Jolyon Palmer came home a strong 12th in the Austrian Grand Prix, fighting valiantly throughout what was his best race-day display since the Melbourne season-opener.
Jolyon made a stellar getaway, into the mix in an instant as he fired off the line and squeezed his Renault between the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson and team-mate Kevin Magnussen.
On a congested opening lap of the Red Bull Ring, a tight pack squabbled for position, backing Jolyon up into Magnussen’s grasp. The pair tussled and the Dane managed to force his way back ahead by the start of lap two.
Both Renaults enjoyed a competitive opening stint on Pirelli super-soft rubber, running in formation – Jolyon hounding his stablemate right the way up to the first round of pit-stops, with the Briton placed as high as eighth.
The duo re-emerged for the second stint on soft rubber and their engagement recommenced, Palmer always within a second or so of the Dane ahead.
A mid-race safety car following Sebastian Vettel’s high-speed tyre blowout on the start/finish straight threw a spanner in the works for both Renaults – unable to take advantage of the safety car period to pit, having only donned the harder compound tyre 10 laps prior.
Despite this, Jolyon held 13th at the restart and his R.S.16 was performing as expected heading towards the end of the second stint.
Meanwhile, Magnussen had been handed a five-second penalty for making multiple moves across the track in defence of his position from Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein, and Jolyon was able to make his way past the sister Renault during the second round of pit-stops.
The Southwater racer had the better of Magnussen as the race headed towards a conclusion, pulling away from him and the Saubers, having already dispatched old adversary Felipe Nasr. Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez faced problems late on, promoting Jolyon to P12.
The Mercedes’ of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton clashed on the final lap, and a what could have been a double DNF for the championship leaders on another day might have rewarded Jolyon with his first F1 points finish. However, Hamilton returned to the track to take the win while Rosberg crawled home to take fourth.
Jolyon crossed the line 12th shortly afterwards, completing one of the most encouraging performances of the season so far, in which he maximised opportunities and extracted the most out of the car beneath him – the perfect way to head into a maiden home grand prix weekend at Silverstone in a week’s time.
“I’m quite happy with the race,” said Jolyon. “With just that little bit of extra luck and we could have been right there within the points. The car felt better than in the last round and this was probably one of my strongest races personally.
“Had we needed to change to soft tyres when the safety car came out, we might have been able to make a pit stop then get to the end on that set to score points.
“I’ve been feeling stronger and stronger over the last few races and knowing we could have done well today makes me hopeful for points at the next round at Silverstone.”