2014 Austrian GP: Nico Rosberg holds off recovering Lewis Hamilton for key win
Hamilton charges from ninth to second but can't overhaul Mercedes team-mate; Williams' challenge fades but Bottas beats Massa to podium; Red Bull finish only eighth at home as Vettel retires again
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 23/06/14 7:48am
A third win of 2014 for Nico Rosberg extends his points lead
Nico Rosberg extended his championship lead over Lewis Hamilton to beyond a race victory for the first time this season after winning a tense, closely-fought Austrian GP.
Although a pair of mistakes in qualifying had left Hamilton a seemingly costly six places behind his Mercedes team-mate on the grid, a stunning start to the race saw the Briton gain four places by the second corner and then end the opening lap right behind Rosberg in fourth as Williams' front-row starters Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas led the opening stint.
Rosberg & Hamilton's pitstops compared
Rosberg - 2.6 seconds.
Hamilton - 3.5 seconds.
Rosberg - 3 seconds.
Hamilton - 4 seconds.
However, in a compelling 71-lap race around the Red Bull Ring in which the day's critical moves largely occurred around the two pitstop phases, Hamilton's two stops proved a combined total of 1.9 seconds slower than Rosberg's.
At the first round, Rosberg managed to jump both Williams while Hamilton only managed to get one thanks to an opportunistic move on polesitter Massa at Turn Two after Williams, seemingly focusing on ensuring the optimum strategy for their two cars, stayed out several laps longer.
The middle phase of the race saw Rosberg, Bottas and Hamilton run in increasingly close company at the front, especially after the title leader made a mistake under braking for Turn Two and ran wide over the asphalt run-off area.
Attempting to undercut the lead Williams at the second stops, Mercedes then pitted Hamilton first but a four-second service meant that the Briton lost further ground to Rosberg, whose own stop a lap later was a second quicker. The one solace for Hamilton was that an impressively quick time on his first flying lap on fresh tyres at least allowed him to leapfrog Bottas for second place.
A hard-charging race didn't quite deliver the win for Hamilton
But that was where the 29-year-old would stay until the chequered flag in a sixth Mercedes one-two of 2014, despite brake concerns for both W05s and a late attack on Rosberg, who locked up at Turn Three on the final lap.
Reflecting on his pair of sluggish pitstops, Hamilton said: "I didn't know I had lost that much time. They didn't feel fast but it could have been my positioning. We'll investigate because obviously it is frustrating to lose time when you have done everything you can to gain a tenth here and a tenth there."
Rosberg's third victory of the season means he opens up his largest points advantage so far - 29 points - ahead of Hamilton's home race, the British GP, in two weeks' time.
"Twenty-nine points is a nice gap but it's still early in the season and I am just concentrating on each weekend and making the most of it," the race victor said.
"I am enjoying the moment with the car we have, knowing that we have the best car and if I do a good job I can get pole and win the race. My goal every race weekend is just to extend my lead."
Williams, meanwhile, will head to their own home event at Silverstone in particularly high spirits after claiming their first podium in two years with Bottas in third and fourth place with Massa, even if the Grove outfit did look capable of winning until the final stops.
Third and fourth for Williams was a major breakthrough
Yet the bigger picture for revitalised former champions is that their 27-point haul from Austria represents their highest since the current points format was introduced in 2010 and, crucially, lifts them ahead of McLaren and just two points behind fourth-placed Force India in the Constructors' Championship.
Although leading the opening stint, Massa slipped to fourth after a particularly slow opening stop and then lost further ground to Bottas behind the long-running Force India of Sergio Perez, the man who earlier in the week the Brazilian admitted he would "think twice" about passing again after their spectacular collision in Canada.
While the pair didn't go wheel-to-wheel on this occasion, Massa's delay did allow his former team-mate Fernando Alonso to close up on him, the Spaniard eventually finishing just a second back in fifth after a quietly-impressive drive.
After a 30-lap opening stint, Perez came home a fine sixth ahead of McLaren's Kevin Magnussen, but it proved to be a forgettable home race for World Champions Red Bull who experienced their least competitive race in recent memory.
While Daniel Ricciardo, the race winner in Montreal just a fortnight ago, only salvaged eighth place via a last-lap Turn Five move around the outside of the second Force India of Nico Hulkenberg, Sebastian Vettel's season had already taken another turn for the worse with his third retirement of the year.
Another forgettable day for Vettel
After qualifying only 12th, the World Champion did initially make good ground off the start but fell a lap down when his RB10 started crawling round the lap when it lost drive, only to suddenly power up again.
By then, however, Vettel's chances of a points-paying result were effectively over and after a later collision with Esteban Gutierrez's Sauber prompted a nose change, Red Bull chose to cut their losses and retire the car.
Another past title winner, Kimi Raikkonen, experienced another low-key day and came home five places behind Ferrari team-mate Alonso in tenth place, as Jenson Button missed out on points.