Mercedes refused to point the finger at either driver after Lewis Hamilton and Rosberg clashed at turn two on the final lap in Austria but all the evidence points to Rosberg being at fault.
1) Nico Rosberg is in denial
The stewards agreed and there was consensus across the paddock. Yes, he had a brake-by-wire problem which might explain him going deep into the corner but not that he was way off the apex and barely turning in when they touched. Even taking this into account it begs the question: if you know you are having problems slowing down, why not brake earlier into the corner rather than later?
Equally he had all but lost the place going through turn one – it was there that really gave Hamilton the chance at turn two. The team have the telemetry and their executive director, Toto Wolff, has said he personally knows who he believes is to blame but would not admit it publicly.
Rosberg, however, as he was initially after he hit Hamilton at Spa in 2014, remains adamant that he is not at fault. “My brakes and tyres got tired and that gave him a shot,” he said. “I went deep to keep him on the outside. He completely caught me by surprise and turned in.” Hamilton was ahead on a line that entitled him to turn in, the stewards concluded. But Rosberg still wasn’t having it. “I also got penalised 10 seconds which doesn’t change my resolve but they give me the blame, which sucks,” he said. “I respect that different opinion but it doesn’t help me.”
But the respect did not last as a faint air of paranoia also arrived. He added: “Most of you are of different opinion too [ie support him]. Nice to see, thanks for support.” His championship lead over Hamilton is down to 11 points and a race that he believed was in the bag has gone. Perhaps acceptance rather than denial would be the best path to ensure a fresh start at Silverstone on 10 July.
2) Pascal Wehrlein makes his point
That the Mercedes protege had talent was never in doubt but that he has a remarkably cool race head at the very top of motor sport was demonstrated with abundance in Austria. The German, 21, was the youngest champion in DTM history last year and placed at Manor by Mercedes for experience with a view to a move up to the team in the future. He is repaying their faith amply. He put the Manor, benefiting this season from Mercedes power, into Q2 entirely on merit and started the race in 12th. Then on race day, while attention was on the battle at the front, he was calmly racing in the maelstrom of the midfield – now the most keenly contested positions in F1.
There were problems for some rivals of course but he would not have been where he was without genuine pace. He finished in 10th, scoring Manor’s first point of the season – more than Sauber have – and his Indonesian team-mate Rio Haryanto was a distant 16th. He was behind Valtteri Bottas in the Williams and ahead of Esteban Gutiérrez in the Haas, both teams with vastly greater resources than Wehrlein finds behind him. Wolff has described him as “the real deal in the future” and Rosberg’s contract for next year has still yet to be concluded.
3) Old dog Button still has the moves
Speculation continues over where Jenson Button will be next season but he can do no more than continue to prove he remains an asset to any team – be it McLaren or, as is repeatedly touted, Williams for next season. Always the master of changing conditions, he put in a typically serene Button-esque performance in the greasy drying conditions at the close of qualifying on Saturday, with his fifth‑placing McLaren’s best qualifying spot since the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2014. This then became third place on the grid after penalties had been imposed on Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel – equalling Button’s third-placed start at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone two years ago.
He had been very conservative about their chances in the race but knew the McLaren, for all its faults, could make a good start and so he did, beating Nico Hulkenberg at the first corner to take second place. Chased down by the Ferraris and Red Bulls boasting superior power units it was inevitable he would be passed but he used every inch of his experience and racecraft to make it as difficult as possible – a reminder of just what he could do if given a power unit that would allow him to mix it properly with front end of the grid.
His sixth-place finish was an achievement for McLaren to celebrate and at a race with a less controversial finale would have grabbed plaudits and attention enough of its own. There will be no sudden comeback for the team at Silverstone but for Button and the legions of fans who will be supporting him there a similarly gutsy performance will be enough.
4) Money talks but decisions are distant
Good news for Sauber from Spielberg as the team close on a deal to secure their long-term financial future. Certainly being able to pay salaries was a sign they are moving in the right direction but their difficulties were symptomatic of the problems facing the smaller teams in terms of the distribution of payments across the sport.
It is heavily weighted in favour of Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull, through historical participation payments and bonuses – Ferrari alone receive $70m simply for taking part. The structure which in 2015 saw McLaren – who finished in ninth place – receive $82m over the $67m Force India received for fifth has long been criticised. Force India and Sauber have written to the EU on the matter.
In Austria Bernie Ecclestone said he was in favour of a Premier League-style system to be introduced where revenues reflect performance. “No bonus. Everyone’s in the same boat,” was the system he favoured, although with the caveat that Ferrari would remain rewarded for their historical contribution.
He was supported by Mercedes’ Wolff, who believes distribution should be adjusted to include a base payment, and two more based on current performance and historical achievements. He said: “The prize fund is growing so we are talking about upside – how the upside can be distributed in a way that is more fair and equitable. I would think the three elements are probably the right way going forward.”
All of which would be cause for optimism except for several factors. No changes can be made until the current commercial agreements with the teams end in 2020. Any additional funds for smaller teams coming from the big boys’ share will be vehemently opposed, as exemplified by Red Bull’s Christian Horner who insisted earlier in the week that more money for the smaller teams “wouldn’t bother me at all as long as our payments don’t drop. I don’t think any team will be happy to take less money.” And owners CVC Capital Partners will, of course, not be stumping up from their profit margin.
Wolff knows all of the above and with a 30% stake in Mercedes is confident he can stand up for a reform that is highly unlikely to affect his team’s bottom line.
5) Fans should add Spielberg to the bucket list
The idea of a European heartland of motor racing is often bandied about, especially in relation to the slew of new, largely unattended blandodromes that pepper the calendar. But while Silverstone and Spa are rightly lauded and well-attended, Austria is rarely mentioned.
Yet this is a cracking track in a superb location. Nestling in the glorious Styrian mountains it could not be more picturesque and the circuit itself is in a natural amphitheatre offering exceptional views from almost anywhere. From the grandstand at turn one you can look up the hill on to almost the whole track. It is exceptionally well organised, the facilities (not least the press room – one of the best on the F1 calendar) are modern and the race organisers forward thinking.
Promotions for the race include a draw for a fan to wave the chequered flag, safety car rides, the chance for kids to be mascots for drivers and a red carpet autograph session for fans on the Saturday and Sunday by drivers and team bosses. There was live music across the weekend as part of the fan area and tickets too are good value £80 for a weekend general entry and £145 for a grandstand. The more exotic locations might spend more to promote their race but this is a short hop, two hours from Vienna, of which fans should take advantage. But book early as accommodation nearby is limited.
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