Multiple teams in the mix for victory as the Sprint returns – 5 storylines we’re excited about ahead of the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix
After an absolute thriller at Silverstone, it’s straight to another classic venue to try and continue that momentum as the season reaches its halfway stage, so here are some of the topics we’re looking forward to as the teams head for the Red Bull Ring.
1. Another three-way fight?
Carlos Sainz finally got his first victory under his belt at Silverstone, but there were times in that race when any one of the top three teams looked like they were set for the win.
Charles Leclerc appeared to have the pace to challenge Max Verstappen even when the Red Bull driver took the lead from Sainz early on, but it didn’t take long for Verstappen to hit trouble and drop out of contention. Then it was Lewis Hamilton coming into the frame, putting pressure on the Ferrari pair and meaning their strategic choices were perhaps not as simple as they may have appeared.
Sergio Perez also recovered from a damaged front wing early on to join the battle, and while it was Sainz who came out on top, it was far from clear that would be the case when the Safety Car entered the pits late on.
Ferrari and Red Bull will be confident of being in the fight once again this weekend, but with Mercedes claiming they have made a further step forward with their upgrades, there’s every chance their Silverstone form could carry over too.
2. More thrilling racing
There were so many memorable moments from the British Grand Prix, but one that will live long in the memory is the battle between Leclerc, Perez and Hamilton in the closing stages.
Silverstone is a track that has multiple high-speed corners and changes of direction that require good levels of downforce – and we’ve seen in the past that once a driver gets close to another, they can struggle to make a move stick if the cars are closely matched in terms of performance.
That certainly wasn’t the case last weekend, when the new era of cars were shown at their absolute best, with drivers able to fight for multiple corners and keep coming back at each other.
Austria has seen similar in the past, even with the older generation of car, as a move into Turn 3 could then be responded to at Turn 4, but there was always a heavy reliance on DRS to keep cars close. The signs from Silverstone are that drivers should be able to stick with each other through the middle and final sector, and some more extended battles could well be on the cards.
3. McLaren looking to respond
Before the last race, we highlighted the increasingly close battle for fourth place in the constructors’ championship between McLaren and Alpine, and that only got closer as Fernando Alonso pipped Lando Norris to fifth at Silverstone, as their team mates failed to score.
Norris was holding that position until the late Safety Car, and Alpine’s correct call to pit saw Alonso leapfrog the young Briton, meaning the gap between the two teams closed to six points.
But McLaren have fond memories of the Red Bull Ring, having been on the podium here with Norris in 2020 and again in 2021, and Team Principal Andreas Seidl is confident the current car will also be suited to the Austrian circuit.
Perhaps the only spanner in the works from a McLaren point of view is the outlook from Alpine, who also believe they will have a car that likes the layout this weekend. But if both are correct, then there could be another big fight between the two teams, who might also be that bit closer to the front than usual.
4. The return of the Sprint
With the races coming thick and fast at the moment, there’s not going to be any monotony when it comes to the race weekend format, as we welcome back the Sprint in Austria.
For anyone who needs a recap: Friday will see just the one hour of practice before teams head straight into a normal qualifying session – but held on Friday evening. The classification from that session will set the grid for Saturday’s Sprint, a shorter race that offers up points down to eighth place.
As well as points, the finishing order from the Sprint will also set the grid for the Grand Prix itself on Sunday, meaning drivers will have a chance to make up ground if their Friday doesn’t go to plan. But there’s also the jeopardy of a good starting position on Saturday not translating into similar on Sunday if the Sprint doesn’t go their way.
This is the second of three Sprint events this season (the first having taken place in Imola) and provides a chance for drivers to score more points than a normal weekend – up to a maximum of 34 – as well as giving fans competitive action from the first day of running. After last Sunday, we’ll absolutely take more racing action.
5. A sea of orange
And those fans who will be enjoying the additional competition this weekend in Austria are largely going to be wearing one colour: orange.
Max Verstappen has enjoyed massive support at the Red Bull Ring for a number of years, and even the addition of the Dutch Grand Prix last season didn’t dilute the sea of fans that were filling the grandstands in the national colour to show their backing for their hero.
Of course, Verstappen arrives in Austria this year as the defending champion with a comfortable lead in the standings, and he’s also going to be one of the favourites for victory given the way he dominated both of the races that took place at this venue last year.
Whether or not things go well for Verstappen, though, the Dutch fans always know how to have a good time and create a fun atmosphere throughout the weekend.