The Austrian Grand Prix seen on the 21st of June 2015 is one that will stand in the minds of many as a slow-burner that ran out of fuel. Packed with tension at the start as the lines for another fight between the two Mercedes’ drivers were drawn once more, with Vettel behind just in case the two came together. At the back, far behind their heritage but beginning to settle into a rhythm, the McLaren Hondas, once again besieged by penalties and behind the Manor Marussias once more. Button and Alonso, having been let down by their woeful MP4-30 and its pitiful Honda power-unit were gifted twenty-five place grid penalties. Meanwhile, in the middle, the Force Indias and Lotuses once more looked into the abyss of financial turmoil that could only be eased if they finished in the top eight.

The race started nonetheless and the uphill struggle began, in Hamilton’s case literally, as his Mercedes bogged down just enough for Rosberg to overtake him before the first corner. As the fans feared, this was the race gone given Rosberg’s consistent form at the Red Bull Ring that, like the McLaren Hondas, harked back to its glory days but was failing to replicate them. The usual tussle for position and survival, given the presence of Maldonado, among the midfield occurred once again with the Toro Rossos, Red Bull’s ‘Junior Team’, pulling away from their older counterparts. In the middle of this was the prancing horse of Raikkonen’s Ferrari that got a little too eager forcing Alonso, in his re-worked but still pitifully slow McLaren into the barrier and beached on Raikkonen’s Ferrari, giving Raikkonen the ultimate reification of ‘heads up’.

Raikkonen’s later response as to whether the accident was caused by accidental wheel spin, with ‘yup’, summed up his forgettable weekend. Upfront the Mercedes launched away ahead of the field from Vettel and Massa behind, Rosberg pulling out a two-second gap to Hamilton who in turn pulled out a five-second gap on Vettel. Hence, it was down to the midfield to try to revive a Grand Prix following the pattern that had preceded it for the past eighteen months.

I have in my possession a McLaren Mug that says ‘Fuelled Up’, it was obvious from Lap Three the McLaren needn’t have bothered as they brought in Jenson Button soon after he had served his drive through penalty with a mechanical fault. With all this talk about drivers having to save fuel in Formula 1, arguably McLaren have done the best job as the loss of Button meant ten retirements from sixteen starts for the Woking-based team much in need of a minor miracle.

The race’s desire to become a slow-burner that would intensify at the end was squashed as Hamilton crossed the pit lane line as he came out of the pits, a pitiful mistake not fitting for a man chasing down his third world title. He was gifted a five-second penalty for his troubles and with it any hope of respite from Rosberg’s dominance that would leave Felipe Massa trailing in third by 17.5 seconds.

What entertainment there was available was left to Max Verstappen and Pastor Maldonado; two drivers eager to make an impression on the top eight and one which gave us the biggest surprise of the race. Maldonado has had only ten points finishes in his career of 85 races, most of these non-points finishes have been because of his tenacious ability to crash at the nearest opportunity. Verstappen meanwhile is trying to shake off the memories of the Monaco accident that blighted his superb debut season in Formula 1. The surprise in all this is that two of the most aggressive drivers in the field fought it out for fifteen laps, nose to tail and at one point, nose to side-pod, without crashing. Maldonado, finally after many accidents, was proving the doubters wrong, making the final decisive move up to turn one. With his DRS open, he switched to the left as Verstappen went right pitching the car at seventy degrees but incredibly, holding the slight to unseat the teenage prodigy from his position. Verstappen, though, held up a superb defence of seventh place up until this moment, himself going sideways several times.

Apart from the retirements of Grosjean, Sainz, Button, Stevens, Raikkonen and Alonso, the race was otherwise a procession until the flag fell. The only crowd-rousing measure apart from the Verstappen/Maldonado conflict, was the possibility of Vettel catching and overtaking Felipe Massa in his under-performing Williams – the Brazilian holding on valiantly to take his first podium since the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

At least one thing that can be taken away from this Grand Prix, if not the memories of the race itself, that are few, is that the fight for the championship is on. Nico Rosberg is only ten points behind championship leader Lewis Hamilton, going into the British Grand Prix in two weeks’ time where the home fans will be cheering on the man racing towards his dream of emulating the three titles won by his hero, Ayrton Senna.

Yet, it must be said, on another note, that regardless of the possibility of another home win for Hamilton Formula 1 is not in a good state of well-being. The penalties of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button that have rendered them paralysed at most races, demonstrate that something needs to change in the way Formula 1 is run. Even teams with wealthy backers such as Force India, Lotus and Sauber, are living week by week rather than season by season; Formula 1 has slowly become a two-tier championship of the haves and have nots. Those who are paid millions for turning up and those who are punished for their lack of development that has risen from the pitiful prize money they are given. Formula 1, like so many companies, may soon need to adapt, not to grow, but simply to survive.



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