- Mar 22, 2014
After spotting his teammate three wins to start the season, there’s now no denying it – Nico Rosberg has things looking tight at the top.
Taking his third win of the season and second consecutive Austrian Grand Prix, Rosberg delivered an assured performance that more than made up for his disastrous end to Saturday qualifying.
Getting the best of teammate Lewis Hamilton off the line, the German never looked back on his way to victory, seeming to have the measure of his teammate even if a 5-second time penalty prevented Hamilton from turning up the wick in the race’s later stages.
Completing the podium was Williams’ Felipe Massa, who was able to hold off the charging Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel and deliver his best result of the season.
And while the 2015 Austrian Grand Prix seemed intent to deprive us of what might have been – from a prospective Hamilton fightback, to Kimi Raikkonen coming through the field, or even a chance of rain – the race still gave us plenty to discuss, so let’s get to it.
24 hours after conceding pole position due to a spin on the final corner of his final lap, Nico Rosberg turned up on Sunday and simply drove like he had it anyway.
Getting the best of teammate Hamilton off the line, Rosberg led the field into turn 1 and never looked back. Taking the chequered flag nearly nine-seconds ahead of his teammate, the victory marked the first time Rosberg has ever won after qualifying behind Hamilton, excluding instances where the Brit suffered reliability woes.
Of course, Hamilton’s attempts at a fightback were stymied on two separate occasions – first by an early safety car, and mid-race by a five-second time penalty – but that did nothing to take away from the superb race-craft Rosberg exhibited throughout. Rosberg simply had the better getaway at the start, and cleverly manipulated the restart – backing the field up before launching as the green flags came out – to protect his early lead. Rosberg was in complete control of proceedings after that, wasting no time to get himself outside DRS range, delivering some blistering times around the pit window, and then managing the gap as he needed to. As such, Hamilton’s mishaps did little to disprove that Rosberg did in fact have the measure of him.
Perhaps it’s not the most exciting way to win a race, but it’s the sort Rosberg must look to construct on a more regular basis. Continuing to do that is certainly an uphill battle – before Sunday Hamilton had led 70% of the season’s laps, and there is still the glaring disparity in their qualifying battles, which he is losing 7-1. But the German has certainly demonstrated he has the capabilities in clean air to make those opportunities count, and with the sort of confidence a win like Sunday’s must bring, there’s reason to believe it’s a battle he’s capable of fighting.
For Scuderia Ferrari, Silverstone can’t come soon enough.
Supposedly gaining 20 BHP on Mercedes in the lead-up to Montreal, a race later and the Scuderia’s pit wall is still full of furrowed brows waiting for that performance increase to arrive, as the Austrian GP weekend turned out to be fairly typical of their previous 2015 performance. Exhibiting strong pace in the long runs on Friday, the team were still firmly a step below on Saturday, and even with the disastrous Sunday that saw Kimi Raikkonen crash out and Sebastian Vettel forced off the podium by a slow pit-stop, it was evident they couldn’t hope to match Mercedes for pace, as team principal Maurizio Arrivabene attested to in Ferrari's post-race interviews.
And while the lack of high-speed corners in Montreal and Spielberg certainly did nothing to help their cause (particularly in relation to Williams), Vettel believes the Scuderia should be closer in the over the next several races. However, it’s going to take a serious boost in performance to prove they’re capable of being something more than the 2015-version of last year’s Red Bull. As of right now, all we can say is that their extra in-season development tokens are yet to prove their value.
If the engine-related grid penalties levied against McLaren and Red Bull in Austria are any indication, calculating just which drivers occupy the back of the grid come Sunday is about to become a very popular pastime.
Case-in-point were the bevy of penalties handed out for engine-component changes over the course of the weekend. For fans and pundits alike, it was a struggle to work out just which team would occupy the back row, only to give way to farcical scenes as it became apparent both McLarens would receive 25-place penalties on the 20-place grid, leading to further penalties during the race.
Speaking post-qualifying, it was a problem McLaren’s Fernando Alonso said only further highlighted the overly-complicated nature of the sport, and while the agreeance of F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone is not usually a ringing endorsement, in this case he does have a point.
Having drivers show up to qualifying – let alone the race – knowing they have no chance of being anywhere other than the back only hurts the appeal of a sport that desperately needs as many evenly matched cars competing with each other as it can get. Watching drivers instead get more pit-entry practice doesn’t have quite the same appeal, and seems likely to only get worse considering this is just the eighth race of the season.
The problem is the sport’s regulators have decided penalising a team’s over-consumption has to be synonymous with their ability to race, when this simply doesn’t have to be the case. Certainly limiting teams to four engines is a positive in terms of promoting the sort of efficiency and reliability that the sport needs to relate to road cars (not to mention limiting costs), but having penalties that knock struggling teams even further downwards only seems draconian and unnecessary. Wouldn’t a more equitable solution be to set a maximum number of grid-places a car can be penalised (say 10), then if necessary, start deducting constructor’s points? It’s just a thought off the top of my head, but surely there’s a better solution than the current system.
Has Rosberg reignited his 2015 title hopes? Can Ferrari hope to close the gap anytime soon? What’s your solution F1’s penalty system? Sound off below.