The 2016 Austrian Grand Prix went from an almost sure Mercedes 1-2 to yet another Mercedes drama…
Brainless. Bonkers. Brilliant
The 2016 Austrian Grand Prix delivered one of the most memorable climaxes in recent F1 history as the two Mercedes collided at T2 on the final lap of the race.
Championship leader and Man Who Will Stop at Nothing to Win Nico Rosberg led going into the final phase of the grand prix, but brake issues and tyre graining meant that Lewis Hamilton was closing fast.
On the final lap Hamilton's immense closing speed allowed him to come up on the outside of Rosberg, who did not turn in and rammed into his team-mate.
What followed was a classic "he said, she said" more reminiscent of schoolyard squabbling than F1.
"I was on the outside. It wasn't me who crashed," said Hamilton.
"I was very surprised that Lewis turned in and that caused a collision," said Rosberg.
The stewards apportioned blame on Rosberg, though, and handed him a 10-second penalty, a decision that did not change the race result.
But the already fractious team dynamics within Mercedes have been indelibly, and perhaps irreparably, changed.
There are echoes of Prost vs Senna in 89 (team-mates) or even Schumacher vs Hill 94 and Schumacher vs Villeneuve 97 (title rivals).
Although the Prost vs Senna example is perhaps most instructive given they were racing for the same constructor, there is a crucial difference between the incidents mentioned above and the incident at Spielberg.
And that is: those incidents happened at the end of the respective seasons; Rosberg vs Hamilton is still going to rumble for another dozen Championship rounds.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, aka "The Headmaster", was seething after the race, calling the incident "brainless".
"We are looking like a bunch of idiots," he told Sky Sports.
Austria 2016 is the day that open racing died at Mercedes. And it may also be the day that Rosberg's future is decided regardless of whether he defends his 11-point lead to win the title.
Wehrlein makes his mark
Beyond the Mercedes-induced post-race chaos, Pascal Wehrlein's result is arguably the most noteworthy development of F1's trip to Austria.
Wehrlein took the chequered flag in tenth to bag his and Manor's first points to finally match a result with the hype associated with his name.
Described as a star of the future despite his team-mate Rio Haryanto keeping him honest for most of the season, the German underscored his credentials with a magnificent weekend in the rolling Austrian hills.
A full half second faster than Haryanto in qualifying, Wehrlein lined up 12th on the grid and ran as high as sixth on lap 12 of the grand prix.
Given the uncertainty around Rosberg's future, Wehrlein's points finish was both eye-catching and timely.
Red Bull rock at home
Red Bull's Max Verstappen was on course to finish third, but the shenanigans at Merc elevated him to second at the Red Bull Ring.
Daniel Ricciardo came home in fifth to complete a decent day's work for the Bulls. But, much like at Ferrari (see below) Sunday's result has put into sharp focus the intra-team rivalry.
Verstappen is now a mere 16 points adrift of his team-mate in the standings. And let's just leave this here: what odds on a Merc-esque team-mate battle at Red Bull in 2016?
McLaren (almost) back where they belong
Jenson Button was in a chipper mood after qualifying third for the Austrian Grand Prix.
"It's easy. I've watched on TV. The cars in the front just disappear. So I'm looking forward to that…an easy race," said the Brit when he was asked how he feels about starting at the sharp end of the grid.
The former Champion got off to a good start in the race and circulated in second during the opening phase, keeping the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton fairly honest before tumbling down the field.
Nonetheless, Button's sixth place was McLaren's third top six finish of the season and his best result since the US Grand Prix in October 2015.
Team-mate Fernando Alonso endured a difficult weekend but there are some positive signs at McLaren.
Ferrari get it wrong again
Sebastian Vettel's puncture and subsequent crash on lap 27 ended his race – and possibly his title hopes.
Pirelli attributed the tyre failure to debris on the track, but critics will question Ferrari's decision to push the boundaries of tyre life (Vettel's tyres completed 30 laps at the time of the puncture because they were also used in qualifying).
Again Ferrari seem to have got a strategy call wrong. The outright pace of the Mercedes and Red Bull's resurgence are both contributing to the errors as Ferrari seek the extra speed that they assumed they had during pre-season testing.
It's also worth noting that Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, who claimed third, are now equal on 96 points in the standings. Expect the Finn to sign a new deal any time now.
The force is still with Checo
Sergio Perez's run of five straight points finishes, including two podiums, was checked in Austria. However, the Mexican again showed his racecraft and pace to recover to eighth after starting 16th before a brake failure ended his race.
His team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, who started on the front row, was slapped with a five-second penalty for speeding in the pitlane and ultimately dropped out after complaining of vibrations.
Hulkenberg had dropped into midfield by the time he retired, once again raising questions of his ability convert natural pace and opportunity into results – or podiums.
Richard F Rose