It’s on again: Nico Rosberg closed the gap to his Mercedes Benz teammate and World Championship leader Lewis Hamilton to just 10 points with a sterling drive to his second successive victory in the mountains of Austria’s Steiermark.
Hamilton started round eight from his 45th F1 pole, courtesy of a last-corner mistake by Rosberg on Saturday – but the German, who turns 30 next week, was determined to be the one receiving the presents on Sunday, not handing them out.
“After my mistake yesterday in qualifying I was determined to push really hard to win this race,” said Rosberg after his third win of 2015 and the 11th of his Grand Prix career. “And the start made the race: once I got ahead I was able to defend in the first couple of corners, then I pushed flat out all the time.”
Well, not all the time: the race went into Safety Car mode following a first-lap accident involving Kimi Raïkkönen’s Ferrari and the McLaren Honda of Fernando Alonso that looked much more frightening than it eventually turned out.
As Alonso saw it, the Finn ahead of him developed severe wheelspin and lost control of the scarlet car to his left – just as the Spaniard tried to occupy that space. The McLaren ended up astride the Ferrari’s bonnet but both men were able to walk away unscathed.
Minutes later we had the perfect demonstration of how to respond and how not to respond to F1 interviewers. Raïkkönen’s standard demeanour is to be monosyllabic and show zero emotion: “The end result was what it is,” he shrugged. “A very poor weekend, but that’s how it goes.”
Soon after, Jenson Button retired the second McLaren on another wretched weekend for the Woking team – and remained as gracious as ever. “We’re doing all we can to stay strong,” said the 2009 World Champion, his mind firmly on the workforce back in the UK and Japan.
“In times like these, you’ve just got to stay positive. Everybody back at the factory listens to our post-race interviews, and both Fernando and I want to keep everyone motivated. We’re in a good place, because we know what this package can achieve, so hopefully everyone will continue to stay strong.”
Felipe Massa stayed strong in the last half-dozen of the 71 laps, keeping his Williams Mercedes ahead of the fast-closing Ferrari in the hands of Sebastian Vettel. The Brazilian had got in front thanks to a botched pit stop by Ferrari, when the right rear wheel-nut stuck and he was stationary for over 13 seconds.
“I knew it was not the time to make mistakes,” grinned the 34-year-old Massa after the first podium of his 2015 campaign. “I just managed to keep the line and used a little bit of experience.” He meant the experience that comes with your 218th Grand Prix start…
Massa’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, third in Austria last year, produced most of the moments for the afternoon’s highlights reel with a series of superbly-judged overtaking manoeuvres on his way to fifth ahead of Le Mans winner Nico Hülkenberg’s Force India Mercedes.
Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus in seventh place was the sixth Mercedes-powered car in the top seven ahead of Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso Renault, the Force India of Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull Renault, the Aussie claiming the final point on a day made harder to follow by the bewildering number of penalties of one kind or another – including five seconds on Hamilton’s race time for crossing the white line at pit exit.
Rosberg set the fastest lap of 1:11.235 (218.622 km/h) en route to victory and is now on 159 points, with Hamilton on 169/ The Silver Arrows are 136 points clear of Ferrari as they head to Silverstone for round nine on July 5.