The cynical jab on the cover of The Red Bulletin magazine had its prediction slightly wrong: “Hamilton Wins in Spielberg. …” The article ran Sunday morning, before the Austrian Grand Prix, but one day after Lewis Hamilton of the Mercedes team had earned his seventh pole position in eight races this season. The rest of the headline predicted that Hamilton would win just about every race for years to come.
But it was Nico Rosberg, Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, who won the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday for the second year in a row, notching his 11th career victory and his third of the season. Rosberg passed Hamilton at the start of the race to take the lead, and he never let it go. Hamilton settled into second and stayed there until the end. “The start made the race,” Rosberg said. “It was a great start, and I managed to defend in the first couple of corners, and then I really just tried to push flat out this time.” Hamilton, who has won four races this season, stayed atop the Formula One standings, but Rosberg closed the gap to 10 points after eight of 19 races.
The one-two finish was the fifth of the season for Mercedes. Either Hamilton or Rosberg has won every race except for the Malaysian Grand Prix, which Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari won in March. If not for a problem during his first pit stop Sunday, Vettel would have finished third, the position he started from, and made the podium for the sixth time this season. But Vettel’s mechanics had a hard time with a wheel nut on the right rear of his Ferrari, dropping Vettel to fourth and allowing Felipe Massa of Williams to make the podium for the first time this year.
There have only been six drivers on the podiums this year, the other two being Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari and Valtteri Bottas of Williams. Last year in Austria, Hamilton and Rosberg finished in the same positions, with Bottas on the third step. In short, there has been, as The Red Bulletin was pointing out, a predictability to the F1 series since last year. Since the start of the new era of hybrid engines last season, Mercedes has dominated, and Ferrari has caught up only a little. The Renault engine has regressed, and the Honda that entered this year is a disaster. Neither finished the race Sunday, although in one case there was an accident. Mercedes-powered cars occupied seven of the 10 point-scoring positions in Austria, and had it not been for a breakdown of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus Mercedes and an accident with Raikkonen’s Ferrari at the start, there would have been eight Mercedes cars and two Ferraris in the points.
Because of those retirements, though, the Renault-powered cars of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo finished in the points at the Red Bull Ring on Sunday. Those two cars are owned by the Austrian energy drink company Red Bull, which also owns the Red Bull Ring and The Red Bulletin. Dietrich Mateschitz, the owner of Red Bull, attended the race and made it known that he was not happy with the direction Formula One was taking. He repeated a frequent threat to withdraw from the series — although Niki Lauda, the chairman of the Mercedes team, said he thought that Mateschitz might just change engines and fight harder.
From 2010 to 2013, the Red Bull team — powered by the previous era’s Renault engine — won all team and driver titles, and Mateschitz’s threats might be considered sour grapes. But the crux of the problem lies in the regulations that prevent the manufacturers from making anything more than small, incremental changes to the engines to control costs. The Mercedes-powered cars are just at too great an advantage for the rest of the grid. Red Bull and the other teams with the Renault and Honda engines are frustrated not only by the lack of power and the inability to improve the engines but also by the difficulty of adhering to regulations. Three drivers started at the back of the grid Sunday after they were penalized for using more than the limit of four engines this season.
One of those penalized was Jenson Button of McLaren, who dropped out after two laps with a system sensor failure. “I don’t know what’s worse: doing the whole race 30 seconds behind the back of field or stopping on Lap 2,” he said. One of the few unpredictable moments Sunday was the accident at the start, when Raikkonen lost control at the first corner and rammed the McLaren Honda of Fernando Alonso, sending the two cars into a long slide down the guardrails. There was also the extra action between Massa and Vettel in the final laps thanks to Vettel’s pit stop problem.
The racing has become so predictable that Massa’s 5-year-old son, Felipinho, predicted that his father would finish third despite starting fourth. “I just managed to keep the line and not make any mistakes, just using a little bit of experience,” Massa said.
Driver and constructor standings after the Formula One GP Austria at Red Bull Ring on Sunday:
1. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes – 169
2. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes – 159
3. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari – 120
4. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari – 72
5. Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams – 67
6. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams – 62
7. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull – 36
8. Daniil Kvyat (Russia) Red Bull – 19
9. Nico Huelkenberg (Germany) Force India – 18
10. Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus – 17
11. Felipe Nasr (Brazil) Sauber – 16
12. Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India – 13
13. Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Lotus – 12
14. Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Toro Rosso – 10
15. Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain) Toro Rosso – 9
16. Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Sauber – 5
17. Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren – 4
18. Fernando Alonso (Spain) McLaren – 0
19. Roberto Merhi (Spain) Marussia – 0
20. Will Stevens (Britain) Marussia – 0
1. Mercedes – 328
2. Ferrari – 192
3. Williams-Mercedes – 129
4. RedBull-Renault – 55
5. Force India-Mercedes – 31
6. Lotus-Mercedes – 29
7. Sauber-Ferrari – 21
8. Toro Rosso-Renault – 19
9. McLaren – 4
10. Marussia-Ferrari – 0