F1 Business Diary 2016 – The Austrian Grand Prix

Exciting Austrian Grand Prix is overshadowed by a major incident between championship leaders on the final lap.

Once again Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s uneasy entente cordiale appears to be on the road to ruin. For the second time in five races the long-term rivals crashed into each other – their Mercedes also made contact on the first corners in Australia and Canada – with neither pilot keen to accept the blame. 

The race stewards believed that the German, Rosberg, was culpable, and they gave him a ten-second penalty. However, the ruthless championship leader kept his fourth position and 12 valuable championship points. Hamilton’s last-gasp victory cut Rosberg’s title lead to a margin of 11 points but the ramifications of the last-lap shunt could tarnish the image of the sport on a larger level.  

“Brainless” drivers may have to follow team orders 

A visibly angry Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ team principal, appeared to be at the end of his tether with his warring charges, with team orders appearing to be less of a threat now than a genuine actuality.

“It was brainless,” said Wolff in a candid interview with Sky Sports F1. “Cars colliding seems a deja vu. It's absolutely not what we want. We are looking like a bunch of idiots and it's disrespectful to 1,500 people who work their nuts off to prepare the cars, and this is why it needs to end.

“It seems that talking doesn't bring us any further so we need to think about all possible solutions and go as far as implementing the not very popular team orders. This is on the table now. This is what we are going to discuss, because maybe it's the only way we can manage the situation.

“I hate team orders, we owe it to the fans to let them race, but if every race ends up in a collision between team mates, it's not what we want.”

Wolff, Hamilton, and Rosberg have all been vociferous in their support of open-racing in the past three-years. The team principal has cited on numerous occasions that Mercedes’ dominance is a negative for the sport but believes that the two best drivers racing in the best car can act as an exciting tonic.      

With Hamilton on his fifth and final engine before he faces grid penalties, Wolff is becoming well aware of the spiralling costs of a Formula One car – having his team drive in such feckless way will not appease his fears.

Nevertheless, Hamilton and Rosberg are behaving in a reckless and petulant manner that hasn’t been seen on the track since Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna duelled in the late 1980s. While it remains to be seen how, and if, Wolff will be able to rein in the Briton – who is arguably the most competitive racer since Senna – especially at his home Grand Prix next week.   

Travel demands on the relentless touring circus 

The 67th season of Formula One is the longest in history with 21 races. The Austrian race weekend is part of demanding run of six races over an eight-week period. Despite appearing to be logical decision on the map, the 1,000 miles between Spielberg and Silverstone must be taken by road in a three-day period.

The small margin for error on time could have a knock-on effect on to the British Grand Prix if there are any delays crossing the Channel. Normally, a truck requires just two drivers to cover a back-to-back European transfer. However, new driving regulations for trucks in Europe mean that the teams have had to hire in extra drivers for the trip. 

In the case of McLaren that means bringing in 60 drivers, as their motorhome requires 17 HGV trucks to move. The cost and logistical challenge of flying the extra drivers out to meet with the convoy and then relocate will be enormous. 

The possibility of delays at Calais, which have been commonplace in recent months, could result in trucks and cranes still being operational in the paddock at Silverstone on Thursday: an eventuality that would be extremely embarrassing for Formula One.   

To the Manor born 

Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein qualified 12th on the grid in Austria and climbed to a sensational tenth-placed finish, which resulted in a rare point for the backmarker team.

The point was vital to Manor because it elevates them into the top ten teams that will share in the lucrative post-season column one prize money pot. This is only the second time a Manor car has finished in the top ten in seven seasons of racing.

As a result, the only pointless team remaining in the championship is Sauber. The Swiss outfit appeared to be on a positive curve at the beginning of the race weekend, after finally paying staff and indicating that a rescue buyout deal is on the cards for the near future.

However, the ascendance of Manor appears to have spooked Sauber’s drivers and team into upgrading the car before its scheduled improvements post-Silverstone.

“At this engine track, we got everything possible out of the car,” said Sauber’s co-owner, Monisha Kaltenborn. “At the next race we will get a (Ferrari) engine upgrade and will do everything to move forward.”


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