After a brief jaunt across the Atlantic for a thriller of a race in Canada, Formula One was back in Europe last weekend, as the sport made its return to Austria after an absence of 11 long years, setting down at the newly refurbished Red Bull Ring. While the race, won by Nico Rosberg, was by no means a classic, we have plenty to discuss, so let Dan Paddock take you through Richland F1’s Alternative Review.
Nico Rosberg made it win number three for the season in Austria to stretch his lead in the drivers’ championship over his team-mate and title rival Lewis Hamilton to 28 points.
It’s a significant mark for the German, as it means regardless of what happens at Silverstone in two weeks’ time he will still lead the championship, his lead now unassailable in a single race weekend – Abu Dhabi’s double points fest aside.
What should not go unnoticed is that for the third race weekend running Nico had his team-mate in hand. After that devastating early form from Hamilton, with four wins on the bounce, many, myself included, questioned whether Rosberg really had what it takes to construct a run on the world title.
Since that painful defat in Spain, when despite his best efforts he was pipped by just six tenths of a second to the race win by his team-mate, Nico has reversed the form within the Mercedes garage completely, with wins in Monaco and Austria and that fighting drive to second in Montreal, as he nursed his sick car to the flag.
Silverstone is next up, and as we saw last year, Hamilton is fairly handy at home. Despite five attempts the Briton is still yet to repeat his marvellous win of 2008 in front of his home crowd, but he goes into next week’s British Grand Prix as the undoubted favourite. Lewis simply must win if he is to reestablish himself in the title battle.
Red Bull stink out their own party
After the high of Daniel Ricciardo’s maiden win in Canada, Red Bull came back down to earth with a bump in Austria.
The race, like Red Bull Racing itself, was paid for out of the back pocket of Dietrich Materschitz, and was meant to be a home event of sorts for the team. A monument if you like to Red Bull’s four years of success between 2010 and 2013. Only it did not quite work out like that last weekend at the Red Bull Ring.
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel qualified just 13th on Saturday, simply lacking speed in the RB10. While Ricciardo faired little better in the sister car, fifth fastest, but eighth tenths shy of Felipe Massa’s session topping time. There were some worried faces down at Red Bull.
Sunday’s race did nothing to allay those fears, with the team picking up just four points, courtesy of Ricciardo. The Australian lost out in a poor call of judgement into turn one, running wide, and struggled to recover lost ground from there on in, his cheeky move on Nico Hulkenberg to pinch eighth on the last-lap the only real highlight of his race.
On the other side of the Red Bull garage, Vettel’s season of woe continued, the German having arguably one of the most troubled races of his career. An electrical issue brought his car to a halt early on, only for the RB10 to kick back into life a minute later, leaving Vettel a lap down.
A clash with Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber as he fought his back through the backmarkers, which forced him in for a new nose, summed up his weekend. His race utterly spoilt, Vettel retired the car.
Onwards to Silverstone…
Contrasting fortunes for Ferrari’s two champions
As races go, the 2014 Austrian Grand Prix is just about the poorest I have witnessed from Kimi Raikkonen since his last stint with the Scuderia back in 2009.
The Finn, a world champion do not forget, failed to string together a proper qualifying lap on Saturday as he battled with turn one, a result that saw him start just eighth, as the slowest of the runners to actually set a time in Q3.
Come race day Kimi’s fortunes failed to improve with the Finn coming home a dismal tenth to collect just a single point, half a minute behind his own team-mate Fernando Alonso in fifth.
If Raikkonen’s performance was shameful, the Spaniard’s was the polar opposite, bringing the Ferrari home just 17 seconds off Nico Rosberg’s race winning Mercedes within the help of a safety car, even leading momentarily ahead of his second and final stop, before hounding the much faster Williams of Felipe Massa to the flag.
It was simply everything we have come to expect of Alonso, even if he did state after the race that his regular plaudits mean little if he cannot win races, his true passion.
Talk is that Alonso is ready to bail on Ferrari for a seat at McLaren for 2015. As it is the focus may well have to lie on the fate of the driver currently in the second Ferrari seat.
Raikkonen has just 19 points to Alonso’s 79 after eight races, that is simply unacceptable.
Williams and Massa roll back the years
What a sight it was to see Felipe Massa celebrating with his wife Raffaela and his son Felipinho after qualifying. The Brazilian had just stunned the paddock with his first pole position since the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, more than five years previously.
While he would ultimately fall back in the race, finishing a somewhat disappointing fourth – his best finish since joining Williams – owing to a poor in-lap and a tardy opening stop, it could not take the shine off what was an emotional pole position for the Brazilian on Saturday.
Massa was effectively on the scrap heap late last year, with Ferrari dumping him for former team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, before Williams took him on for 2014. What vindication must be now feel, after taking his first pole position for his new team, as well as finishing ahead of both Ferraris at the chequered flag in Austria. I am almost certain that a small smirk of satisfaction will have flashed across the face of the likeable Brazilian on Sunday afternoon.
Credit too must go to Valtteri Bottas, who was simply excellent all weekend in the sister Williams car.
On the basis of his Austrian Grand Prix performance the 24-year-old seems ready to establish himself as the newest of the Fast Finns, with second in qualifying – completing Williams’ first front row lock-out since 2003 – followed by an excellent drive to third on Sunday, taking his maiden podium finish in Formula One.
Perez bounces back from Canada shunt to shine on alternate strategy
Just six months ago Sergio Perez was damaged goods. Chewed up and spat out by the McLaren meat grinder after an underwhelming single season with the Woking-based outfit, Perez’s chances of once again shining in Formula One seemed null and void. Step in Force India, who, with the added benefit of a reported 15 million euro commercial deal, signed up the Mexican.
A podium in Bahrain showed the evident signs of promise between Perez and the VJM07, before a last-lap crash with Felipe Massa in Canada threatened to cast a shadow over his season, with questions raised over the Mexican’s actions.
Handed a five-place grid penalty for Austria, which dropped him to 16th once applied, Perez, like in Canada two week’s previously, produced a fine performance to bag a sixth place finish, courtesy of one of his trademark ‘inverted’ strategies, running deep into the first stint and even leading momentarily. The fact he finished four seconds up the road from the man McLaren opted to replace him with will, I am sure, have pleased him no end.
On the other side of the Force India garage Nico Hulkenberg continued his steady run of points, even if ninth was something of a bittersweet result after he was mugged for eighth on the last lap by Ricciardo.
As a measure of the German’s consistency, he currently finds himself sixth in the drivers’ championship, a single point behind four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. Nico must sure be glad he did not get that Lotus seat.
I’m sure I’ve seen these guy before?
Fans were treated to quite the show ahead of the race on Sunday, as along with a demonstration from Red Bull Air Race champion Hannes Arch, Austrian F1 legends Niki Lauda and Gerhard Berger were took to the track in a historic parade, the pair joined on-track by fellow compatriots such as former Benetton racer and Le Mans winner Alex Wurz, Red Bull motorsport advisor and one-time BRM driver Helmut Marko and ex-Sauber man Karl Wendlinger. Lauda teased at the wheel of the Ferrari 321T2, while Berger paraded an ex-Jochen Rindt Lotus 49.
Hot off the heels of his weekend with Porsche at Le Mans, former-Red Bull man Mark Webber was also in the paddock in Austria to see some old friends. Spotted chilling with Fernando Alonso, leading to pictures that I can only imagine sent the female element of the F1 fandom of Tumblr into meltdown, the Australian, who has seemingly passed on his damned bad luck to former team-mate Sebastian Vettel this year, appeared on the podium as the now customary host of the post trophy hand out interview.
While it may have been scant reward, it was a pleasure to see Mark on a podium of some sorts, after his Le Mans weekend ended in disappointment when the #20 Porsche faltered late on, when a spot on the most famous of podiums had seemed in reach for the Aussie on both his and the famous marques return to the Circuit de la Sarthe.
Richland F1’s home race
Eight races gone… This season is simply flying by. After the idyllic surrounds of the Styrian Mountains, F1 heads to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix, not only home to eighth of the 11 teams currently racing in the sport, but also this very site.
As ever Richland F1 will be with you every step of the way, from the pre-race build-up, practice and qualifying, to the British Grand Prix itself and beyond.
It is set to be a standout moment in the site’s history, so be sure to join us for the ride.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic