Race Recap: 2016 European GP was a cakewalk for Rosberg
Sebastian Vettel put in a similarly lonely drive in his Ferrari to second. The German had little to do on track other than get around his teammate on Lap 28, and that came courtesy of team orders.
Sergio Perez started from second on the grid, but a gearbox change after clouting the wall during Free Practice dropped him to seventh. The Mexican cut his way through the field after his sole pit stop on Lap 17 of the 51-lap race, passing Ferrari's Kimi Räikkönen for third on the final lap. It's Perez's second podium in three races after finishing third in Monaco. Force India has five podium finishes in its eight-year history, and Perez's name is on four of them.
Räikkönen followed in fourth. Stewards hit the Finn with a five-second penalty for crossing the pit-entry line during the race, so even if Perez hadn't passed him on track, Räikkönen would have been classified fourth.
Hamilton's up-and-down weekend ended with a burst of radio messages and a whimper. He climbed from tenth on the grid to fifth in the race, then his energy recovery system began harvesting in the wrong places. The snafu cost Hamilton two seconds per lap compared to the leaders. The trouble came from a switch turned to the incorrect position, but the FIA ban on driver assistance meant Hamilton's engineer couldn't tell the driver how to fix the problem. At one point when Hamilton said he was going to reset the whole car, his engineer replied, "Um, we don't advise that, Lewis." Hamilton finally found the proper setting on Lap 43, but turned the engine down again when he realized he couldn't catch the leaders. Mercedes said that Rosberg had the same issue, but Rosberg fixed it on his own.
Valtteri Bottas got his Williams across the line four seconds behind Hamilton. Red Bull teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen couldn't get their tires to work, forcing both racers to pit twice before finishing seventh and eighth. A shame for Ricciardo, the Aussie in second place in the opening stages and staying clear ahead of Vettel before having to pit his Red Bull.
Nico Hülkenberg got into another first corner incident with Haas' Esteban Gutíerrez, but went from 12th on the grid to ninth at the finish. Felipe Massa scored the final point for Williams in tenth.
Radio communications were the story of the race, and observers and analysts were left wondering if the FIA went too far with its ban. Both Hamilton and Räikkönen suffered because of improper settings, both had to sort the issue out on their own. Fernando Alonso said the ban is ridiculous with today's "spaceship" cars, yet it's likely no fan wants to go back to the days of engineers telling drivers to brake ten meters later or short-shift out of a particular corner to save an engine. Interested parties are probably already working on a compromise.
Ferrari did ok with second and fourth places, but the Italian team still needs consistent pace to challenge Mercedes; Rosberg gained a second per lap on Vettel when he wanted to and finishing 16.6 seconds ahead without pushing all out. The scarlet team isn't letting the Silver Arrows run away in the Manufacturer's Championship – 258 point for Mercedes, 177 for Ferrari – but the Italians need a revolutionary advance soon to have a chance of overhauling the Germans this year.
The rumored big change to happen next year at Ferrari is Perez replacing Räikkönen. The Mexican now has seven podiums to his name, matching the total for former F1 driver and compatriot Pedro Rodriguez. It's a coup for Perez to even be part of such a rumor, proof he really has resurrected his career at Force India after a terrible season at McLaren.
As for the Baku circuit, it surprised through lack of surprises. The whole field got a clean start, the Safety Car got the day off, the 1.3-mile long front straight turned passing into DRS battles. Sauber's Felipe Nasr kissed one of the walls about midway though, otherwise, the race was uneventful. We'll see if the FIA makes changes to the circuit for next year.
Rosberg's win gets him back to 24 points ahead of Hamilton, 141 to 117. The German has nine career wins, the second-most of any current non-championship-winning driver behind Massa with 11 wins. Vettel stays close in the driver's title race with 96 points.
Austria hosts the next race in two weeks – Rosberg won it last year, he'll be even more anxious to do it again this year. We'll see you then.
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