Martin Brundle reviews a wet and wild weekend in Austria
Wehrlein, Button, Sainz and Palmer all impress, but it's Mercedes pair Hamilton and Rosberg in the spotlight again...
Last Updated: 04/07/16 5:11pm
That was a wild event all round in the beautiful Styrian hills.
Horizontal rain, strong winds and lightning rapidly followed by searing sunshine and vapour literally boiling off the track - then interspersed with good old light drizzle from time to time.
Numerous new triple specification kerbs saw four teams experience suspension failures with varying degrees of impact against the unrelenting trackside furniture. The FIA's stance was 'make your cars strong enough and tell your drivers to stop using them and stay on the actual racetrack'.
The teams' response was to advise their drivers accordingly and apply educated bodges and bandages, in conjunction with tests carried out back at the factory where required.
The drivers' response was largely 'we can't stay off the kerbs because others will use them and go faster'. Thankfully in the race we had much less trouble - although we did see teams unable to tell drivers their brakes were about to fail due to radio restrictions. No wonder we need the halo device...
The race managed to be dry except for a few spots of rain, but we still had side-by-side action during most laps somewhere in the pack, before some inevitable side-into-side action between the two Mercedes on the last lap.
Once again, the third race-tyre option rolled the dice and threw up some surprises, and also reminded us that all the data and experience in the world counts for little when the track is half the temperature of qualifying, and simulated practice runs make way for 71 laps of points-paying reality.
Lewis Hamilton confirmed that he was somewhat surprised to find himself behind his team-mate after 21 laps, having hardly seen Nico Rosberg up to that point either out of his helmet visor or in his mirrors. Rosberg's grid penalty and subsequent P6 on the grid, along with early tyre graining and a change to a two-stop strategy, had worked out rather well for him for pace and track position.
Sebastian Vettel's exploding tyre while in the lead forced both Mercs to make a second safety stop rather than risking up to 61 laps on one set. With slightly different pre-race choices, Rosberg had a set of 'supersofts' remaining but Hamilton had a new set of the slower but more durable 'softs'.
Hamilton questioned this to his team but was reassured that he had the best tyres to get him to the finish, and so it proved to be as Rosberg's tyres marked up noticeably in the final stages. On the final lap, Rosberg clouted the inside kerb of turn one while his pursuer Hamilton had a tremendous run through and homed in to a healthy slipstream.
While Rosberg naturally defended the inside line, Hamilton passed by on the outside, which is the racing line. Sensing his team-mate was understandably not giving up easily, Hamilton left plenty of room, fully aware that he could cut back underneath and have another run down to turn three.
Nico feels that it 'sucks' that he took the blame with the stewards and that Lewis turned in on him. Frankly, having seen all the angles, that's alarming.
Rosberg had brake issues and his car had defaulted to 'passive mode', meaning they would feel and react differently, but he had already used them in this condition three times before the incident. I can't help but think he wanted to put some manners on Lewis and pay him back for a few of the love-taps in the past, and of course to intimidate his rival and win the race. He wanted to be 31 points ahead, but through poor racecraft, he ended up with a lead of only 11 points.
For that tactic to work, it needs to be wheel-face contact, not front wing to sidepod. They nearly hit again on the exit and then with his wing stuffed under the car, where he already had debris and damage from unavoidably running over Vettel's scattered rear tyre pieces, Rosberg began to slow.
He was passed by Hamilton in a yellow flag zone but I was told by race control afterwards that passing a disintegrating and slowing car in this situation is considered acceptable.
Rosberg's 10-second penalty and reprimand for causing a collision and failing to stop with a seriously damaged car cost him nothing in the race in Austria or the British GP coming up this weekend. Albeit only fourth in the race in the end, he should consider himself lucky.
A stand-out performance came from Pascal Werhlein, scoring his first point for Manor. He's the Mercedes substitute who fancies a seat in the works team but he was also very lucky when he stopped in the wrong grid slot (Massa's space in front of him on the grid was vacant) and was scarily in reverse gear, a process of some dexterity in an F1 car, moments before the start procedure. He drove nicely thereafter, despite being last at one stage as the only lapped runner.
It was great to see Jenson Button running up front again and P6 was the least he deserved at the flag. Come on McLaren-Honda, we need you in the podium mix very soon.
Carlos Sainz made the best of an engine-breaking weekend by finishing eighth in his Toro Rosso. His former team-mate Max Verstappen kept a very calm young head to finish second for Red Bull to Hamilton. It was also good to see Jolyon Palmer gaining confidence with a stronger performance for Renault.
This Mercedes story will run and run until cars go out on track on Friday at Silverstone. Toto & Co should be loving it - they are going to win both championships, they won the race, and they will get hundreds of millions of pounds worth of global brand exposure in the aftermath of Austria. Team orders would make no sense at all.