Lewis Hamilton emerged from a last-lap battering by his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg and misguided post-race boos from disgruntled fans with a dramatic victory in Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.
The 46th win of Hamilton’s career ended Rosberg’s dream of a hat-trick of triumphs in the Styrian Alps and cut his advantage in the title race to 11 points, just a week before defending champion Hamilton’s home British Grand Prix.
The feuding pair — Rosberg now has 153 points to Hamilton’s 142 — collided at Turn Two where Rosberg drove into the Briton’s car and forced him off the track, and then touched again as Hamilton rejoined before passing to go on and claim victory.
The German Rosberg, his car damaged and debris falling onto the circuit, limped home to finish fourth after starting the final lap as leader.
Rosberg afterwards blamed Hamilton, who countered that he won “fair and square”, and race stewards agreed with Hamilton after looking at the footage and talking to the supposed team-mates.
They reprimanded Rosberg for failing to allow Hamilton “racing room” and hit the German with a 10-second penalty several hours after the drama, as well as two penalty points on his licence.
The time penalty had no effect on the race result or the world standings, but the damage to the already rocky relationship between Hamilton and Rosberg — once good friends — might now be terminal.
Talented Dutch teenager Max Verstappen claimed his second career podium in second place for Red Bull ahead of third-placed Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.
The Finn’s team-mate, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, was forced to retire after 27 of the 71 laps while leading when, on his 29th birthday, the right rear tyre of his car exploded — some birthday present.
“What an incredible race,” said Hamilton. “It was so tough. Apart from this (the crowd reaction), I love it here. I don’t know what that’s about. It’s not my problem. It’s their problem.”
Some in the Austrian crowd booed when Hamilton appeared and spoke on the victors’ podium after the race -– clearly unaware that close study of video replays of the collision showed that Rosberg was the driver to blame.
The 31-year-old German, who started from seventh on the grid and gobbled up places thanks to a favourable strategy from the Mercedes team, led the race from the restart, after 32 laps, following Vettel’s blowout.
As Rosberg went into the final lap, however, with Hamilton closing on him, he was struggling with debris and damage, and a brake problem.
“Nico made a mistake into Turn One so I had an opportunity into Turn Two,” said Hamilton. “I left a lot of room on the inside for him and he locked up and went into me. He had a problem with his brakes.”
Detailed examination of the incident showed that Rosberg failed to turn his steering wheel to avoid a collision and had, apparently, driven Hamilton off the circuit.
– Blame game –
A deflated Rosberg blamed Hamilton, but that was before the race stewards had their final say.
“I am just gutted at not winning. I led the race into the last lap. It was pretty intense,” he said.
“I went a bit deep into the corner, but that’s fine because I’m on the inside -– I dictate. I was very surprised that Lewis turned in and caused a collision.
“We were battling, I was struggling a little bit with my brakes because they got a bit hot, my tyres were degrading so that gave Lewis a chance.
“Nevertheless, I was confident I could defend and bring it home. I had the inside position, a strong position… Very gutted. It’s unbelievable, this sport sometimes.”
Tetchy and frustrated Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff was angry when asked about the latest incident between the pair.
“Brainless,” he said. “It doesn’t need a comment. We were marginal on brakes, if not to say completely over, but we couldn’t tell the drivers.
“So Nico had a brake-by-wire failure on the last straight and he defended very hard. Seeing both cars colliding is upsetting.”
Non-executive team chairman Niki Lauda added: “I guess that Nico had a brake problem when he came into that corner. Therefore he went long. Lewis was pushed to the outside, but why then afterwards, they hit each other? I don’t understand it.”
A grumpy Rosberg finished fourth ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull, with Jenson Button of McLaren in a stirring sixth.
Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Haas and Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso were seventh and eighth. – Agence France-Presse