The Austrian Alps reverberated to the sound of smashing carbon and exploding tyres at the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix. I rate the heroes and zeroes from a dramatic afternoon at the Red Bull Ring.
Austrian Grand Prix 2016 heroes
Hero – Jenson Button
The former world champion was back where he belongs at the sharp end of the F1 field. Wet/dry qualifying and grid penalties gave McLaren-Honda a golden opportunity to deliver a great result and Button stepped-up.
Fighting with Red Bull, Williams and Ferrari you could almost see Button’s Cheshire cat grin beaming through his visor. Smart use of his ERS and his usual smooth style allowed him to keep the McLaren-Honda upfront for longer than anyone expected. Assuming the decision has not been made already, Jenson’s performance should be giving Ron Dennis a bigger headache on his drivers for 2017. A great drive and a great points finish. McLaren-Honda are (almost) back.
Hero – Max Verstappen
This was a measured and smart race from the Dutchman – something that should please his bosses at Red Bull and worry his rivals. Max won the fans ‘Driver of the Day’ vote for his performance which was clean and quick when needed.
It is somewhat ironic that the youngster driver on the grid managed to keep his head while all around him lost theirs. Along with their noses, front wings, tyres and reputations. If Verstappen is able to continue blending mature performances like this one with his natural speed and race-craft, he will be the man to beat very, very soon.
Heroes – Mercedes pit crew
Before everything went a bit crazy on Sunday afternoon, the Mercedes crews for Rosberg and Hamilton clubbed together admirably on Saturday. The speed with which Rosberg’s car was repaired for qualifying and then able to take 2nd place was remarkable. The teamwork demonstrated on Saturday afternoon would have been a much nicer Mercedes story to leave the Red Bull Ring with than what subsequently followed…
Hero – Nico Rosberg
For 70 of 71 laps on Sunday, Rosberg was driving like a world championship leader. He recovered from a crash not of his making in qualifying and made his in-lap and out-lap work at the first round of pitstops. Conversely Lewis Hamilton was making a mess of his in-lap and was hampered with a slow pitstop.
The resulting switch of places added fuel to the fire. Putting ridiculous conspiracy theories to one side (more on that later), Rosberg simply executed his strategy better through the middle of the race. Until that last lap…
Austrian Grand Prix 2016 zeroes
Zero – Nico Rosberg
There is a grey area in motor racing – just like any sport – between stretching the rules and breaking them. Rosberg continues to struggle to find that sweet spot. The German pushed Hamilton too much in to turn two on Sunday. If he had had turned in a metre earlier and with a touch more steering angle we would have achieved his objective: Hamilton firmly but fairly shown the outside of the track whilst Nico scampers away down the long DRS zone to build enough of a gap to keep the win.
By contrast Hamilton is a master at this – he just finds the exact point where hard racing becomes recklessness. If team orders come in to play Nico won’t get to learn from this experience. If he can learn from it he can still be world champ, if he can’t he’ll be watching his teammate win the world title again.
Zero – Ferrari strategy calls (again)
Another strategy disaster on Sunday made Alonso’s decision to leave F1’s most famous team look like a smart move. They once again (how many times is that now?) left Raikkonen out too long despite having a comfortable gap to the chasing pack. As a result they took a fairly good chance of victory and flushed it down the toilet. It was a one-dimensional strategy call that focused too much on Hamilton and neglected the laps Nico Rosberg was putting in.
Then to add to their problems they ran Vettel’s tyres far too long resulting in a spectacular and catastrophic tyre failure at high speed. Not only was this another incompetent move by Ferrari, it was plain dangerous.
Ferrari may have made great strides in their power unit and seriously looked like properly closing the gap to Mercedes this season in terms of performance. But if they cannot execute strategy properly on a Sunday afternoon, it will all be for nought.
Zeroes – David Croft & Ted Kravitz
For those watching Sky Sports F1 UK feed it was another day of comedy and conspiracy. Both Croft and Kravitz – perhaps the least subtle Hamilton supporters within the British media – were incredulous that Mercedes appeared to have sold Hamilton a lemon in the middle of the race with his strategy call. Their increasingly panicked remarks focused on it being ‘fair’ that Mercedes swap Hamilton and Rosberg back to their positions pre-pitstop. This was due to the mistake on the left rear during the Englishman’s stop and the suspension issues he was suffering with high load warnings. All of that ignored the complete mess Hamilton made of his in-lap and the damage that caused of course.
Before the last-lap calamity saved the day for Croft and Kravitz, we had moved on to conspiracy theories about pre-race tyre selections. Why had Mercedes made different selections for the drivers? Why did Rosberg have more sets of the faster tyre compared to Hamilton?
If Sky could create an app to mute Croft and Kravitz when they start talking about Hamilton, conspiracy theories and the like, subscriptions would rocket.
3 out of 5. Not a classic but plenty of entertainment even before Mercedes faced armageddon once more.