Lewis Hamilton headed a Mercedes one-two in Free Practice for the Austrian Grand Prix as Formula One returned to Spielberg and the newly named Red Bull Ring for the first time since 2003. Elsewhere, Sergio Perez will have to take the five-place grid he received in Canada, after the FIA’s review of his Montreal accident with Felipe Massa still found him culpable.
Although the picturesque Red Bull Bull Ring is new to current day Formula One, at least trackside, today’s result is not. After the reliability blip that hit Mercedes last time out in Montreal, in which electronics problems slowed the team-mates and title contenders before a brake failure for Hamilton saw the Briton retire from the race, the pecking order was re-established in Spielberg, with the Mercedes duo being pursued by the Ferrari, Williams and Red Bull contingent.
The pair continued their season long battle at the top of the time sheets, as Hamilton held the upper hand over Rosberg, with both in the 1:10.4s, three tenths of a second ahead of the next best, Valtteri Bottas, as the cars used the soft tyre.
Following the change to the super-soft compound in the remaining fifty minutes the Mercedes drivers were the first of the front-runners to complete a qualifying simulation.
Rosberg went first, setting the fastest time, although making a mistake in the middle sector and only improving on his prime tyre run by one tenth. Hamilton gave a more true reflection of the time gains available on the super-soft, usurping his colleague to reclaim first place with a 0.7s margin.
A second timed lap for Hamilton would see him drag a further tenth of a second out of the W05 Hybrid, and within half a second of Michael Schumacher’s pole time the last time Formula One cars raced in Austria.
A more representative time from Rosberg saw him end the day 0.4s adrift of Hamilton, with Fernando Alonso, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa competing the top five and being the only cars to put themselves within a second of the Mercedes.
“It didn’t feel bad out there today considering this is a new track to me,” said Hamilton. “Already after the first few laps I was feeling comfortable and always seemed to be finding time with new lines and improvements. To be as quick as I was considering others have already driven this track is a great feeling.”
As in Montreal the Ferrari looked more competitive with the updates it was running here, including tighter bodywork, but the acid test will be whether they can run that more competitive package through the weekend or whether they are concerned about cooling.
In terms of race pace, Rosberg showed impressive consistency on the soft tyre as he was able to maintain a 1:13.9 pace across a ten lap stint on tyres that were twenty-one laps old. It was a similar story for Hamilton on the super-soft, indicating that only an intra-team feud or mechanical issues will take Sunday’s victory away from Mercedes.
With intermittent showers throughout the day washing away the thin layer of Formula One rubber that made its way back to Spielberg after an 11-year hiatus, the 2014 specification Formula One cars struggled with grip in both sessions today.
The entrance to turns one and two, being uphill, allows for a very short braking zone and less risk of making use of the tarmac run off. However, the second half of the lap sees the circuit fall away in the braking area and a careful application of the left pedal is necessary.
At one point or another every car found themselves twitching towards the outside of the track, especially in the penultimate corner, which Race Director Charlie Whiting said would be discussed among the drivers this evening to find a suitable protocol.
The pit lane entry line will be another hot topic in the drivers’ meeting as Ricciardo cut the line this morning without sanction, but in qualifying drivers will have to be very disciplined as the racing line cuts across the pit lane entry lane.
The Red Bull Ring is, incidentally, now the shortest lap on the calendar, being the only one completed below 70 seconds by the quicker cars and consists of just nine corners.
A seven-year contract to host the race with the option of a further five-year expansion will require a strong showing from Red Bull Racing this weekend. The four-time World Champions remain on a high from their first victory of this season in Montreal, however it is this weekend that they would most enjoy a win.
Thirteenth and fifteenth for Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel respectively in this morning’s session was slightly improved to eighth and sixth this afternoon. The pair showed decent race pace during the long runs, but were unable to find the improvements that many others did on the super-soft tyre.
The Red Bull pair sandwich McLaren’s Jenson Button, with Kevin Magnussen and Jean-Eric Vergne completing the top ten.
Force India have extensive updates this weekend but were unable to exploit them fully this afternoon after going the wrong way on set up. They should be stronger tomorrow.
Before today’s sessions, the FIA met to review the Perez/Massa crash after Force India had asked to present new elements. The team’s suggestion was that they were unaware at the time of the investigation that Perez was being investigated for causing the collision and that because the Mexican was on his way to hospital they had been unable to get his input. The team also said they had had been since able to review the relevant telemetry and thus Force India requested the FIA take into account Perez’s verbal submission and the telemetry.
That resulted in another meeting being schedule for 4pm and after two hours of discussion the stewards in Austria ruled that the original decision of the stewards in Montreal would stand.
The FIA verdict read: The driver of car 11 contended that the new element(s) evidenced that in defending his position he was exercising his right, under article 20.4 of the 2014 Formula One Sporting Regulations, to use the whole track. However it was clear to the stewards that the defence of his position occurred in the braking area. article 20.4 specifically states that any right to defend by using the whole track must occur prior to any braking area. Accordingly the driver of car 11 was not entitled to defend his position in the manner he did.
Austrian Grand Prix, Spielberg, Free Practice
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m 09.542s laps
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m 09.919s laps
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m 10.470s laps
4. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m 10.519s laps
5. Felipe Massa Brazil 1m 10.521s laps
6. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m 10.807s laps
7. Jenson Button McLaren 1m 10.813s laps
8. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m 10.920s laps
9. Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1m 10.936s laps
10. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m 10.972s laps
11. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m 10.974s laps
12. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m 11.261s laps
13. Sergio Perez Force India 1m 11.296s laps
14. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m 11.491s laps
15. Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1m 11.765s laps
16. Adrian Sutil Sauber 1m 11.806s laps
17. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m 11.935s laps
18. Max Chilton Briton 1m 12.229s laps
19. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m 12.262s laps
20. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m 12.279s laps
20. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1m 12.937s laps
22. Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1m 13.596s laps