LEWIS Hamilton summarised his result at the Austrian Grand Prix as “damage limitation” after falling further adrift of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in the race for this year’s Formula One world championship.
Hamilton was forced to again settle for the runner-up spot behind Rosberg as Mercedes scored a sixth one-two in eight races to continue their domination of the current campaign.
Ahead of his home race, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in two weeks’ time, Hamilton now trails Rosberg by 29 points in the drivers’ standings as the German has yet to finish out of the top two this year.
Yet Hamilton’s performance was a creditable one, notable for a stunning performance on lap one in which he rocketed from ninth on the grid to fourth.
Strategy then helped both men take full advantage of the pit stops as they were able to move ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, who finished fourth and third respectively after starting on the front row.
For Hamilton, there was the realisation he should never have started from such a lowly position initially, a consequence of his errors in qualifying that left him without a time in the final session.
The first lap was special, though, as he scythed his way in between Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Daniil Kvyat in his Toro Rosso.
After that, Hamilton took advantage of Daniel Ricciardo’s mistake at the first corner, flashed by McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen on the run up to turn two, before diving down the inside of Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari at turn eight of the short nine-corner Red Bull Ring.
“It was a good start,” said Hamilton. “We’ve been working very hard on our starts throughout the year and the team have done a great job to help out with that, and, yeah, I got one of the best starts I’ve had really.
“Naturally it would have been great if I’d started where perhaps I should have done this weekend – but damage limitation. To go from ninth to second and be pressuring Nico at the end of the race really shows the pace I had this weekend.”
With Mercedes performing the undercut in the pit stops to get their drivers past Massa and Bottas, the final third of the race was a run to the line for Hamilton and Rosberg.
Hamilton, though, failed to get within a second at any stage for the 28-year-old to make any kind of move as they matched one another on pace to the chequered flag.
Notably, Hamilton lost 1.9secs to Rosberg over the course of the two stops, and that was the difference between them at the end of the 71 laps.
It is understood Hamilton was marginally out of place at the first, while, at the second, there was a problem with replacing one of the wheels.
Whatever the situation, Hamilton has now lost touch with Rosberg in the title picture as he cannot overtake the German with one race result alone. Assessing the gap between them, Hamilton added: “Nico’s done a great job. He’s finished every race and fortunately hasn’t had any car problems, so it’s inevitable.”
Two retirements have cost Hamilton dear, so as far as Rosberg was concerned, to finish ahead of the Briton again was crucial.
“Twenty-nine points is a nice gap, but it’s still so early in the season,” said Rosberg.
“I really like to concentrate on each weekend, taking it step-by-step and, every weekend, my aim is to extend the championship lead, which I managed to do this weekend.”
For Bottas, it was the first podium of his F1 career, one that almost left him speechless as he said: “It’s difficult to put into words.
“The race was exactly what we needed at this point – clean, nice – everything was as planned. The car was good for the podium this time and I’m just so happy.”
Behind the leading quartet, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was fifth ahead of Sergio Perez in his Force India, Magnussen and Ricciardo, followed by the second Force India of Nico Hulkenberg and Kimi Raikkonen in his Ferrari.
Jenson Button could only manage 11th for McLaren, while Marussia’s Max Chilton was 17th.
For reigning four-times champion Sebastian Vettel it was another race to forget as he retired his Red Bull halfway through.
It was Vettel’s third retirement this season, as many as he has suffered in the previous three years combined.