If Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix is half as dramatic as what happened on Saturday then we’re in for an amazing races. Crashes galore, bad weather, controversial kerbs, grid penalties and two British drivers in the first three places on the grid tomorrow. It’s been quite a day in Austria.
Nico Rosberg dominated Friday’s practice sessions but the final one on Saturday morning was a totally different affair. His Mercedes had a heavy crash after a rear suspension failure after running over the kerbs on the exit of Turn Two. Thankfully he was unhurt but it led to him receiving a five-place grid penalty because the car’s gearbox has had to be changed.
Fastest in final practice was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (also due a five-place grid penalty on Sunday). Lewis Hamilton was second 0.210 seconds behind with the other Ferrari driven by Kimi Raikkonen in third with the Red Bull’s of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen following in fourth and fifth respectively. A good day for McLaren began with both Button and Alonso in the top ten, though Alonso was another to see his car sustain damage thanks to the kerbs at Turn Eight.
The suspension problem that led to Rosberg crashing is a big worry for Mercedes and it was touch and go whether he’d have a car to drive in during qualifying. There was lots more drama to come in qualifying itself with the weather turning nasty. It was wet at the beginning with the track drying for the rest of it.
Just who was going to finish fastest was in the balance until the final moments of qualifying, a distinct improvement on how it was earlier in the season. It was Lewis Hamilton who took pole, 0.543 seconds ahead of Rosberg who drops to seventh because of his grid penalty. Sebastian Vettel was third fastest but also goes down to eighth after his penalty.
That means some different names filling second and third on the grid. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg will be second and surprise, surprise, it’ll be Jenson Button in third. His finishing fifth was the best McLaren have done for ages but those penalties mean an even better result for the British driver. It could have been even better with Hulkenberg under investigation for not slowing enough for yellow caution flags. His team mate Fernando Alonso was less happy after being sent out on used tyres so a really fast lap wasn’t on the cards for him. He ended up finishing 14th, promising though for McLaren and both finishing in the top ten is a chance on Sunday.
Can Button hold onto his lofty position on the grid? Probably unlikely with Rosberg and Vettel likely to be charging through the field. A lot will depend on the weather again. The plan is for the Ferrari and Red Bulls to start on super-soft tyres but a few drops of rain could change all of that.
There were more suspension problems in qualifying with both Perez and Kvyat having problems. That kerb design is going to make Sunday’s race potentially the most unpredictable of the year so far. “Once you’re on those kerbs you’re not in control if the suspension breaks. At least on the AstroTurf, you had control” said Kvyat. Even Lewis Hamilton has described the kerbs as “quite dangerous” so surely something has to be done before the big race.
So we have Hamilton on pole, Rosberg and Vettel chasing from down the grid and a load of dodgy kerbs. This is really going to be fascinating, don’t miss this and enjoy watching your racing.