Rosberg hits trouble, while Hamilton makes it a championship double in Abu Dhabi

After all the build up, all the anticipation and drama of the 2014 Formula 1 season came down to one race, worth double points, in Abu Dhabi. It was a straight fight between the two Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. While Hamilton went into the race with a 17 point advantage, Rosberg had the advantage of starting on pole position.

Things were finely poised, but Hamilton knew that he only had to finish second to Rosberg to win a second world drivers’ championship. Rosberg, on the other hand, went into the race knowing that he had nothing to lose. The outcome of the title was largely out of his hands. He needed help from others or a car problem for Hamilton to take his first championship. As Rosberg frequently reminded the world, and his team-mate, in the build up to the race, the pressure was on Hamilton.

Hamilton started brilliantly and led into turn 1

Hamilton started brilliantly and led into turn 1

You wouldn’t have guessed it from the way the two Silver Arrows cars started the race, though. As the lights went out Hamilton took off, blasting past his team-mate to take the lead. It was the perfect getaway for Hamilton, who could watch in his mirror as Rosberg got a poor start and had to defend from Felipe Massa’s Williams going into turn 1.

As it turned out, Hamilton never looked back. He pulled out of DRS range immediately and built up a two to three-second advantage over Rosberg, which stayed stable throughout the opening stages of the race. It remained like that through the first pit stops until lap 23 of the race. It was at that point that things went from bad to worse for Rosberg.

The German appeared to lock up in the final sector of the lap, losing time to Hamilton. The gap expanded to around four seconds and if that had been the end of it Rosberg would still have been in with a shot. Sadly for the five time 2014 race winner, it only signalled the start of his troubles. Rosberg soon reported that he had lost power and his Mercedes team soon confirmed a hybrid system failure on his car.

It was a dreadful race for Rosberg, who finished 14th

It was a dreadful race for Rosberg, who finished 14th

The loss around 160hp from the failure of his ERS system was crippling for Rosberg. He started losing time hand over fist. Just a few laps later Massa blasted past him in his Williams, and he wasn’t the only one. As the laps ticked by Rosberg dropped further and further down the field, losing position after position as, despite his best efforts, cars cruised past his stricken Mercedes down the straight.

It is to Rosberg’s credit that he finished the race, despite his team suggesting that he should retire his car. In the end he finished in 14th positions, after being lapped by his team-mate. While it was a massively disappointing way to finish the season for Rosberg, it was very much delight for Hamilton.

A delighted Hamilton takes the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi

A delighted Hamilton takes the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi

The Briton took his second world drivers’ crown after a six-year wait since his 2008 championship win with McLaren. Hamilton survived some late pressure from Massa in the Williams, who ran a short last stint on the faster super soft tyres, to win the race by 2.5 seconds. Even without Rosberg’s troubles in Abu Dhabi, the German was never in a position to take the drivers’ championship. Had he not had his ERS failure and had somehow managed to catch and pass his team-mate – something that he hadn’t managed all season – Hamilton would still have finished in second place, which was all he needed to take the championship.

It was a great finish to a great season for Williams

It was a great finish to a great season for Williams

Thankfully, too, double points turned out not to be a factor in deciding the fate of the title. Hopefully this will be the first and only time this gimmick is used in Formula 1. Indeed, the only man to benefit was Valtteri Bottas, who took third place in the race behind his Williams team-mate Felipe Massa, and with it, fourth place in the drivers’ standings. It was an impressive end to the season for a resurgent Williams team, which took third place in the constructors’’ standings after finishing a lowly ninth in 2013.

2014 was, though Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton’s year. Mercedes finished as constructors’ champions with a record-breaking 16 race wins out of 19 and a record 701 world championship points. Hamilton took 11 of those race wins, more than double the number taken by his team-mate to deservedly take the world drivers’ championship by 67 points

It was Alonso's final race for Ferrari

It was Alonso’s final race for Ferrari

2015 will be a season of changes, though. We now know that Sebastian Vettel will leave Red Bull Racing – the team where he won his four world titles – to join Ferrari, while Fernando Alonso will leave the Scuderia for parts unknown. Presumably the Spaniard will join McLaren with their new Honda engines, but that’s yet to be confirmed, as are the futures of current McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen.

One thing that is unlikely to change, however, is the Mercedes dominance of Formula 1. Next season already looks like it might be another shoot out between Hamilton and Rosberg, but let’s not worry about that too much now. Lewis Hamilton certainly won’t. He’s busy celebrating his second world drivers’ championship, and he’ll be going into contract negotiations with his Mercedes bosses with a spring in his step.

Abu Dhabi was billed as the duel in the desert. As it turned out, Lewis Hamilton was the jewel in the desert. It was a sparkling performance in a dazzling season from the 29-year-old.

Rosberg returns to winning ways in Brazil

After a run of five consecutive victories for his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, it was vital for Nico Rosberg to reassert himself in Brazil. To be fair to the German driver, that’s exactly what he did. Rosberg topped every single practice session at Interlagos and all three parts of qualifying including, most importantly, Q3 to put himself on pole position – his tenth of the season.

The biggest test, of course, would be the race itself. After Hamilton so expertly caught and overtook Rosberg last time out in Austin, Rosberg must have been fearful that the same might happen in Brazil, despite his dominance. In the end, though, Rosberg did enough on race day to secure his fifth victory of the season and reduce the deficit to his team-mate in the drivers’ standings to 17 points heading into the final round of the season – the double points race in Abu Dhabi.

However, although Rosberg took the victory, it was down, in large measure, to a mistake from Hamilton. The 2008 world drivers’ champion seemed to have the edge in race pace and would have overtaken Rosberg at the second round of pit stops but for a spin on lap 28, which cost the Englishman seven crucial seconds.

Hamilton was around a second behind Rosberg when the latter pitted on lap 26. It’s normal that the driver that pits first will have the advantage of fresh rubber to increase their advantage over the pursuing car, but that certainly wasn’t the case in this instance. Released from the turbulent wake of his team-mate, Hamilton immediately put in a stunning lap, which would have been enough for him to leapfrog his team-mate.

This spin for Hamilton proved crucial in deciding the outcome of the race

This spin for Hamilton decided the outcome of the race

Crucially, though, instead of diving into the pits at the end of lap 27, Hamilton continued for another lap, seeking to take even more of an advantage. That proved to be his undoing. As it turned out, the tyres were simply not able to cope with two consecutive laps of the same speed and intensity, and Hamilton spun at the end of the second DRS zone.

Hamilton got close to Rosberg, but not close enough to attempt a pass

Hamilton got close to Rosberg, but not close enough to attempt a pass

Instead of a narrow advantage over Rosberg, Hamilton emerged from the pits on lap 29 some seven seconds behind his title rival. The points leader drove brilliantly to relentlessly close that gap down over the remainder of the race, closing to within DRS range of his team-mate by lap 53, after the final pit stops. However, Rosberg managed to do just enough to hold Hamilton at bay. Hamilton never quite got close enough to attempt a pass thanks to Rosberg continuously having a small advantage over his team-mate in the middle sector of the lap.

The duel between Button and Raikkonen was just one of the exciting battlesbehind the Mercedes duo

The duel between Button and Raikkonen was just one of the exciting battles behind the Mercedes duo

Although, we didn’t see any over taking action up front, there was plenty further down the field. We saw some great battles involving the Ferrari’s of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button’s McLaren and Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull. We also saw Felipe Massa take a memorable podium at his Home race for Williams, despite a five second penalty, and nearly stopping in the McLaren pit box.

Massa was clearly delighted with his podium finish

Massa was clearly delighted with his podium finish

The Brazilian was clearly delighted on the podium, but despite the promise that they showed in qualifying, the Williams were never able to compete with the all-conquering Silver Arrows when it came to the race. The 2014 world constructors’ champions were, yet again, in a class of their own in Brazil. It’s only fitting that the battle for the world drivers’ championship comes down to the last race, in a straight shoot out between the Mercedes team-mates.

It would, though, be incredibly sad if Rosberg were to overturn Hamilton’s 17 point advantage thanks to double points in the final race of the season. In any other season a sixth place finish would be enough for Hamilton to secure the drivers’ crown, even if his team-mate were to win the race. Double points, though, means that the Englishman must finish second to take the title if his team-mate wins the race.

Such is Mercedes pace advantage over the rest of the field that a 1-2 finish would look to be odds on in Abu Dhabi, though, so surely Hamilton doesn’t have too much to worry about, right? Wrong. All drivers are using power units that are right at the end of their working life, which means that reliability could play a crucial role in Abu Dhabi.

Still, though, the championship, reliability aside, is in Hamilton’s hands. Whatever happens in Abu Dhabi, I hope it’s a fair fight. May the best man win.

Quicksilver Hamilton shines in Singapore

The result couldn’t have been much better for Lewis Hamilton in Singapore. Pole position on Saturday was followed by a race win on Sunday. That win, coupled with his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg’s retirement, meant that Hamilton also took the lead in the world drivers’ championship; for only the second time this season.

Last time out in Italy it was Hamilton who had electronic problems at the start of the race, but in Singapore it was Rosberg who had his own electrical problem, a problem far more severe than the one his team-mate experienced in Monza. Rosberg’s issue started before he even left the pit lane and once he made it to the grid the team worked frantically on the steering column of his car, switching steering wheels and hoping for the best.

Rosberg's stricken Mercedes is pushed away from the grid

Rosberg’s stricken Mercedes is pushed away from the grid

As it turned out, despite all the team’s efforts, Rosberg’s problem was far from fixed. The German couldn’t pull away on the parade lap and although he did manage to start from the pit lane, the problem with his car was far from resolved. Rosberg had no control over his car’s systems. No ERS, no engine mode control, no DRS. Indeed, nothing at all other than the ability to change gears, and even that was severely hampered.

Rosberg struggled at the back of the field

Rosberg struggled at the back of the field

As Hamilton streaked into the lead from pole position, Rosberg struggled to pick his way through the Marussias and Caterhams at the tail of the field. When his first pit-stop came on lap 14 of the race, he didn’t even have an operational pit lane speed limiter, meaning he was forced to crawl into his pit box at a snail’s pace.

As it turned out, he couldn’t even manage to pull back out again. Even gear selection finally failed and as a result Rosberg was going absolutely nowhere. The team was forced to retire the car and Rosberg was forced to watch on while Hamilton took complete control of the race, pursued, at an ever-increasing distance by Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso.

Despite Hamilton’s iron grip of the race in the opening 32 laps, his victory turned out to be far from plain sailing in the end. Reliability was not the problem for Hamilton, though, the safety car was. Force India’s Sergio Perez suffered a front wing failure after contact with Adrian Sutil’s Sauber on lap 31.

The safety car disrupted the race in Singapore

The safety car disrupted the race in Singapore

The resulting debris triggered the safety car and put Hamilton and Mercedes in a difficult position. Both Red Bulls and Williams cars had already used both tyre compounds and would not stop again. Alonso decided to stop under safety car conditions and switch on to the softer compound tyre, meaning that he, too, had run both compounds. Hamilton and Mercedes, though, didn’t, meaning that they would have to stop again in the closing stages of the race.

The safety car finally returned to the pit lane on lap 38. Hamilton would have to build a gap of around 30 seconds over his rivals to be able to pit again and emerge in the lead. It was a massive ask, but Hamilton set about his task with relish, building a 3.3 second lead after just one lap. By lap 51 the gap was over 25 seconds, but his super soft tyres had had enough. He pitted on lap 52, emerging from the pits on fresh soft tyres behind Vettel, but crucially ahead of Ricciardo in third and Alonso in fourth.

A clearly delighted Hamilton celebrates his win

A clearly delighted Hamilton celebrates his win

Just two laps later, Hamilton wasn’t even behind Vettel. The Briton took maximum advantage of his far fresher tyres to make the move on the reigning world drivers’ champion at turn seven, with DRS assistance. And that was pretty much that. Hamilton once again pulled away from his rivals at a staggering rate of knots. In the remaining few laps – one less than the scheduled 61 due to the safety car period – Hamilton built an impressive lead over Vettel, with Ricciardo and Alonso close behind. The Stevenage-born racer eventually finished 13.5 seconds clear as he took his seventh victory of the season.

Second was a great result for Vettel in the end.  The quadruple world drivers’ champion has endured a miserable 2014  so far, watching on as Ricciardo managed three wins and usurped the German as the lead Red Bull driver.  In Singapore, though, Vettel beat Ricciardo fair and square.  It’ll be interesting to see whether this marks a shift in the Red Bull pecking order this year.  Ferrari were also much improved at Marina Bay, with Kimi Raikkonen looking fast all weekend and unlucky not to supplement Alonso’s fourth place finish with more than an eighth place finish.  But behind Hamilton the star of the race was undoubtedly Jean-Eric Vergne in the Toro Rosso.  The Frenchman has lost his drive for next season to rising star Max Verstappen, but he made a great case for a drive elsewhere with sixth place in Singapore, matching his best ever result in Formula 1.

The man of the moment was definitely Hamilton, though.  His 25 point haul in Singapore means that he wiped out his 22 point deficit in the world drivers’ championship in one fell swoop. He now takes a three-point lead into Japan and, with two consecutive wins from pole position, the momentum is very much behind him. There are still five races to go, though, and with double points in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton, and for that matter Rosberg, will need no reminding that the championship battle is far from over.

The championship is as close as it’s ever been, though. It looks like it’s going to be a thrilling climax to the season. I suspect that there are twists and turns yet to come…

Pitlane to podium for Hamilton in Hungary

A dejected looking Lewis Hamilton walks away from his smoking Mercedes in qualifying

A dejected looking Lewis Hamilton walks away
from his smoking Mercedes in qualifying

After another dreadful qualifying session for Lewis Hamilton in 2014, the Briton looked certain to lose even more ground to Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in the fight for the world drivers’ championship. Hamilton failed to set a time in Saturday qualifying, after a fuel leak on his Mercedes caused a huge fire putting Hamilton out and giving his Mercedes team a gigantic task to rebuild a car that was almost a total loss.

In contrast, as we’ve seen so many times this season, Rosberg had a trouble-free qualifying session. The German cruised to pole position by around half a second from the Red Bull Racing of Sebastian Vettel. It looked very much set fair for another win for the world drivers’ championship leader.

Sadly for Rosberg, though, the weather certainly wasn’t set fair. A huge downpour around 40 minutes before the start of the race threw a spanner in the works and added a huge amount of spice into the race mix. Nevertheless, though, Hamilton started the race in the worst possible position – the pitlane – and Rosberg in the very best starting spot. It would need a mighty drive from Hamilton, and some of the luck that had been so sorely missing from his season so far, if he was not to fall further behind in the championship race.

The race didn't start well for Hamilton, either, as he spun on the opening lap

The race didn’t start well for Hamilton,
either, as he spun on the opening lap

It certainly looked like luck was against Hamilton in the opening laps. The 2008 world drivers’ champion spun on the very first lap, on just the second corner of his race. Hamilton scraped the barrier, but crucially didn’t cause much damage to his car. Rosberg meanwhile, serenely streaked clear in the lead of the race. By lap eight, though, Hamilton had clawed his way up to 13th position, ahead of the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, and then the safety car came out after Marcus Ericsson slammed his Caterham into the wall at turn three – a 20G impact.

Not only did the safety car wipe out Rosberg’s substantial lead over the second placed Williams of Valtteri Bottas, but it fell at an awful time for the German. Rosberg was unable to pit immediately as he’d already passed the pitlane meaning he, as well as Bottas, Vettel and Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari all had to do another lap while the rest of the field streamed in to change from intermediate tyres to, for the most part, soft option slick tyres.

Still, though, Rosberg was in fourth position while Hamilton was 13th as the restart was further delayed by Romain Grosjean crashing his Lotus with the safety car about to release the cars. All was not well with Rosberg, however. Smoke was coming from the left rear brake on his Mercedes and as the race restarted on lap 14 Rosberg fell like a stone.

Perez climbs from his wrecked Force India

Perez climbs from his wrecked Force India

Hamilton on the other hand, was going very much in the opposite direction. By lap 17 the two Mercedes cars were running fifth and seventh, with just the Red Bull of Vettel separating the two Silver Arrows. Another safety car came out on lap 23, however, as Sergio Perez slammed his Force India into the pit wall after spinning coming out of the final turn.

As the safety car came in on lap 27, Alonso led, while Rosberg was up to third and Hamilton fifth. There was no further progress for either driver until Rosberg pitted on lap 33. Almost immediately, Sebastian Vettel had an almost identical accident to Sergio Perez, but managing not to hit the pit wall as he spun out of the final corner. That let Hamilton through and straight onto the back of the out of position Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, who had done a tremendous job to hold up Rosberg before the latter pitted.

He couldn’t do the same up against Lewis Hamilton, though, with the Englishman executing the pass of the race on lap 34 to pass the Frenchman around the outside of turn four. Hamilton was now second, with Rosberg 13th, but moving swiftly back up the field after his pit stop. Crucially, though, Hamilton was now a full pit stop ahead of his team-mate. When he eventually made his second stop on lap 40 – from the lead – and fitted the slower, but more durable medium compound slick tyres, we was able to emerge ahead of his team-mate in fifth position.

Rosberg was able to close up to Hamilton, but not close enough to make an overtaking manoeuvre. The team-mates were on different strategies. Rosberg was on the fast option tyres and due to stop once more, while Hamilton was on primes and due to run until the end of the race. Hamilton was asked by the team to let his team-mate through, but Rosberg was simply not close enough and Hamilton was unwilling to lose a significant amount of time to wave his championship rival through.

Ultimately, the decision to put Hamilton on an alternate strategy cost both him and Rosberg the chance to win the race. Hamilton was unable to close in on Alonso and Rosberg was unable to pass Hamilton, with Daniel Ricciardo leading the race by a significant distance from the Spaniard. Ricciardo pitted again for Fresh option on lap 54, rejoining behind Rosberg, with the latter making the same change on lap 56, emerging in seventh.

Alonso, Hamilton and Ricciardo battled for victory in the closing laps

Alonso, Hamilton and Ricciardo
battled for Victory in the closing laps

Alonso – on soft option tyres – led from Hamilton, but Ricciardo was closing rapidly on them both with his new rubber. Similarly Rosberg was catching the leaders at an alarming rate on his fresh tyres, but it was Ricciardo who was in the best position to win the race, and he duly did.

First of all he moved ahead of Hamilton around the outside of turn two on lap 67 and just a lap later overtook Alonso in turn one. The Australian was gone, but Rosberg was now on Hamilton’s tail. The Englishman was just able to hold his team-mate off to claim the final podium position and reduce the championship deficit to 11 points. An almost unthinkable result after their contrasting fortunes in qualifying.

It was Ricciardo who took his second win of the season, though. The Australian will be hugely satisfied with his performances at Red Bull, which have put his four-time world championship winning team-mate, Vettel, in the shade. As we head into the mid-season break, though, it’s Rosberg with the championship lead, albeit slightly reduced. Hamilton, though, may well think that the luck may now be turning in his favour.

Bulldog Lewis bites back in Britain

With a 29 point lead in the world drivers’ championship Nico Rosberg went in to the British grand prix very much on a high. The momentum, and the luck, was with him and his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, had the pressure on him to turn it around.

That pressure only increased after qualifying on Saturday. After looking to have the edge in tricky wet/dry qualifying conditions, Hamilton aborted his final lap when on provisional pole position, thinking that no-one would beat his time. However, that decision proved disastrous for the Briton. The final few corners of the lap were dry, and several drivers were able to beat Hamilton’s time. Rosberg snatched pole and Hamilton found himself having to start in sixth.

Hamilton was desperate to win his home race, but it looked like the odds were against him. However, just as in the last race in Austria, Hamilton started well from his lowly grid slot. After just a handful of corners the 2008 world drivers’ champion was up to fourth after passing Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India off the line and the Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull.

Raikkonen's crash resulted in a delay of over an hour before the race resumed

Raikkonen’s crash resulted in a delay of over an hour before the race resumed

That was the limit of Hamilton’s progress for around an hour, though. The race was red flagged on the opening lap after a very heavy crash for Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari, who ran wide, rejoined the track but was pitched into a spin after hitting a bump. It was an extremely heavy impact – registered at 47G – as the Ferrari speared into the metal Armco barrier and bounced back across the track and was then hit by Felipe Massa’s Williams. It was the end of the race for both drivers, and particularly saddening for Massa on his 200th Formula 1 race.

After the barriers were repaired and the race was restarted behind the safety car, Hamilton quickly picked up where he left off, dispatching the McLaren’s of Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button on laps three and four and setting about closing the five second gap to his team-mate. The Mercedes cars were, once again, in a race of their own, lapping around 2.5 seconds faster than anyone else, With Hamilton reeling in Rosberg. The gap between the Silver Arrows as Rosberg pitted was just 2.7 seconds.

Nevertheless, the advantage was still with Rosberg, who had track position and the first choice of race strategies. But then Hamilton’s luck started to change. Despite another slow stop for the Englishman on lap 24 – 5 laps after Rosberg’s – which meant that he emerged from the pits over five seconds behind his team-mate, all was not well with Rosberg’s car.

Rosberg suffered his first retirement of the season at Silverstone

Rosberg suffered his first
retirement of the season at Silverstone

The German had reported gearbox trouble on lap 21, but his pace was still good on the softer option tyres; the supposedly faster race tyre. Hamilton had changed onto the hard prime tyres as he attempted an alternate strategy to beat his team-mate. On the ‘slower’ tyres Hamilton was on fire, though. He was catching his team-mate hand over fist before Rosberg again reported gearbox problems, before losing gears as he lapped Max Chilton’s Marussia and Hamilton blasted through into the lead.

Rosberg was briefly able to get going again before the gearbox failed completely, resulting in his first retirement of 2014, compared to his team-mate’s two. Hamilton didn’t look back. He was some 25 seconds clear of Valtteri Bottas’s Williams in second place, with the Finn having driven a fantastic race to claw his way up from his 14th place starting position. When Bottas stopped for fresh rubber the gap ballooned to over 40 seconds and it looked like Hamilton could continue without bothering to stop again.

Hamilton on his way to his second Silverstone win

Hamilton on his way to his second Silverstone win

As it was, Mercedes decided to pit the race leader for a second stop, but such was Hamilton’s margin over Bottas that he still emerged from the pits leading by over 20 seconds. All that was left for Hamilton to do was to bring his Mercedes home in one piece which he did with ease, winning the race by over 30 seconds from Bottas, with Daniel Ricciardo bring his Red Bull home in third, just ahead of a charging Jenson Button, a further 16 seconds adrift.

Alonso and Vettel were involved in a thrilling battle

Alonso and Vettel were involved in a thrilling battle

For a variety of reasons, it was a thrilling race. The British crowd got almost exactly what they wanted: Some fantastic racing – including some brilliant overtaking from Bottas and a thrilling fight between the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and the second Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel (the latter beat the former to fifth place) – a win for Hamilton and a retirement for Rosberg, which reignited the championship fight, with the gap between the two Mercedes team-mates now just four points.

Indeed, the only thing that was missing was a podium finish for Jenson Button. The 2009 world drivers’ champion has never stood on the Silverstone podium, but he came awfully close this time. The Frome-born driver finished under a second behind Ricciardo. I guess the fans can’t quite have it all.

Having won his home race, though, Hamilton will hope that the momentum has now swung back in his direction. He’d like nothing more than to drive home his advantage at the next race at Hockenheim; a home race for both Mercedes and Rosberg.

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.