8 Things we learnt from the Austrian Grand Prix

Hamilton wins but team-orders may be on the cards at Mercedes. Here are eight things we learnt from the Austrian Grand Prix.

With Hamilton pushing hard to catch Rosberg after an alternative strategy left the German ahead of pole-sitter Lewis, a final lap crash between the Silver Arrows left team bosses fuming and pondering the prospect of team-orders. Mercedes staff, however, were pleased with the work carried out by their test driver – with Pascal Wehrlein scoring his, and Manor’s, first point of the season.

1) Rosberg and Hamilton come together

On the final lap of the Austrian Grand Prix, Hamilton was forced into attempting an overtake on his team-mate after a split strategy by the team left Rosberg ahead of Hamilton in the latter stages of the race.

Rosberg though held the inside line going into turn 2, after a poor exit out of the first corner allowed Hamilton to close the gap. Slipstream then gave Hamilton added straight-line speed, making the move going into turn two easier.

As he attempted to go around the outside of Nico, however, Rosberg held his line and went deep with brake problems. Onboard cameras also showed Nico failing to turn in order to make the corner until contact was inevitable.

Said contact forced Hamilton off the track, while also leaving Rosberg with a broken front wing – which caused the German to limp home slowly, falling further down the order and outside of the podium positions. Marking the first time, since Canada 2011, that the leader at the start of the final lap failed to go on and win the Grand Prix.

Added to his lost positions, the contact earned Rosberg an investigation for causing a collision – culminating in a 10-second penalty for failing to leave “racing room” and two penalty points on his licence, although the 10-second time penalty failed to alter the race result.

Rosberg and Hamilton, Austrian Grand Prix. Copyright Mercedes AMG F1 Team

Rosberg and Hamilton, Austrian Grand Prix. Copyright: Mercedes AMG F1 Team

2) Team-orders at Mercedes?

On the back of contact between Hamilton and Rosberg, Mercedes team bosses were left fuming that their drivers had come together again for the second time this season. With the last incident between the Silver Arrows seeing both drivers crash out of the Spanish Grand Prix on the opening lap.

Added to their 2016 incidents, other high-profile comings together between the pair can be seen in Spa during the 2014 season and notably in Austin last year. The incident from Belgium particular caused problems within the team as Hamilton was eliminated from the lead battle. Whereas the US Grand Prix incident saw Hamilton force Rosberg wide in more of a “racing incident”.

Toto Wolff claimed after the race that team-orders might now need to be discussed for future incidents.

Toto said: “At Barcelona I was much more at ease with it because we had 30 races without any collision,” said Wolff.
“It was clear that it was going to happen eventually and from my naive thinking I thought they had learned the lesson and it’s not going to happen anymore.
“Here we go, it happens again, so you have to look at all the options available and one option is to freeze the order at a certain stage of the race, which is unpopular and makes me want to puke because I’d like to see them race, but if the racing is not possible without contact, that’s a consequence.”

Hamilton though has pleaded with the team to bring in team-orders. With Hamilton stating: “I want to race “I grew up wanting to race. I wanted to get to F1, race the best and be the best, by out-driving another individual.
“They showed a replay of Michael [Schumacher] and [Rubens] Barrichello many years ago [the team orders controversy from Austria 2002] and I was disappointed as a fan back then.

The new (yellow) baguette kerbs at the Red Bull Ring. Copyright: Force India F1 Team

The new (yellow) baguette kerbs at the Red Bull Ring. Copyright: Force India F1 Team

3) Suspension failures for Verstappen, Kvyat and Rosberg

Across the Austrian Grand Prix weekend, the kerbs continued to be a controversial talking point. With the circuit implementing new ‘baguette’ kerbs, which were seen as a deterrent for drivers running wide over the exit kerbs at a track the standard kerbs are more heavily used.

In Friday practice Verstappen became the first victim of the new kerbs, at Red Bull’s own track, when the Spanish Grand Prix winner ran wide at turn 8 – breaking his front wing. Then later in the same session, Verstappen again ran wide, this time at turn 5, with the baguette kerb then breaking his suspension and forcing him off into the gravel.

Later in the weekend, ex-Red Bull driver Danill Kvyat also became a victim of the new kerbs. For the Toro Rosso driver, his suspension broke when he ran wide at turn 8 during qualifying. In that moment, his suspension failed and sent him spinning at high speeds across the track until he came to a rest in the gravel at turn 9.

Nico Rosberg too had joined Verstappen in breaking his suspension on the kerbs prior to Kvyat’s qualifying incident. For the F1 championship leader ran wide on the exit of turn 2 during final free practice, taking too much of the kerb before his lower wishbone snapped and upper wishbone buckled, sending Nico spinning him into the barrier.

Mercedes had thought there was a sudden spike in load to cause Rosberg’s issue. However, team data showed that not to be the case and instead believed the new kerbs were triggering a strange oscillation on the tyre that made the suspension break.

4) Mercedes makeshift suspension strengthening

Following Rosberg’s FP3 suspension failure, Mercedes had to work quickly to ensure Nico’s car would be safe and fixed in time for qualifying. But due to the damage, the unknown certainty of the suspension failures, and F1’s rules, the team were restricted with what work could be done.

As a result, the team added extra carbon fibre layers to strengthen the suspension on both cars. With the hope that the tape would reinforce the parts enough that they would withstand the extra stress levels from the new kerbs.

Pirelli's 2016 tyre line up - Credit Rachel Clarke

5) Vettel suffers high-speed tyre blowout

Apart from suspension failures and inter-team contact at Mercedes, Pirelli came under fire in Austria for the rear-right tyre fitted to Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari exploded at high speed.

Vettel had been running a long stint with the supersoft tyres at the time, but the German’s run had not been any greater than other drivers were able to achieve on softer and harder compounds.

After his retirement from the race, Vettel said: “Complete question mark why the tyre failed,

“It was our decision [to run long from the start], it was clear that everybody had much more tyre life than expected going into the race.
“Out of nothing, the tyre exploded. No signs before that, everything was normal according to the guys on the pit wall, no change in pace from the lap before.

Pirelli later noted: “The exact circumstances are still being investigated together with Ferrari; however this appears to be an isolated incident as no other drivers experienced similar problems.” 

Wehrlein - Copyright Manor Racing

Pascal Wehrlein & Manor celebrate first point of the season. Copyright: Manor Racing

6) Wehrlein scores first career points

Amongst the doom-and-gloom stories to take away from Spielberg, one good news story that beamed out of the track on Sunday was Pascal Wehrlein scoring his first point of the season and the Manor team’s first since Monaco, 2014.

Back then, Jules Bianchi’s ninth place around the streets of the Principality of Monaco gave the [then named] Marussia team their first ever points in Formula One.

This weekend’s race meanwhile saw Pascal finish in 10th place, meaning he brought home his first point in F1.

Earlier in the race, though, Wehrlein had been running down in last place following his pit stop and the safety car for Vettel’s crashed Ferrari. Pascal, however, made his way back into 11th place in the late stages and had been closing in on Bottas for the final point. Although Sergio Perez’s late crash promoted both up one place and promoted Wehrlein into the points.

7) Wehrlein’s joy was almost heartbreak

Pascal had qualified for the race that would garner his first point in 12th place, far better than the Manor team has been capable of for a long time. But his Saturday achievement was nearly wiped out on the grid after he stopped in the wrong grid slot. Luckily after realising he was in the slot designated for the pit-lane starting Massa, Pascal reversed to the correct grid slot just in time for the red lights.

Speaking of his grid error, Pascal noted: “I didn’t really think about it, so I went behind the next guy and I stopped. Then I saw Sebastian [Vettel] in his red car in front of me [in P9] and I thought, ‘I didn’t finish qualifying behind him’. So I put reverse gear in and went backwards.
“I managed to stop the car, put it in the first gear and I saw the red light come on. It was maybe just half a second – and half a second later I would have got a penalty.”

At the time, it was not clear whether or not there had been a rules breach for reversing on the grid, but the fact he stopped before the red lights came on meant he was in the clear.

Verstappen - Copyright Red Bull Racing F1 Team

Max Verstappen celebrates 2nd place at the Austrian Grand Prix. Copyright: Red Bull Racing F1 Team

 8) Verstappen secures Red Bull’s first home podium

Although the Red Bull Ring in Austria is owned and named after Red Bull, the Red Bull Racing Formula One team had never stood on the podium at their home Grand Prix prior to 2016.

Previous races around the circuit since its return in 2014 had seen the home team linger in the lower point scoring positions as the Mercedes power unit aided other teams race far more than the Renault power unit in the Red Bull cars.

That all changed in 2016, however, as the Red Bull of Verstappen was able to hold off the challenge of the remaining Ferrari [Raikkonen] to come home in second place.

Max had been running in the podium positions going into the final lap, but the contact between Hamilton and Rosberg meant Verstappen moved up into second place rather than third.