Hamilton wins Austrian GP after last-lap contact with Rosberg

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Lewis Hamilton has won the Austrian Grand Prix following a race-long battle with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg that ended in contact on the final lap of the race.

Hamilton dropped behind Rosberg after a slow first pit stop, before spending the majority of the race staring at the rear diffuser of his teammate’s car.

Hamilton carved into Rosberg’s advantage in the closing stages before the two made contact on the final lap, leaving Rosberg with damage and forcing him to slow, ultimately finishing fourth.

For Hamilton, the result sees him reduce the gap in the drivers’ championship to just 11 points, but there will undoubtedly be an inquest into the clash by Mercedes after the race.

Off the line, Hamilton managed to hold onto his lead with a clean getaway as Nico Hulkenberg lost places from second on the grid. Jenson Button was quick to take advantage, moving up into a lofty second place as Kimi Raikkonen settled into third. Rosberg gained places after his grid penalty, sitting fifth ahead of the Red Bulls early on.

Button and Hulkenberg both appeared to be fighting losing battles, having started out of position by virtue of the damp qualifying on Saturday. The better pace of the cars behind soon shone through, with Rosberg, Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel all picking their way through. Button and Hulkenberg pitted early in a bid to get the undercut, with Rosberg following suit, lifting Verstappen up to third behind Hamilton and Raikkonen at the front early on.

With drivers reporting light rain, Hamilton and Raikkonen continued to exchange quick lap times at the front of the pack. Hamilton had expected his ultra-soft tires to last just five laps, but they held up until he ultimately pitted on lap 21, enjoying a four-second advantage over Raikkonen in P2. The Finn followed suit one lap later.

Hamilton had emerged from the pits behind Rosberg on track, but was in a position to make his soft tires last to the end of the race. With five seconds in hand, Rosberg hoped to open up the gap and try to make his two-stop strategy work as he chased a third straight victory in Austria.

Rosberg’s advantage over Hamilton was wiped away when the safety car was deployed after a frightening tire blow-out for new leader Vettel. The German’s right-rear tire let go on the main straight, causing him to spin into the wall. Ferrari was left crestfallen, while Rosberg now found himself leading with Hamilton latched to his rear diffuser for the restart.

Rosberg was quickly able to open up a gap again, though. After nailing the restart and warming up his tires quicker, the German found himself two seconds clear of Hamilton as the race passed half distance, with Verstappen running third for Red Bull.

Hamilton soon began to turn up the wick and cut into Rosberg’s advantage, halving it to just one second 25 laps from home. Rosberg began to soak up the pressure, his tires 11 laps older than Hamilton’s. He was also now contending with a loose bargeboard, while Hamilton was told to avoid the kerbs at the final corner for fear of damaging his suspension. Despite being clear of the chasing Red Bulls, Mercedes felt the race was far from won.

In a bid to give Hamilton the chance to push late on, Mercedes brought him in at the end of lap 54 for another set of soft tires. Rosberg followed suit one lap later, making the switch to super-soft tires and emerging ahead of his title rival. Verstappen now led for Red Bull, but with a lead of just three seconds, his advantage did not look set to last.

Hamilton immediately questioned why Rosberg was running on a softer tire than him, being told by his engineer that the soft compound would be the best to finish on. Fired up, he carved into Rosberg’s advantage, leaving the front three separated by just two seconds with 10 laps remaining.

Rosberg found a way past Verstappen with the help of DRS, leaving the Dutchman to contend with Hamilton behind. Although he ultimately battled past Verstappen, Hamilton lost precious time to Rosberg at the front, leaving him out of DRS range once again.

Hamilton dug deep in a bid to cut the gap once again. He produced back-to-back fastest laps to whittle Rosberg’s advantage down to just 1.1 seconds with five laps to run. The gap fell further, leaving Hamilton crawling all over the back of his teammate’s car heading onto the final lap of the race.

Heading up to Turn 2, the two drivers made contact, causing damage to Rosberg’s front wing and forcing him to slow. Hamilton was able to move back onto the track and move ahead before crossing the line to take a tenuous and thrilling victory.

Max Verstappen crossed the line second to score Red Bull’s first home podium in Formula 1, with Raikkonen finishing third ahead of the fallen and furious Rosberg. He was left to settle for P4, 10 seconds shy of Hamilton at the front, acting as the latest chapter in Mercedes’ intra-team tension.

The stewards also confirmed soon after the checkered flag that Rosberg is under investigation for causing a collision and failing to stop his car when damaged, meaning his P4 finish could be in jeopardy.

Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth for Red Bull ahead of  Jenson Button, who came home sixth for McLaren after some quick thinking under the safety car allowed him to go to the end of the race without stopping again.

Romain Grosjean ended Haas’ points drought by finishing seventh ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Valtteri Bottas, while a late retirement for Sergio Perez saw Pascal Wehrlein finish 10th, marking just the second points finish in the history of Manor.

Champion Marc Marquez leads MotoGP into virtual world Sunday

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During its layoff because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, MotoGP will become the latest racing series to enter the virtual world.

The MotoGP Virtual Race will be held at 9 a.m. ET Sunday, March 29 with 10 riders. It will be streamed on several platforms, including the Motorsports on NBC YouTube channel. Reigning series champion Marc Marquez is among the riders in the field.

The premier class of MotoGP has yet to hit the track this season as its opener was canceled and the next three races were postponed, including the Grand Prix of the Americas being moved from April 5 to Nov. 15.

Several other racing series have tried online racing in recent weeks.

IMSA held a “SuperSaturday at Sebring” March 21 in place of the postponed Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. NASCAR started its Pro Invitational Series last Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway and will continue Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. IndyCar kicked off its six-race IndyCar iRacing Challenge with a Saturday race at Watkins Glen International that was won by Sage Karam.