Lewis Hamilton shows grit as Nico Rosberg triumphs
Lewis Hamilton's damage-limitation performance in Austria yesterday was a perfect confirmation of his latent speed and fighting spirit, even if he could not stop team-mate Nico Rosberg securing his third triumph in Mercedes' sixth one-two of the year.
After Rosberg had briefly snatched second place from Valtteri Bottas, one of the upstart Williams drivers who had had the temerity to annex the front row of the grid, Hamilton – starting from ninth after messing up qualifying spectacularly – exploded between Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Toro Rosso's Daniil Kvyat off the start line and was already fifth towards the end of the lap.
Then he put an astonishing move on Fernando Alonso going into the eighth of the nine corners to snatch fourth.
"We've been working really hard on starts and that was one of the best," Hamilton said. "It's just a pity I wasn't where I ought to have been on the grid!"
A game of cat and mouse ensued as Felipe Massa led for Williams from his first pole since Brazil 2008, and Bottas surprised Rosberg by snatching second back.
"I thought I would get him at the start and I did," Rosberg said. "But Williams were very quick on the straight and he went flying by me. But we knew we had a little more pace and less tyre wear than them so we went aggressive on the pit stops."
Rosberg and Hamilton switched sooner from the supersoft to the soft compound Pirelli tyres, on laps 11 and 13, before Massa and Bottas did likewise on 14 and 15. That gave Rosberg the undercut on Bottas, who had taken over the lead when Massa pitted.
By stopping on the 39th lap, Hamilton got the undercut on Bottas in the next round of pit stops, though Rosberg retained the lead because his two stops were 1.9 seconds quicker than Hamilton's.
"The stops didn't feel that fast and it may have been my positioning," Hamilton said. It later turned out that on his first he stopped just past his scheduled marks, which slowed down his pit crew, while on his second stop there was a problem with the brake duct on the left front wheel.
That set up another duel between the two Mercedes drivers. Both, however, were having to nurse their brakes.
"Going into the race I wasn't aware that we had a brake problem," Hamilton revealed. "I was told to back off quite a lot, but in the last couple of laps I tried to close up again. But after the last race I was just grateful to finish."
Hamilton kept pushing, however, and the pair went into the last lap within a second of each other. When Rosberg locked up his right front tyre and ran wide in a corner it seemed that Hamilton might have his chance, but Rosberg recovered and Hamilton finished 1.9 seconds behind – the time he lost over the two pitstops.
As Massa faded to fourth, Bottas drove superbly to take his first podium for the revitalised Williams team.