Eleven years on from the previous Austrian Grand Prix, and many (including us) have been left wondering “what took so long?” , after an intriguing weekend spent at the Red Bull Ring.
In many ways it was the circuit and it’s owners who stole the limelight, with a return to a ‘proper old-school circuit’ (in the words of Jenson Button) pleasing the drivers, state-of-the-art facilities at the Alpine venue pleasing the teams, and stunt planes prior to the race pleasing the fans. Silverstone, take note.
Nonetheless, the race was a great one, and with some spectacular performances from a number of guys towards the front.
We’ve already given our coveted Top Dog award to tyre-maestro Sergio Perez, but who else bossed Austria?
In truth, Lewis Hamilton really should have won this one. The Brit looked to have a comfortable 2 to 3 tenths in hand over teammate Nico Rosberg on both the soft and super soft Pirelli compounds in practice – arguably the biggest gap we’ve seen between the two in 2014 thus far.
However, locking his rear axle under braking for Turn 2 in Q3 left Lewis starting 9th and far from the Mercedes rear wing of Rosberg in 3rd.
Another potentially vital qualifying error made much like in Canada two weeks ago.
Despite this, it was Lewis’ kamikaze first lap that stole the show in the theatre production of ‘The Sound of Lewis’, with a vintage Hamilton charge propelling him up to 4th and right on the tail of Rosberg, with the standout overtake coming in the form of a do-or-dare dive down the inside of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari into the tricky Turn 8, leaving mouths wide open.
Within sight of Rosberg, and cameo stars, the Williams’, Lewis carried on his Austrian assault, neatly putting one over Bottas under braking after the first round of pit stops and sticking close to Rosberg out front.
Brake temperatures and unwelcome flashbacks from Canada prevented any titanic Mercedes showdown, but as far as damage limitation goes, LH did a damn good job.
The Austrian Grand Prix really wasn’t Alonso’s to shine in, but as ever with the Spaniard it was all about consistency, pulling himself and Ferrari up to 5th come the chequered flag.
In the grand scheme of things, that’s nothing to shout about for the double World Champion or the Prancing Horse, but in the midst of a season where Ferrari are fourth, perhaps even fifth quickest in ultimate pace, it’s a result that once again demonstrates the Spaniards sheer class. He finished just under 30 seconds of teammate Kimi Raikkonen, for crying out loud.
Of course, it’s sad to say and bad to see Alonso ill-equipped at the height of his career, but not at all hard to analyse that in a race without safety car or drama, he probably put in one of the performances of the season so far.
The Red Bull Ring provided the first opportunity for anyone to even get close to Mercedes on pace, and it was Valtteri Bottas that extracted the maximum from that opportunity to finish best-of-the-rest, and most importantly, well with in touch with Mercedes in the race.
Starting 2nd to teammate Felipe Massa, Bottas immediately lost out to Rosberg on the run-up to Turn One. Undeterred however, the latest spec of Fast Finn put one on up the inside of Rosberg heading towards Turn Two, helping Williams to keep uniform as they crossed the line at the end of the first lap.
Despite the strong start however, it was always going to be a dice for the final podium spot for the Williams duo, with Mercedes unrivalled pace on the soft Pirelli compound superior to that of Massa and Bottas’.
Indeed it was the latter that got the jump on Massa during the first round of stops, with an impressive in-lap defying the evident tyre degradation on the FW36 helping to assist a 2.1 second pit stop.
With Mercedes out front, Bottas laid claim to 3rd place, gradually pulling away from poleman Massa and staying in touch with Rosberg & Hamilton- the Finn finishing just 8.1 shy of Rosberg after 71 laps and gifting Williams it’s long overdue podium finish in 2014.
A 3rd for No.77, with Finland and Grove back on cloud nine. Martini, anyone?