View from the pitlane, Spielberg
By Karun Chandhok, C4F1 Technical Analyst
It’s great that the British Grand Prix is only a few days away because there is barely enough time for the dust to settle on the fall-out from the Austria Grand Prix.
After Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton collided on the last lap of the race tensions will still be boiling at Mercedes which is great for the show, but probably not for the team!
Hamilton will be fired up for a home victory but Rosberg will want to hammer back and get a win under his belt to try and shake off what happened in Austria!
We all know they hit each other on the last lap but how did we get there?
The race to the last lap
Considering Hamilton started in pole position and Rosberg started sixth this should have been Hamilton’s race – but it wasn’t quite as simple as that at the Red Bull Ring.
Mercedes brought Rosberg on Lap 10 and his next stint on the fresher tyres was amazing, his pace was really good.
At the same time, they left Hamilton out on the used ultrasofts and he also did an amazing job running for 21 laps on those tyres. It seemed like Mercedes had two different strategies in play – Hamilton was going to do a one stop and Rosberg would stop twice.
Hamilton had a slow first stop on Lap 21 – there was a problem with the left rear – which meant he ended up behind Rosberg on track but still in a good position knowing Nico had to pit again.
But then when Sebastian Vettel had his blow-out and the safety car came out, it bunched the field up and Mercedes thought the quicker race would be to make Hamilton pit again instead of running to the end.
I think they could have gambled on leaving Hamilton out because, although their tyre wear was really bad on Friday, the track temperatures were a lot cooler on race day. As the race developed, the two Mercedes dropped the pack and were ahead of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull by 15 seconds.
Hamilton was right behind Rosberg and if, at that point, they’d called Rosberg in and left Hamilton out, Rosberg would have had to make up around 21 seconds in 17 laps and overtake Lewis to win – which would have been a tall order.
As it was, Mercedes decided to offer Hamilton a chance to jump ahead of Rosberg by calling him in for a second stop a lap before Nico. A slower stop and a mistake on the outlap meant that the undercut didn't work and the German emerged in front.
After the race Lewis said to C4F1’s Holly Samos that he didn’t understand why they pitted him a second time and I can sympathise with that as I don’t fully understand it either! He had fresher tyres and better pace than Verstappen and Kimi’s Raikkonen Ferrari and so he wasn’t under threat from them.
By Lap 70 I would have said either of the Mercedes drivers would have been deserving winners. They had both driven superbly throughout the grand prix. If Hamilton had had another three laps then he comfortably would have passed Rosberg whose super-soft tyres were really struggling - but he didn’t.
What happened instead was the “incident itself.”
It all started off when Rosberg hit the inside kerb at Turn One and he lost a lot of momentum all the way up the hill to Turn Two.
Hamilton got a run on him and then Rosberg tried to run Hamilton wide – he had missed the apex at Turn Two by a country mile and by the time he turned in Hamilton had nowhere to go.
You can see in Rosberg’s interview with Holly after the race – which you can watch again on the C4F1 website – that he genuinely believed he was in the right.
He had come straight from parc ferme to speak to Holly and I don't think he had seen the incident as yet. Rosberg is an intelligent guy and I think if he had seen the incident he would have realised that it wasn’t quite what he thought it was.
In the heat of the moment, he thought Hamilton had turned in on him and what he didn’t understand was that Hamilton had no choice because he’d run out of road. Rosberg was struggling for brake temperature and with tyre grip and so he was clearly on the defence.
I think it’s part of Nico’s psychology now that if Hamilton passes him on track it is a big deal. We’ve seen it this year in Barcelona and Canada that he is trying to be more feisty in wheel-to-wheel battles with his teammate. Whether he’s consciously thinking ‘I’ve got to do everything possible to block this bloke’ or not I don’t know.
After the chequered flag fell, we were hanging on for nearly four hours waiting for the stewards to reach their verdict on the clash. In that time we saw various members of the Mercedes’ team as well as the drivers and their managers, and you could read the body language of it all.
Hamilton’s side was really relaxed because they knew they’d done nothing wrong and he’d won the GP but there was a lot of tension from the Rosberg camp and the man himself.
Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff was absolutely furious after the GP. The team had judged the drivers’ clash in Barcelona as 50-50 but had warned them that it was unacceptable to take each other off so for that to happen was not good.
They are in a tough situation of being damned if they do or damned if they don't when it comes to imposing team orders. Huge kudos to Toto, Niki Lauda and Paddy Lowe for letting the drivers race. All three of them are real racers who like to let the Rosberg and Hamilton race, but the drivers have to respect that and battle cleanly.
Now, Mercedes are in a tough situation because if they think the drivers are going to keep hitting each other they will have to impose team orders. That would mean things like calling off the race after the final pit stop.
Best of the rest
The Mercedes incident dominated the race but there were a few other stories from the race too.
You might have missed it but Verstappen made a bold move on his Red Bull Racing teammate Daniel Ricciardo on Lap One. He had great pace through the race and showed great maturity to manage those tyres for 56 laps.
Red Bull’s original plan had been a two-stop but they switched it to a one-stop after the safety car came out, which required Verstappen to be cool and calm at managing the tyres which he did to take second on the podium under pressure from Raikkonen.
Ferrari will come away from Austria wondering ‘did we really need to take the risk with running Vettel that long on his first stint? When they pitted Raikkonen on Lap 22 they probably should have pitted Vettel soon afterwards.
The tyres really shouldn't blow out like it did, but we have seen that there is a risk of this happening with the Pirellis like Sebastian himself had in Spa last year.
It was a great weekend for Jenson Button and for his Honda-powered McLaren on a power circuit. They were best of the rest behind the three big teams and Button should be happy with that.
It was also a very positive day for Manor, who won their first point of the season thanks to a well-worked 10th place for Pascal Wehrlein. The the warmer track temperatures and the new asphalt, which was fairly abrasive, allowed them to really work the front tyres.
When you have a car without downforce it really helps to get the tyres into the right operating window. The safety car meant Wehrlein was able to unlap himself and from there on he did what he had to do to get a point. It’s really well done for a small team and they’ve done an impressive job.
On paper Nico Hulkenberg should have had a strong race for Force India starting on the front row alongside Hamilton. We know their car is good on low drag and they have Mercedes power under the bonnet.
But Hulkenberg said his rear tyre wear was really high and he just went backwards. It just looks like he can’t catch a break while his teammate Sergio Perez keeps racking up the podiums.
The other big story of the weekend were the suspension failures we saw.
We saw failures for Nico Rosberg, Kvyat, and Perez over the weekend. I spoke to a few engineers and what they reckon is the frequency of the wheel bouncing over the kerbs is quite unique when compared to anywhere else on the calendar.
Also, the amount of time that the car spent on the kerbs per lap is higher here than anywhere else they go too so there is an unusual amount of suspension load in a different direction.
Mercedes reacted so quickly by reinforcing the wishbones between FP3 and qualifying on both cars. They wrapped another layer of carbon around the wishbone. It was incredible to see how quickly they sorted that.
The reason they didn’t do that in the first place is because it’s bad for weight and aerodynamics but they now know that when they go back next year they need to be prepared.
After the high drama of Austria we are all ready for the next chapter of the 2016 at the British Grand Prix, which is live Channel 4.