Well, here we are again.
After a Red Bull triumph in Canada, and a front-row lockout by Williams on Saturday, it was beginning to look like the field had taken a significant stride towards catching the behemoth that is Mercedes AMG Petronas. And then Sunday happened, and it’s clear the Silver Arrows are firmly still on top. Perhaps we shouldn’t have got our hopes up to begin with, after all, this wasn’t the first time the Germans sought to regain their mojo by conquering Austria.
Yet even with the Mercs dominating, 2014’s revival of the Austrian Grand Prix gave us plenty to talk about, so let’s get to it.
Did Pit Box Woes Cost Hamilton the Victory?
No matter how you feel about the evolution of F1’s cars over the last few years, there’s no denying one thing that has changed for the better is pit-stops. Often completed in less than three seconds, it’s about as pure an example of teamwork as you can find in sport, anywhere — case-in-point, Williams’ 2.0 second pit-stop on Sunday. However, that means the times things do go wrong are even more costly, as Lewis Hamilton found out the hard way.
1.9 seconds was the margin between the Brit and teammate Nico Rosberg at race end, but more importantly, it was also the difference between their time spent in the pit box. Conspiracy theorists were eager to jump on the notion Mercedes were favouring Rosberg, but in reality the fault lies entirely with Hamilton.
Being an F1 driver means finding that little bit of extra time in any part of the track, whether at a hairpin or pit entry, off the start line or a restart, and pit stops are no different. As Sky Sports’ Ted Kravitz pointed out after the race, Mercedes have clear markings on their pit box to show the drivers exactly where to stop their car, it’s something they can practice doing like any other bit of minutiae, so it’s simply unacceptable the Hamilton overshot the mark by such a large margin on his first stop.
If it wasn’t obvious by now, these two drivers at Mercedes are really closely matched. Hamilton is the one with a world championship, but for the extra talent the pundits widely contend he has, Rosberg is able to make up the difference by simply working harder. More importantly, Rosberg seems to be handling the mental aspect of such an intense title fight far better — buggering up your pit-stops seems like the type of thing done by a guy desperate to go faster, but really without a plan how. Already 29 points behind Rosberg, Hamilton can’t afford these slip-ups much longer.
Rotten Day for Bulls in Red
I wonder, when Dietrich Mateschitz bought and renamed the A1 ring the ‘Red Bull Ring’, was it supposed to be ironic?
How else do you explain what can only be described as a torrid Sunday for any car with a Red Bull logo on it. With three retirements and an eighth place among Red Bull and its sister team, Toro Rosso, the Austrian drinks company did as much good to its brand reputation as getting a public endorsement from Donald Sterling.
Not only was it the third time quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel found himself calling it an early day, but both Toro Rosso’s were robbed of delivering on a promising weekend, and Daniel Ricciardo was essentially forced to race with one hand tied behind his back, being told not to use the ‘overtake’ button.
With every race now there’s hope that the teams’ engine supplier can find a way to close the gap, at least somewhat, but the unfortunate reality is that both teams are stuck with an engine that is obviously inferior, and Red Bull is clearly running out of patience.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner wasn’t exactly shy in suggesting the team could look elsewhere at the first available opportunity (most likely 2016), while the team’s ‘Godfather’ Helmut Markko even went as far to suggest the team could look into building its own. It’s quite a fascinating predicament Renault find themselves in — in the last ten years, Renault engines have powered 60% of the drivers world champions, and yet they may find themselves forced out of the sport in the near future. While this may be jumping to conclusions a little bit, F1 is a results driven business, and a team like Red Bull expects to be competing for wins at every single weekend. To show up with an engine that is reportedly 30 horsepower down on that of Mercedes may be cause for concern that Renault simply doesn’t have a grasp on this new era’s regulations, nor the organisational capabilities to keep up with their competitors in the years to come.
Next up: British Grand Prix, July 4-6. How will Hamilton respond on home soil?