Danger is never far away, McLaren into the abyss, game of moans and more in our conclusions from the Red Bull Ring.
Danger is never far away
As Formula 1 grapples with its latest identity crisis, much debate has centred on whether F1 is a business or showbiz, and whether F1 cars are fast and exciting enough. The discussion was rendered moot on lap 1 of the Austrian Grand Prix when Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari lost the rear on a straight and slapped Fernando Alonso's McLaren. The two cars came to a rest with Alonso's car sitting atop the nose of the Ferrari – the McLaren's sidepod and aero skirting just centimetres from Raikkonen's head.
"I was in the wrong place," said Alonso.
"It was a very strange incident because he lost the car in fifth gear or something like that."
F1 is part business and part showbiz, but the Raikkonen-Alonso shunt underscores that it is a sport. And a dangerous one at that. Alonso was involved in an incident at Spa in 2012 when Romain Grosjean's Lotus similarly lurched over the Spaniard's Ferrari and narrowly missed his helmet.
In both cases Alonso was an innocent bystander. Now 33 and with five retirements in his seven starts in 2015, Alonso might be contemplating his next career move – especially as his good friend Jules Bianchi remains in a coma following his crash at Suzuka in 2014. #JB17
McLaren into the abyss
On the bright side for Alonso, his first-lap incident spared him the ignominy of another catastrophic race. McLaren have between their two cars entered 16 races this season and have reached the chequered flag a mere six times.
Of the 9 failures to finish and one failure to start (Jenson Button in Bahrain), nine have been caused by mechanical problems:
– Power Units: 4
– Exhaust: 2
– Brakes: 1
– Electrics: 1
– Gearbox: 1
– NA: 1 (Austria retirement not released at time of writing)
Rosberg rocks the Ring
Nico Rosberg's win moves him to within 10 points of Lewis Hamilton in the Championship.
The German rocketed past Hamilton through the inside of turn 1 on lap 1 and was feisty in his defence of the lead until the safety car was deployed following the Raikkonen-Alonso shunt.
Rosberg was criticised for his 'soft' wheel-to-wheel ability in 2014 and his showing amid the rolling hills of Austria will go some way to quell the critics.
"It's an awesome feeling to win again here. The start made the race. I really wanted to push this time and I opened the gap over Lewis," Rosberg said after the race.
Hamilton acknowledged he had a bad start and that Nico "was quicker in the race". The Brit's indiscretion at his one and only pit stop and ensuing five-second penalty put paid to his challenge for victory.
Rosberg, therefore, is the form driver having won three of the last four races. Victory at the next race, on Hamilton's home turf at Silverstone, presents the German with an opportunity to well and truly shake the Champion.
Ferrari's Canadian Grand Prix updates would, analysts said, offer the Scuderia the tonic required to push and even catch the Silver Arrows. Instead, Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen have found themselves scrapping with the Williams of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas in Canada and Austria.
Aghast at the step backwards, the tifosi must be wondering how Vettel managed to win in Malaysia and how the men in red might repeat the feat.
Two factors are worthy of scrutiny.
First, Ferrari have engineered their own woes. At Montreal, Raikkonen's issues with engine mapping resulted in a spin that gifted Bottas the final step on the podium.
Maranello's strategists then got the Raikkonen's qualifying approach all wrong in Austria, which resulted in his exit in Q1. Adding to the litany of errors, the Ferrari mechanics struggled to replace Vettel's right rear tyre at his only pit stop, a blunder that cost him 10 seconds and a podium.
The second factor is the ultimate variable: the weather. Vettel won in Malaysia because the SF15-T responded better than Mercedes to the heat of Sepang. Ferrari will hope that the higher temperatures in the European summer season will help to close the gap to the Mercs.
Singapore may present a similar opportunity, but by then it will be too late. So, at what point do Ferrari channel extra resources to their 2016 challenger?
Game of moans
The fifth season of Game of Thrones and the 2015 F1 season make for a strange comparison, but there are some parallels.
Many critics have pilloried the HBO series for its predictable brutality and violence. While F1 doesn't exactly burn people alive, Mercedes' dominance is the sporting equivalent of flaying a rival alive. The Silver Arrows now have 21 one-two finishes in the modern era and have started on pole position in 19 consecutive grands prix.
In this environment of Merc dominance, questions swirling around the complexity of the current regulations have become more pointed. Niki Lauda believes F1 has been "regulated to death" while Alain Prost, Maurizio Arrivabene and Bernie Ecclestone have questioned the current rules.
The absurd 25-place penalties handed to McLaren highlight F1's current morass. Unlike Game of Thrones, which drew record viewership in its season finale this month, F1 viewing figures in 2014 were down across the globe and few would predict an uptick in F1 viewers in 2015.
Nico Hulkenberg's triumph at Le Mans has rejuvanated the German. After a middling season, the German qualifed fifth and finished a solid sixth in Austria.
Daniel Ricciardo finished tenth to collect one point for Red Bull at their home race. The only consolation for Red Bull at this stage is that they're not McLaren-Honda.
Pastor Maldanado had the biggest tank slapper in recent memory down the main straight on lap 70 on his way to a seventh-place finish. "It was a bit scary but okay. Good control!" said the Lotus driver, as he reached around and patted himself on the back.
Richard F Rose