Austrian GP 2014: Grading Race on Strategy, Overtaking, Shocks and Drama
Sunday afternoon saw championship leader Nico Rosberg win the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring to extend his lead over Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton after the first eight races of the season.
Here we grade the contest at the Spielberg circuit from A to D in terms of strategy, overtaking, shocks and drama…
OK, so just how interesting was the Austrian GP then? Well, it is a short, sharp circuit at the Red Bull Ring and with this also being the first high-altitude race of the season, all the teams were expecting to be heavy on fuel consumption.
And that therefore meant a two-stop strategy—for everyone whose cars lasted that long on Sunday that is—while during those scheduled pit stops drivers were wasting little time in changing from the super soft to soft compound tyres as well.
Some, such as Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, even made that call as early as the fourth lap, while from about Lap 10 onwards the first round of pit stops began in haste.
However, in terms of real interest when it comes to the various teams’ race strategies, this was no classic, with few real surprises and everyone following the pre-race script pretty much as planned.
Right then, were there a lot of passing manoeuvres to enjoy at the Red Bull Ring on Sunday? Surprisingly, given that the track in Spielberg does not tend to lend itself to much overtaking, yes there were.
Austrian GP will be awful. Track is narrow, meaning pile up on first corner and no overtaking— Dan Smith (@DanJESmith) June 20, 2014
In fact, as early as the sixth lap Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne had made a move on Adrian Sutil in the Sauber to move up to 13th place, while both Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg passed hapless Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado on laps 19 and 25 respectively.
Two laps later and it was the turn of both Rosberg and Valtteri Bottas to inevitably get past Sergio Perez at Turn 2, a move that Hamilton then repeated at the same place on the next lap too.
However, Perez himself produced a nice pass on his Force India team-mate Hulkenberg just after the halfway point in the race to move up to seventh position, before further down the field Jules Bianchi took 16th place from Kamui Kobayashi with just 13 laps of the race to go.
And then near the end of the race on Lap 66 Perez produced perhaps the best overtaking move of the entire afternoon to slip past the man who replaced him at McLaren, Kevin Magnussen, and into sixth.
As a result, it is a B when it comes to grading the passing manoeuvres on show in Austria.
So how many of the drivers fared better, and how many fared worse, than they were expecting before the race got underway then?
Well, while Felipe Massa did secure Williams their first pole on Saturday since Spain two years ago, with team-mate Valtteri Bottas also managing to lock out the front row, it was still thought unlikely the British team would win in Austria.
And so that proved correct as the Brazilian and Finnish drivers finished in fourth and third respectively, which still represented a fine achievement by the duo and their team.
Meanwhile, the so-far dominant Mercedes were hopeful that championship leader Rosberg would be able to turn his third place on the grid into something more significant come the end of the race—which is exactly what the German managed.
However, perhaps the drive of the day came from Hamilton, who jumped up from ninth to fourth after just the first lap, before the 2008 world champion eventually finished just behind his team-mate in second.
One team, though, who will not be recalling this race with any fond recollections are Red Bull, with world champion Sebastian Vettel being forced to retire again, while winner last time out in Canada, Daniel Ricciardo, slipped down from fifth on the grid to finish a disappointing eighth on what was the constructors’ champions home track, after all.
What about technical issues, crashes, or even the introduction of the safety car in Austria?
Well, thankfully, there was only one minor crash in the race when Vettel drove into the back of Esteban Gutierrez on Lap 30 in an incident that was investigated by the stewards.
However, with this being the first high-altitude race of the season, it was expected that the turbo-charged engines would be adversely affected.
Not only that, but with the Spielberg circuit also containing many long straights like in Bahrain, the track was set to be both heavy on the teams’ breaks, while the various systems in the cars were likely to be tested to the max as well.
And that is pretty much how it turned out for many drivers during the 71-lap race, including the likes of Vettel—as early as the first lap actually when the German lost power and was forced to pit, before retiring on Lap 35—Grosjean (early pit stop), Gutierrez (right-rear wheel problems while pitting), Kvyat (breaking issues) and Vergne (retired due to rear-break problems).
As grand prixs go though, Sunday’s race in Austria, while most definitely captivating from start to finish, was still lacking in certain other key areas—most notably edge-of-the-seat drama, a shock result come the end and an intriguing strategy throughout—to make it an absolute classic.
#AustrianGP has plateaued after an exciting start. Can't see Hamilton getting Rosberg. Bottas looking set for first podium.— Jamie Lindsay (@Jamie_Lindsay) June 22, 2014