RACE DEBRIEF

    The big talking point ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix weekend was whether the Red Bull Ring circuit would favour Ferrari over Mercedes. And despite having headed Free Practice 1 in Spielberg, Lewis Hamilton conceded that at best, the two teams had been on a level pegging on Friday – and at worse, it was the Scuderia who held the advantage in Austria…

    After topping FP1 by 0.144s from the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel despite suffering damage to his front wing, Hamilton then finished fourth in a disrupted second free practice session as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc led the way.

    But while there was an argument for discounting the FP2 short-run results – with Max Verstappen and Hamilton’s Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas both suffering heavy crashes that brought out red flags, while Sebastian Vettel spun off during his qualifying simulation run and finished the session in P8 – Hamilton admitted that Ferrari’s long-run pace in the session had given him pause for thought going into Friday evening.

    2019 Austrian GP

    In the race runs, Ferrari are not usually as strong – but I think today, they were quicker than us

    Lewis Hamilton

    “Today has shown that [Ferrari are] either with us, or slightly ahead of us,” he said. “I think it’s definitely going to be a real challenge. The Ferraris have been quick all year in the straights for whatever reason, and it doesn’t seem to be hampering them in the corners, so it will be really interesting. But then in the race runs, they’re not usually as strong, but I think today, they were quicker than us. But it’s okay. We’ll keep fighting and it is a track where you can follow, or [get] closer at least.

    “It will be interesting to see how it pans out tomorrow,” he added, “but I think it’s close, which is good – people can’t complain! And I love it when it’s close, so that means we have our work cut out.”

    Hamilton heads into this weekend with a 36-point lead in the championship over Bottas, on the back of his sixth win in eight races at last week’s French Grand Prix.

    Despite that, Ferrari will hope that their straight-line speed advantage and Hamilton’s slightly chequered record at the Red Bull Ring – with the five-time champion having not won in Austria since 2016, while he’s been outqualified by Bottas at the track in the last two seasons – will provide an opening for them to take their first victory of the season.

    Lewis Hamilton: Should be close at the front here in Austria