A week before heading to Silverstone for his home British Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton revved up his defence of the Formula One drivers’ World Championship with a stunning and dramatic victory in Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.
The 31-year-old Englishman, who struggled to find his best form in Friday’s practice sessions, bounced back to take pole and then emerged, on race day, from a last-lap battering by his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg – and misguided boos from some fans – to seize a memorable triumph in the Styrian Alps.
The 46th win of Hamilton’s career ended Rosberg’s dream of a hat-trick of Austrian triumphs at the Red Bull Ring and cut his advantage in the title race to 11 points, but this thriller in the hills was overshadowed by the uproar that came with the last lap action.
Hamilton had started from his 54th career pole position, but a combination of Mercedes’ strategy – which appeared to favour Rosberg – and a mid-race Safety Car intervention when the right rear tyre of Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari exploded, while he was leading, had handed the initiative to the championship leading German.
Hamilton shadowed him through the second half of the race until the final laps when he closed the gap and moved within striking distance before launching his attack.
The feuding pair collided at Turn Two, where the robust Rosberg drove wide and into the Briton’s car, forcing him off the track, and then touched again as Hamilton re-joined before passing to go on and claim victory.
Rosberg, his car damaged and debris falling onto the circuit, was unable to retain his lead and limped home to finish fourth, after starting the final lap as race leader, albeit with a brake problem.
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen claimed his second career podium in second place for Red Bull ahead of third-placed Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.
The Finn’s Ferrari team-mate four-time champion German Vettel had been forced to retire after 27 of the 71 laps while leading when, on his 29th birthday, the right rear tyre of his car failed in spectacular fashion.
“What an incredible race,” said Hamilton. “It was so tough. Apart from this (the crowd reaction), I love it here… I don’t know what that’s about. It’s not my problem. It’s their problem.”
Many in the Austrian crowd booed when Hamilton appeared and spoke on the victors’ podium after the race – clearly unaware that close study of video replays of the collision showed that Rosberg was clearly the driver to blame.
The 31-year-old German, who had started from seventh on the grid and gained places thanks to a favourable strategy from the Mercedes team, led the race from the re-start, after 32 laps, following Vettel’s blowout.
As he went into the final lap, however, with Hamilton closing on him, he was struggling with debris and damage, and a brake problem.
“Nico made a mistake into Turn One, so I had an opportunity into Turn Two,” said Hamilton. “I left a lot of room on the inside for him and he locked up and went into me. He had a problem with his brakes.”
Detailed examination of the incident showed that Rosberg failed to turn his steering wheel to avoid a collision and had, apparently, driven Hamilton off the circuit.
Rosberg said: “I am just gutted at not winning. I led the race into the last lap. It was pretty intense… I went a bit deep into the corner, but that’s fine because I’m on the inside – I dictate. I was very surprised that Lewis turned in and caused a collision.
“We were battling, I was struggling a little bit with my brakes because they got a bit hot, my tyres were degrading so that gave Lewis a chance.
“Nevertheless, I was confident I could defend and bring it home. I had the inside position, a strong position… Very gutted. It’s unbelievable, this sport sometimes…”
The race stewards immediately launched an investigation and called Rosberg to explain his part in causing the collision and for continuing to race when his car was badly damaged.
Tetchy and frustrated, Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff was angry when asked about the incident. “Brainless,” he said. “It doesn’t need a comment. We were marginal on brakes, if not to say completely over, but we couldn’t tell the drivers.
“So, Nico had a brake-by-wire failure on the last straight and he defended very hard. Seeing both cars colliding is upsetting…. It could easily have been a double DNF.”
Non-executive team chairman Niki Lauda said: “I guess that Nico had a brake problem when he came into that corner. Therefore, he went long. Lewis was pushed to the outside, but why then afterwards, they hit each other? I don’t understand it...
“The first issue was the brake problem, but then they hit each other. This, I think, was Nico’s fault, but I have to look at it again.”
A grumpy Rosberg finished fourth ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull, Briton Jenson Button of McLaren Honda, Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Haas and Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso.
Finn Valtteri Bottas of Williams was ninth ahead of German Pascal Wehrlein, who claimed a fine final point for Manor in 10th.
ROSBERG AND HAMILTON COLLISION STEWARDS DECISION
Nico Rosberg was given a 10 seconds time penalty for causing his collision with Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.
The race stewards reached their decision three hours after the race.
Their ruling and the punishment meant that Rosberg kept fourth place in the race result and his lead of 11 points in the drivers’ world championship.
The stewards said: "Having taken note of the extensive evidence given by both drivers and the video and telemetry data, it was apparent that Car 44 (HAM) was in front of Car 6 (ROS) – i.e. more than fully alongside – and that the driver of Car 44 could have clearly made the turn (T2) on the track, if not for the resultant collision.
“Car 6 did not allow Car 44 "racing room" and hence the driver of Car 6 was responsible for the collision."
The championship leader was also awarded two penalty points for the accident and a reprimand for not having stopped while his car was damaged.
"We do note the extenuating circumstances and the fact that the driver of Car 6 (ROS) did slow down significantly and attempted to mitigate the risk to other drivers and cars," the stewards added.