Formula One returns to Austria and the Red Bull Ring for the first time since 2003 this weekend, ending an eleven-year hiatus of one of F1’s most popular circuits. Previously the A1 Ring, and the Österreichring to dedicated motorsport fans, this ribbon of tarmac stretching through the Styrian mountain hillsides has been well and truly revamped by current owners Red Bull since it last appeared on TV screens.
But does any of this mean we can expect as much of an upset as we got a fortnight ago in Montreal?
Mercedes Targeting Victory
It’s safe to assume Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg would have triumphed in Canada without the mysterious double electronics failure that hit Mercedes there; indeed, Rosberg came within a handful of laps of doing just that and his struggle to 2nd boosted him to 22 points clear of his English rival in the championship stakes, something he’ll want to do again this weekend in front of the German-speaking crowd.
On paper Austria offers Merc a paradise to suit their all-conquering F1W05, with long straights punctuated by slow and medium speed corners rewarding horsepower and aerodynamic stability, something the car has in abundance. Expect Mercedes-powered teams to dominate here, and circuit owners Red Bull to struggle despite their unexpected victory last time out.
Riccardo Versus Vettel
Daniel Ricciardo won his first race in Canada exactly in the manner you would want to. He wasn’t in the picture until the final ten laps, so the pressure of leading and the possibility of throwing it away under that stress never entered the equation. His pit strategy was what gave him the edge over team-mate Vettel, something the German remains vexed about even now. It led to more accusations and suspicions the reigning World Champion is losing his edge compared to his younger team-mate, though the results don’t bear that out. Vettel has born the brunt of reliability issues in 2014, and the handful of points it has cost him would see him equalling or even surpassing Ricciardo’s tally.
But don’t expect either man to figure high up the leaderboard this weekend; the circuit may be owned by the Austrian drinks giant but perversely it couldn’t be worse for them.
When F1 last visited Austria in 2003 the championship contenders were Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya. Schumacher continues to recover from his skiing accident in December, Montoya is racing in Indycar and thus Raikkonen is the only remaining member of the trio that contested that year’s title; Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button the only other remaining men to have raced here in F1 machinery before for Sauber, Renault and BAR respectively. Local knowledge may lend them an edge, but the tools at their disposal have changed almost totally since their last visit more than a decade ago.
FRIDAY – Low 10’c/High 20’c – Rain
SATURDAY – Low 9’c/High 21’c – Sunny spells
SUNDAY – Low 11’c/High 24’c – Sunny spells