass by his team-mate as he took action to avoid a collision.

Bianchi's wrecked Marussia following his 1st lap crash with Chilton

Bianchi’s wrecked Marussia
following his 1st lap crash with Chilton

Hamilton had to wait a while to re-pass Vettel, until lap 10 in fact.  The reason for that was a lengthy safety car period caused after the Marussias of Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton collided on the opening lap, putting both out of the race. It was a swift return to earth for the team after they’d been on a high after scoring their first formula 1 points with Bianchi’s ninth place finish in Monaco.

It proved to be a return to earth for Mercedes, too. With Hamilton trailing Rosberg we suddenly heard reports of a loss of power on Hamilton’s car, swiftly followed with team radio indicating an identical issue on Rosberg’s car. The rest of the field were suddenly catching both Mercedes cars hand over fist.

Even before we got to that point there was controversy as Rosberg escaped a penalty, despite gaining an advantage, by cutting the final chicane when under pressure from a charging Hamilton. It proved to be immaterial however. While the Mercedes toiled the rest of the pack continued to close in. It was time for the second stops for Mercedes, and a slow stop for Rosberg allowed Hamilton to overtake him, although both were now behind the Williams of Felipe Massa.

Hamilton pulls into the pits to retire

Hamilton pulls into the pits to retire

Hamilton, finally had the advantage over his team-mate, but it wasn’t to last. The Englishman emerged from the pits on lap 46 just ahead of his German team-mate, but later the same lap he ran wide at the hairpin allowing Rosberg through. Hamilton then himself cut the final chicane as we saw his right rear wheel smoking. It turned out that in addition to the loss of power his brakes had failed, forcing him into his second retirement of the reason.

It soon emerged that Rosberg had trouble with his brakes, too. As Massa made his second pit stop on lap 49 the remaining Mercedes retook the lead of the race, but was being chased down by a pack of three cars led by the Force India of Sergio Perez, with the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Vettel close behind. Amazingly, though, Rosberg was able to hold on with Perez closing rapidly down the straights, but unable to make his move as Rosberg kept pulling out enough of a gap through the corners.

The Force India just wasn’t going to get the job done, but as it turned out a Red Bull could. Perez started suffering from brake issues himself allowing Ricciardo to pass on lap 66, just five laps from home. Even though the Red Bull isn’t as quick in a straight line as the Mercedes powered Force India, it was quicker through the corners, meaning that Rosberg was unable to pull away from Ricciardo through the first and second sectors.

Ricciardo takes the chequered flag to win his first Formula 1 race

Ricciardo takes the chequered
flag to win his first Formula 1 race

On the penultimate lap of the race Ricciardo made his move and took the lead. There was no opportunity for Rosberg to fight back as Massa and Perez crashed very heavily at the start of the final lap, bringing out the second safety car of the race. The race finished under the safety car, with victory for Ricciardo – his first in Formula 1 – with his team-mate Vettel in third and Rosberg in second.

It’s a massive achievement for Ricciardo and thoroughly deserved after a stellar start to his career at Red Bull Racing. You can’t help but feel, though, that despite not taking the race win, the biggest winner was Rosberg. A retirement for Hamilton and a second place finish means that the German’s world drivers’ championship lead has ballooned to a daunting 22 points over his team-mate.

Hamilton will be hoping for a change in fortunes next time out in Austria. It’s Red Bull’s home race, though, and they’ll certainly be heading there in high spirits.