Austrian Grand Prix: Mercedes, Ferrari to resume battle at 'Wimbledon' of Formula 1

The Austrian Grand Prix and Formula 1 have had a strange relationship — very much in love, but often estranged. Despite staking claim to the ‘iconic circuit’ tag, Austria has made sporadic appearances on the F1 calendar over the years — as the Zeltweg Airfield circuit (1964), Österreichring (1970 – 1987), A1 Ring (1997 – 2003) which was later renamed as the Red Bull Ring (2014 onwards).

I said it in the title, and I will say it once again — Austria’s Red Bull Ring seems to me like the Wimbledon of Formula 1. Apart from the fact that they both coincide on the calendar this year, both venues are gorgeous and endlessly green — sport in the lap of nature, if you will. Moreover, both are extremely iconic venues that have stood the test of time, even as newer and more state-of the art places sprouted up over the years. Force India’s Sergio Perez termed the circuit as ‘racing with nature’.



Memories From The A1 Ring

The Red Bull Ring is the fourth-shortest circuit on the calendar, but given the high-speed nature (it has three long straights) it is also the circuit with the shortest lap time. Till 2016, the circuit had nine corners, possibly the circuit with the least number of corners too. However, starting 2017, the FIA recognised a kink on the second straight as a corner to take up the tally of the total number of corners to 10.

The Austrian Grand Prix has also witnessed some historic battles over the years. In 2016, Rosberg and Hamilton clashed into each other on the last lap, while Schumacher and Montoya had their run-ins in the the early 2000s. However, the most memorable and controversial memory of Austria is from 2002. Barrichello (the then Ferrari driver) was ordered to relinquish the lead of the race and hand it over to Schumacher — a move that earned Ferrari and Schumacher vital championship points, but one that saw them lose fans and a few millions (after podium shenanigans that earned them an FIA penalty). Barrichello added to the drama after deciding to let Schumacher pass only a few metres before the finish line.

The Best Seats In The House?

For fans attending the Austrian Grand Prix, corners 1, 3, 4 and the final corner 10 are the best spots to watch the on-track action. The famous Schumacher-Montoya clash was at corner 3 whereas Rosberg binned his car in the gravel in qualifying last year after hitting kerbs between corners 9 and 10. In fact, Formula 1’s famous ‘baguette’ corners debuted in Austria last year and will be present this year too, just that they will thankfully be a little away from the track limits allowing the drivers to push that little bit more.

Formula 1 has introduced free circuit wi-fi since the 2017 Canadian Grand Prix. If you’re attending, be sure to use the wi-fi to upload your content from the beautiful racing circuit. And while you’re there, be sure to visit the F1 Village and interact with the ‘robot’ that’s become famous for emulating Sebastian Vettel’s radio celebrations — yes, yes, yes!

Ever since the circuit returned on the Formula 1 calendar, Mercedes has won all the races contested at this venue. On the current grid, Hamilton is the only driver to have climbed on to the top step of the podium whereas his championship rival Vettel’s best finish has been a fourth place. Historically, McLaren is the team with maximum wins (6), but it seems highly unlikely that they will add to that tally on Sunday — despite Honda bringing an engine upgrade.

Ferrari To Play Catch Up?

At the Red Bull Ring, the Mercedes and Ferrari battle, which took an ugly turn at Baku, will resume in full force. Mercedes seem to have sorted their car setup issues post-Monaco and managed to pull a full second ahead of Ferrari in qualifying at Baku. Hamilton would’ve won by a mile had race incidents and a loose headrest not impacted his race. This will be playing on Ferrari’s mind and it will be interesting to see how their camp responds. However, there is widespread belief in the paddock that the FIA’s clampdown on ‘oil burn’ has hurt Ferrari the most and that’s the reason behind their sudden lack of front running pace.

As for the Vettel-Hamilton battle, the mutual respect and camaraderie is already out of the window given their clash in Baku. The psychological edge would be with Hamilton, given that he was given a clean chit by the FIA to Vettel’s ‘brake testing’ claims and with the belief that he has the fastest car on the grid.

Formula 1’s Intense Arms Race

The Austrian Grand Prix is the ninth race of the 2017 season. As we near the mid-season mark, the teams would be in full-swing with their in-season car development program. At Austria, both Ferrari and Mercedes are expected to bring aero upgrades followed by Ferrari bringing an engine update in Silverstone. Renault’s engine updates in Baku led to reliability problems for their works and customer teams and the French car manufacturer is expected to refine its package to ensure that their cars at least finish the race.

Red Bull Racing will be racing at home and at a circuit sponsored by the same energy drinks company. Despite winning the last race from 10th on the grid, a Red Bull Racing victory is highly unexpected on Sunday. The team has notched up an unusual statistic for 2017 already — they have completed fewer racing laps than the problem-plagued McLaren-Honda.

Finally, for the Force India fans, more than updates, the team has instructed their drivers to keep the team’s interest above their own. While this is a wise move, blaming the intra-team clashes on (Esteban) Ocon’s inexperience alone is highly unwise.

Updated Date: Jul 07, 2017 14:26:51 IST