Hamilton now just 11 points behind title rival; Rosberg dropped to fourth after last-lap Mercedes collision; Raikkonen and Verstappen complete podium with Button 6th; Vettel retires after tyre blowout
Rosberg had come through from sixth to lead the race but both Mercedes drivers were fighting in the closing stages following their second pitstops, culminating in an enthralling Lap 71.
A charging Hamilton had the momentum as he attacked around the outside of Turn Two. But with Rosberg refusing to yield the pair made contact, with Rosberg coming off second best with front wing damage.
Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen both came through to overtake the stricken W07 to fill the podium positions, as Rosberg’s championship lead was cut to just 11 points.
Hamilton was booed on the podium but said: “I’m here to win, I won the race fair and square”.
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff branded the collision “brainless” on Sky F1 and hinted at reconsidering his stance on team orders.
In an incident-packed race, Sebastian Vettel also suffered a tyre blowout while leading. The right-rear explosion and subsequent retirement led to a Safety Car which initially played into Rosberg’s hands, with the German having made an early pitstop onto the soft tyre.
Hamiton was angry with his team’s strategy as he tried to fight back from second, but his controversial late overtake saw him take his first victory at the Red Bull Ring and perhaps reignite an intense inter-team rivalry at Mercedes.
Nico Hulkenberg’s race quickly fell apart despite joining Hamilton on the front row and he retired in the closing stages, though Jenson Button, who started a place behind the Force India, impressively finished sixth for McLaren.
Hulkenberg lost two positions on the first lap as Button soon occupied a surprise second place, with Raikkonen just behind.
The lack of quicker rivals nearby saw Hamilton build up an early buffer on the ultrasoft tyre, and he was able to stretch out his first stint on the compound far longer than anyone expected thanks to the cooler conditions in Austria.
Ferrari, starting both cars on the supersofts, made strong ground and briefly held a one-two when Hamilton came in, eventually pitting Raikkonen from the lead, though the Finn dropped back to fifth behind the Red Bulls.
That put Vettel out in front but his crash down the start/finish straight ended his hopes of a first victory of 2016, with Rosberg only narrowly avoiding the SF16-H after its spin into the wall.
“They’d done almost 30 laps on those tyres,” noted Sky F1’s Martin Brundle. “You’d expect them to lose performance, not fall apart.”
With Raikkonen struggling to pass the one-stopping Verstappen, who made the soft tyres last for 56 laps, the end of the race soon turned into a Mercedes battle. Hamilton got first choice on the second stop and came in on Lap 55, fitted with the soft tyres. A mistake on his out lap helped Rosberg, who was on the supersofts.
“Why is he on a softer tyre than me?,” Hamilton asked his team over radio – but their reply that it was the optimum tyre to get him until the end of the race seemed to ring true, especially as Rosberg lost grip over the last few laps.
The gap was just over a second before the final lap, and a mistake from the championship leader, and excellent exit from Hamilton, at Turn One opened the door.
Hamilton attempted his move around the outside but Rosberg didn’t turn in and the Brit was forced off the track.
“I had the inside position, a strong position, and went a bit deep into the corner,” Rosberg argued on Sky F1. “But that’s fine because I dictate – but l was very surprised that Lewis turned in and that caused a collision.”
Sergio Perez also crashed out on the last lap and that helped Pascal Wehrlein secure his first F1 points, and Manor’s first of the season, with the Mercedes youngster finishing 10th.