Austrian Grand Prix: Can Valtteri Bottas help Mercedes continue dominance at Red Bull's home circuit

Two weeks now seem like an ideal break after what was one of the most incredible Formula One races in recent times at the Baku street circuit. With the safety car getting more laps than many of the V6s, some rather ugly driver behaviour on the track, and Fernando Alonso complaining that the Baku track is too fast for him, the race has set the circuit up for legendary status in F1 folklore.

From the Azerbaijan Grand Prix which is still in its infancy, we come to one of the much older races in the calendar on Sunday, the Austrian Grand Prix. Luckily for spectators, the race in Spielberg, although it has an unnaturally low number of corners for a modern F1 track, is just as fast.

 Austrian Grand Prix: Can Valtteri Bottas help Mercedes continue dominance at Red Bulls home circuit

Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas during the Austrian Grand Prix's qualifying session. AP

An unpredictable qualifying session on Saturday evening saw Valtteri Bottas claim pole for Mercedes, ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Given the five-place grid penalty awarded to Hamilton for an unscheduled gearbox change, Mercedes can still start the race from top because of Bottas’ fastest qualifying lap, which the Finn later told reporters “was not quite perfect, but was enough”.

Behind Bottas and Vettel on the front row, it will be Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo on the second row when the race starts at the Spielberg circuit, which sits right in nature’s lap surrounded by the green Styrian hills and valleys on all sides. And with only 14 points separating championship leader Vettel and Hamilton who will now start from P8, this race is sure to throw up surprises, especially after their now infamous collision in Azerbaijan.

What will remain to be seen, though, will be if Red Bull can make it count at their home race on Sunday. Although Ricciardo led the team to victory in Baku, his teammate Max Verstappen had to retire mid-race once again due to technical issues, and this is sure to sprout tensions in the Red Bull garage. But they will do just fine if they are reminded of their past experiences in Spielberg, like in 2016 when Verstappen with a one-stop strategy gamble managed a podium finish.

In the neighbouring Mercedes garage on Sunday, there will be one gentleman named Niki Lauda, who perhaps knows the Osterreichring — as the Red Bull Ring was earlier known — better than anybody else around. The three-time world champion came into prominence as an Austrian hero in the mid-1970s, not long after the first Austrian racing icon Jochen Rindt became Formula One’s first and only posthumous world champion. Rindt died in a car crash at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1970, the same year that the first F1 race was held in Red Bull Ring.

Rindt, however, is central to the story of how Austria got its own grand prix, a process that has never been easy for any country in the world. An L-shaped crude circuit in the town of Zeltweg designed and maintained by racing enthusiasts hosted its first international race in 1958, and a couple of Formula Two races in the subsequent years. The interest these events had stirred in the country led to Rindt’s rise through the F1 ranks, and soon in 1964, a championship race was held in Zeltweg.

Because of technical reasons, Formula One was not to return to the circuit, but that did not stop local hero Rindt from organising motor racing events there through the years. With Rindt’s continuing success in F1 and a growing fan base in Austria, the Osterreichring was constructed to compete with the fastest tracks in the world. Since 1970, the high-altitude track’s tempting straights, fast-paced corners and demand on driver skill has passed into Formula One legend.

In the last three years, Mercedes have dominated the Spielberg race thanks to their unmatched pace in the corners here. Even for the 2017 race, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel said, “Mercedes is still favourites here, although we have been quite close in the last few races.” But Ferrari are not looking too bad for Sunday either, with their impressive show in the free practice sessions on Friday and their history of good starts. And given Lance Stroll’s surprise entry into the podium in Baku, other teams are very much in contention in this race too, with McLaren’s updated Honda engine and Force India’s both cars in the top 10.

All in all, we can look forward to a very promising race on Sunday and more drama in the championship charts, especially following weather forecast of a thunderstorm on Sunday.

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Updated Date: Jul 09, 2017 14:42:25 IST