The Red Bull Ring beckons as Formula 1 enters Stage Two of its first ever triple-header. Time for the hills to be alive with the sound of F1 cars...
Got your breath back after Formula 1’s return to France last weekend? Good, because it’s time to do it all again, with the F1 teams now descending upon the Red Bull Ring, nestled in Austria’s picturesque Styrian mountains, for the Austrian Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton is the driver with the wind in his sails heading to Austria, after a dominant win at the Circuit Paul Ricard for the Mercedes man. He’s leading the drivers’ standings by 14 points over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who endured a mixed bag in France, crashing into Valtteri Bottas on lap one, but countering that with a scything drive back through the field to take fifth place.
Red Bull were in the mix in France too and will be hoping to be there or thereabouts on their home track, so once again, it’s looking tightly poised at the top.
Let’s take a look at the info that matters ahead of the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix…
The form book
Mercedes have been the team to beat since the Red Bull Ring joined the F1 calendar back at the start of the hybrid era in 2014. The Silver Arrows have hoovered up every victory since then, twice taking a one-two as well – and they would have had three if Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg hadn’t crashed into each other on the last lap of the 2016 race. Naughty boys.
Both of Mercedes’ current drivers have one Austrian Grand Prix win apiece, but pay particular attention to Valtteri Bottas on Sunday. He notched up his first Formula 1 podium at the 2014 race driving for Williams (he and team mate Felipe Massa famously locked out the front row that year) and has never finished out of the points in Austria.
And how about a strong Red Bull performance at the circuit owned by its parent company? Well the team’s results in previous years don’t exactly make for happy reading, with their drivers having only scored two podiums there over the last four years. But having looked punchier at power tracks like Montreal and Paul Ricard this season, they’ll be hoping for their first ‘home’ win, while Ferrari will, of course, be on a similar mission to unseat Mercedes in Austria this time around.
The stats that matter
Sebastian Vettel is 14 points behind Lewis Hamilton heading into round nine of the championship in Austria. That is a mirror image of the situation in 2017, when Hamilton trailed Vettel by the same total prior to the Austrian GP (also round nine last year).
Vettel and Hamilton will have to overturn recent Red Bull Ring form this weekend, as they have only led 30 laps between them at this circuit in their careers (Vettel five laps, Hamilton 25 laps). Red Bull as a constructor have only led five laps at this venue, fewer than Sergio Perez and Force India (11).
Hamilton is seeking his 50th pole position in a Mercedes this weekend, which would put him eight short of Michael Schumacher’s total with Ferrari (a record with one team), and he can score his 44th career victory with car #44.
Vettel has never won at the Red Bull Ring – one of a surprisingly-high six circuits on the 2018 calendar at which he’s never taken victory.
Ricciardo is aiming to be the third man to win a Grand Prix on his birthday, after James Hunt (Holland 1976) and Jean Alesi (Canada 1995).
Bottas has led more laps at the Red Bull Ring than any active driver (72 laps), and is seeking a third consecutive front-row start for the first time in his F1 career, having also been there in Canada and France.).
Raikkonen will make his 139th career start with Ferrari, tying Felipe Massa for the second-most in the team's history (behind Schumacher’s 179) and third most by any driver/team combo in F1 history (second-placed David Coulthard started 150 races for McLaren).
Magnussen has finished in the top six more times this season (3) than in the rest of his F1 career combined (2), and even with 13 races remaining Magnussen he's only two points short of the best-ever season by a Haas driver in the team’s short history (Romain Grosjean’s 29 points in 2016).
Alonso has failed to finish four of his six previous starts on this track and only has one points finish and one top-10 start on this track (when he qualified fourth and finished fifth for Ferrari in 2014).
This track layout has only seen one winner from outside the top three on the grid, when David Coulthard triumphed from seventh for McLaren-Mercedes in 2001. Conversely, the driver finishing second on this track has come from lower than seventh on four occasions, most recently when Max Verstappen was second from eighth on the grid in 2016.
Quite the little roller coaster, is the Red Bull Ring. Formed from the remnants of the awe-inspiring Osterreichring – “a fearsome place that frightened us and thrilled us in equal measure” as Sky F1 commentator Martin Brundle remembers it – the shortened track returned to Formula 1 in 1997 as the A1-Ring, lost its place on the calendar in 2004 and then made its second comeback, as the Red Bull Ring, four years ago.
With average speeds around the 240kph mark, the 4.3km circuit is one of the fastest the drivers will encounter this year. And although it’s a short lap for them, dusted off in a smidge over a minute in these current cars, there’s plenty for the drivers to get stuck into in that time.
Highlights include the two fast left-handers at Turns 6 and 7 that wend around the track’s dominating ‘Bull of Spielberg’ statue, as well as the mighty right-hand romp through the Jochen Rindt Kurve at Turn 9 – a corner the 1970 world champion would have been proud to have named after him.
With drivers on full throttle for around 65% of the lap and some fair old gradients to contend with, a decent motor is essential for a quick time around the circuit, as is the confidence to commit to the track’s high speed corners – especially because, at 680m above sea level, there’s less air density, and therefore less grip, for the drivers to play with. Meanwhile, with several big stops, the brakes take a pounding in Austria too.
Pay attention this year to the addition of an extra DRS zone, which should help with overtaking. That means there's now a DRS activation point that covers the start-finish straight, one that covers the run up to Turn 3 and another that covers the run down to Turn 4.
The teams will have the same Pirelli compounds at their disposal in Austria as at Paul Ricard, with the purple ultrasoft the stickiest of the rubber, the red-walled supersoft a step harder and the yellow-walled soft the hardest of the bunch. They’re the same compounds that were seen here last year too, but with Pirelli having softened up their tyres by a step for 2018, expect the circuit’s outright lap record – Valtteri Bottas’ 1m 04.251s pole time from 2017 – to be broken if the drivers get a dry qualifying session in Austria.
“Austria features the same tyre nomination as France, but they are very different tracks, although both with the characteristic in common of being revamped circuits based on a historic venue,” says Mario Isola, Pirelli’s Head of Car Racing.
“This also gives the Red Bull Ring quite an old-school feel that the drivers always appreciate. The track is more about acceleration and braking rather than lateral demands, but Austria has always the ability to produce a few surprises, also because the field is closely packed together on the short lap, so dealing with traffic is often a factor.
“One of the peculiarities of Austria is the fact that most of the corners are right-hand turns, but the two most demanding corners are left-handers. This means that the loaded tyres go into them almost ‘cold’, as they are not otherwise stressed throughout the lap.”
Friday’s pair of practice sessions are looking likely to be rain, or even thunderstorm-affected at the tail-end of a week of wet weather for the region. Saturday should be hot at around 25 degrees Celsius, but again with a chance of rain or thunderstorms getting in the mix. Meanwhile, there’s a 20% chance of rain for the race, but temperatures should remain reasonably hot at around 24 degrees.