Lewis Hamilton would have walked this race, but for the delay with the left-rear wheel of his Mercedes in his first pit stop. After that he was on his back foot, having to hunt down a team mate who had started five places further back on the grid and had made his ultrasofts last only 10 laps.
In particular, his ability to eke out 21 laps on those tyres, after managing only four, admittedly in much higher temperatures, on Saturday morning, was extraordinary. As was his never-say-die attitude when he really had to fight.
“I never gave up. I pushed all the way. I knew I needed those points,” he said. “I knew that I have some incredible fans here supporting me, and some of them have come a long way. So I did everything I could to not give up and to push all the way.
“Nico made a mistake in Turn 1 and I tried to capitalise on that. I don’t know if it was a mistake he made in Turn 2, it may have been his brake issue, but we collided and obviously I was able still continue. But I’m just really grateful. I didn’t give up. I kept pushing. I thoroughly enjoyed the race. This is what racing is about. It’s about close battles, difficult times and challenges ahead, but the most important thing is to keep going and keep your head up every time you stumble.”
He stumbled badly in Baku; he was mighty again here.
Yes, Toto Wolff will probably get more grey hairs after yet another collision between his drivers, but, number one, Mercedes still won the Austrian Grand Prix.
Number two, and more importantly, they did so in such devastating style.
Some believed that Baku was a one-off, one of those serendipitous situations in which a track really suits a car and a certain set-up. But it happened again on a shorter track here where rivals were expected to be much closer. And where some had clung to the vain hope that Pirelli’s pre-event changes to tyre protocols might somehow prove to be a magic bullet with which to shoot down the Silver Arrows.
On the day, Ferrari and Red Bull had nothing to offer by way of a challenge - even Vettel was being hauled in by Rosberg, who had already made his pit stop, when he crashed on the 27th lap, so the seemingly clever ploy of qualifying on supersofts in the hope of embarrassing the ultrasoft-shod Mercedes proved to be a bit of a chimera.
Sooner or later circumstances will militate against Mercedes and somebody else will catch a break, but right now that seems along away off.
The Dutch prodigy might lack that vital extra edge in qualifying, where Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo is such an ace, but on race pace he is a demon.
From the moment he discovered the pace is RB12 offered on the opening lap, Verstappen got his clog down and began moving up, overtaking his team mate on the second lap.
He got ahead of Raikkonen during the Ferrari driver’s pit stop, was slightly lucky that the Finn then got trapped behind Ricciardo, and did a brilliant job of managing a set of soft tyres for 56 laps. At the end Raikkonen was all over him, but so was Rosberg in Canada, and look what happened there.
Second place in Austria? It was like the win in Barcelona.
Jenson Button rather pessimistically suggested prior to the race that by Turn 2 he would be history. But it didn’t work out that way. He beat Hulkenberg off the line to follow Hamilton into Turn 2, and then he held on to second ahead of Raikkonen until lap seven, and only lost one more place, to Rosberg on lap eight, before his first stop.
He was always in a decent points-scoring position and looked fast and feisty all race as he took on anyone around him. McLaren beat Williams on pure pace.
By their normal standards, sixth isn’t a big deal for a team of McLaren’s nature, but at this stage of the burgeoning alliance with Honda, this was a very important step and proof that progress really is being made.
Pascal Wehrlein and Manor
Wehrlein has looked good ever since he made his debut with Manor in Australia, and he is getting better as the MRT05 progresses.
Qualifying 12th was a superb effort, and he built on that in the race despite the timing of his first stop leaving him right at the back on lap 24. Using a set of softs he just got his head down and toiled, and was within a second of Bottas - in a Williams no less - by the chequered flag. And at that his rhythm got disturbed as he had to obey blue flags as the leading Mercs came upon them at the height of the Williams/Manor battle.
For the Banbury team this was as important a result as the late Jules Bianchi’s ninth at Monaco in 2014, a momentous breakthrough that will prove extremely valuable in the long term.
And the losers…
You have to feel sorry for Rosberg.
When he gets muscled by his team mate, the incident passes without undue drama. When he tried something similar himself, it all went wrong. It cost him the win (helped by his brake-by-wire system going into passive mode on the penultimate lap), and his part in the Turn 2 collision earned him a 10-second race time penalty and two penalties points on his licence and, because he drove his car home in a dangerous state, a reprimand.
Much worse than that, though, he came to Austria looking for a hat-trick after a peerless performance in Baku had seen him push his world championship points lead back to 24. When he left here on Sunday night, it was down to just 11 again.
They harboured high hopes of taking the fight to Mercedes here, on a tight track with only nine corners. And they pulled what seemed a blinder in qualifying when Vettel and Raikkonen qualified on supersoft tyres. But Ferrari had another poor race.
It was a shame that Vettel needed a new gearbox and thus fell from a threatening fourth to ninth, but though he was leading on the 27th lap when his right-rear Pirelli exploded, the reality was that Rosberg, having already pitted, was gobbling him up at a fair old rate and was only 1.2s adrift when the drama unfolded.
Raikkonen looked racy early on, but lost time staying out too long and falling behind both Red Bulls. By the time he’d got things wound up, after passing Ricciardo on the 58th lap, Verstappen was too far down the road and his late challenge failed by three-tenths of a second.
It was ironic that while Mercedes started Hamilton on a one-stop strategy and switched him to two, Ferrari started Raikkonen with a planned two-stopper and switched him to one.
But whatever the reds tried here, there was no way they could challenge the Silver Arrows.
Poor old Ricciardo. Ever since Monaco, nothing has gone right for him. Here he had the same dramas as he’d had in Baku, trying to get speed out of his RB12, but this time his team mate managed it. As Verstappen finished a fighting second, Ricciardo lapsed to a distant fifth, desperate to start an analysis of the data to see where he was losing so much ground.
Yet again Force India impressed in qualifying, and went into a race full of hope. But this time it evaporated in Hulkenberg’s mediocre start, and then in the balance problems that left the German fighting rear tyre graining before quitting with brake wear issues after falling well off the pace.
The timing of Sergio Perez’s pit stop was also unfortunate, dropping him from 11th to last by lap 10, and his fight back to eighth was a race highlight before a brake failure sent him spearing out of a points-delivering position and into the wall in Turn 3.