Austrian F1 GP: Ricciardo fifth as Hamilton claims win

Austrian F1 GP: Ricciardo fifth as Hamilton claims win
Austrian F1 GP: Ricciardo fifth as Hamilton claims win

HAD the 2016 Austrian Formula One Grand Prix been a Hollywood production, it would have been canned for being too dramatic and improbable.

But the race on the Red Bull Ring, in the shadow of the Spiegelberg, was a spectacular and hugely entertaining fact-embracing two days of wonderment.

Lewis Hamilton ended up as race winner with Red Bull’s young Max Verstappen second, barely ahead of the fast-closing Ferrari of KimiRaikkonen.

Perth’s Daniel Ricciardo had a disappointing drive, starting and finishing in fifth place.

The colourful story began with Saturday’s final qualifying session. As the 15 minute shoot-out for grid positions started, the heavens opened and allowed usual midfielders to post times as good as the dominating Mercedes and Ferraris.

Then, with just three minutes left, the rain stopped and the circuit dried almost instantly, as if a bath plug had been pulled.

What followed was a frantic scramble to the pits for slick tyres. Some teams managed to get in two or three laps on slicks, others just one.

Hulkenberg was first to emerge with slicks; and set third fastest time.

The provisional grid was Hamilton and Rosberg (Mercedes) from Hulkenberg (Force India), Vettel (Ferrari), Button (McLaren), Raikkonen (Ferrari) with Daniel Ricciardo seventh for Red Bull and teammate Verstappen ninth.

But Rosberg and Vettel were each penalised five grid places for changing their cars’ gearboxes.

So, on race day, Hamilton started from pole, with Hulkenberg alongside, Button (McLaren) and Raikkonen on row two, Ricciardo and Rosberg on the third row and Bottas and Verstappen on row four.

Hamilton led from the start but Rosberg, Vettel and Verstappen made rapid progress while Hulkenberg was shuffled back in the pack.

When the Mercedes pair pitted for fresh tyres Sebastien Vettel claimed the lead, only to exit in a chilling 290km/h crash on lap 26 when a rear tyre burst, sending his Ferrari into the barriers.

A slow pit stop for Hamilton put Rosberg in front, and the German seemed set to take victory.

As Hamilton made a determined lunge to get by his teammate on the final lap, Rosberg took a wide line to block him and the two Mercedes touched.

In the melee, Verstappen and Raikkonenot past and Rosberg ended up fourth.

Four hours later race stewards blamed Rosberg for the collision and imposed a 10-second penalty, but it did not affect his fourth place.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff was livid with his two drivers and described the incident as ‘brainless.’

“It could easily have been a double DNF (did not finish),” he said.

Later, when Hamilton stepped on the podium he was roundly booed by the vast mainly German crowd, but he responded with a broad smile and a thumb’s up sign, saying “it’s their problem, not mine”.

By contrast, second-placed Verstappen received tumultuous applause, as did Raikkonen.

Daniel Ricciardo described his race as frustrating.

“It seemed we could hold the pace, but then when everyone was improving and getting quicker, we were just getting slower and slower. I just want to understand why,” he said.

Further back in the field, the star was 21-year-old Pascal Wehrlein, who gave the struggling Manor team its first championship points with a brilliant drive to secure 10th place, just behind Bottas’ Williams.