Unpredictable weather, Mercedes’ response and more fans – 5 reasons we’re excited for the Austrian GP
Fresh from a dominant Red Bull performance in Austria, there’s another race at the same venue to look forward to, but there will be a number of differences that could shake things up again this weekend. Here’s a few reasons we’re excited about the next round at the Red Bull Ring...
1. A full house
It has been a long 18 months for everyone around the world, and from a Formula 1 perspective we have had 26 races in 52 weeks as we’ve had to learn to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. In that time we’ve enjoyed some absolutely thrilling races and dramatic moments, but many of them have taken place in events that were behind closed doors.
While we’ve been welcoming more and more fans back to the circuits in recent weeks, this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix – on the original race date when the calendar was announced – will be the first since the pandemic to be held with a capacity crowd.
We could see more than 100,000 people over the three days this weekend, and around 60,000 on Sunday in the Styrian mountains in what is sure to be an emotional sign of the progress we are making back towards normality.
Traditionally, big crowds here in Austria have featured a significant Dutch contingent, and they probably liked what they saw from Max Verstappen last Sunday…
2. We'll see if Mercedes can respond to Red Bull
Verstappen utterly dominated the Styrian Grand Prix in a fashion that we haven’t seen so far this season, and perhaps haven’t really seen in the hybrid era from any team other than Mercedes. The Dutchman comfortably secured pole position and then had the pace to manage the gap and pull away from Lewis Hamilton at will, meaning he never looked under threat.
With just a few days between races, the big question is how are Mercedes going to go about trying to change things this weekend? All of the teams will have the data from the first race to try and work out what they could have done better, and Verstappen expects a closer challenge as a result. There could, of course, be a different outcome in qualifying or the opening lap that might shake things up.
The main difference comes in the form of softer tyre compounds for the second race – Pirelli going one step softer across the range – which means Red Bull won’t have the C2 compound that Verstappen was so strong on in the second stint available to them, but whether Mercedes can turn that to their advantage remains to be seen.
3. First try for a new tyre construction
It’s not the sexiest headline I know, but there could be another significant change taking place as a result of Friday practice, when teams will get the chance to run two prototype sets of tyres that feature a new rear construction.
Pirelli developed a new front construction for 2021 but opted against introducing the same on the rears because of changes to the floor regulations. However, the failures in Azerbaijan led to further investigations and work on a more robust construction, designed to deal with the high loads.
All of the teams will get two sets to run whenever they like across FP1 and FP2 (as long as it stays dry) and if the feedback is positive then the new construction will be introduced from Silverstone onwards.
4. Unpredictable weather
The new tyre construction test means teams will be watching the forecast for Friday with interest as they might not get to use the prototype Pirellis if the weather closes in, and with the first Sprint event at Silverstone, it could delay the test by a few races.
But they’ll also be trying to work out what’s going to happen for the rest of the weekend, too, because the weather has been particularly unpredictable since we arrived in Austria.
Thunderstorms were predicted throughout the Styrian Grand Prix weekend and arrived on Wednesday night, while there was also plenty of rain on Friday afternoon and evening but nothing that affected track running. The storms bubbled up around the circuit but never hit it on Saturday, and then the chance receded the longer Sunday went on.
Teams had planned for rain on Friday and so crammed a lot of work into FP1, and the forecast is similarly unsettled for this coming weekend. Whether that actually turns into any wet running is anyone’s guess, but just like the last race there will be plenty of time spent watching the radars and overhead clouds.
5. Williams looking to right a wrong
It was hard not to feel for George Russell and Williams on Sunday, as probably their best chance of finally scoring points together slipped away in agonising fashion.
There have been a few times where Russell has made some sort of error, or the race scenario has played against him when in with a chance of points, but this was a brilliant performance that had him running eighth on a better tyre strategy than the cars around him.
He was on course for not only his first point but potentially multiple points. Russell wasn’t having to be defensive at all, and was actually looking to attack Fernando Alonso when he got a worrying radio message.
A power unit issue led to an early - and slow - pit stop that ultimately couldn’t solve the problem and Williams had to retire Russell’s car. Nicholas Latifi was already out of contention after being caught in an incident at Turn 3, and so the chance of points disappeared when both drivers had been quick all weekend.
The good news is that we’re racing at the Red Bull Ring again, and the Williams is clearly a quick car around here. Although we are going to softer tyre compounds for the second race, tyre management has actually been a strength for Williams in recent weeks, with Russell’s encouraging position on Sunday coming after an excellent performance in that regard at Paul Ricard.
There are, of course, no guarantees the weekend will be coming together as well as the last one did, but the whole team will be fired up by the fact that they have a second opportunity so soon after the first.