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Austria preview - resurgent Red Bull aim for home advantage

19 Jun 2014

Formula One racing’s return to Austria for the first time since 2003 promises to be a major event for Red Bull’s Austrian owner Dietrich Mateschitz, and not just because he owns the circuit.

His team come into the weekend in resurgent mood after Daniel Ricciardo halted the Mercedes juggernaut by claiming his maiden win in a sensational Grand Prix in Montreal.

Two weeks on, the Australian will be doing everything to repeat that success - as will his team mate and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

"It's great to be going to Red Bull's home race after an awesome weekend in Canada," Ricciardo says. "I've only driven the Red Bull Ring on filming days, essentially a handful of laps without the out-and-out aggression that you'll see at the weekend. It's a tidy circuit - not the longest and not many corners, but what is there is good.

“It's very odd going to what, essentially, is a new race but in a place where the racing history is firmly established. It sounds as though there will be a massive crowd up in the mountains and I'm sure the return of the Austrian Grand Prix will get off to a really good start."

Vettel, meanwhile, is eagerly anticipating returning to a circuit he first drove on 13 years ago. “I'm really happy that we will race there,” he says. “The circuit is actually very pretty, not only the track, but the whole area - a beautiful natural landscape. There are not many distractions there, it's just about racing. It is a short track, with only a few turns, but it's very challenging. There are also a lot of elevation changes, which makes it interesting and fun."

Red Bull, however, are not fooling themselves despite the breakthrough triumph for the RB10 last time out.

"Let's not beat about the bush - Mercedes were the quickest car," team boss Christian Horner admitted after Canada. "They ran into their issues, whatever they were, [but] they were very, very strong.

“We still have a lot to do. We were 12-15 km/h slower compared to a Force India or Williams on the straight, and that is where we need to improve."

Mercedes, of course, want to get straight back on the winning trail after the overheating issue that fried their ERS and robbed the W05 Hybrids of 160 bhp, and left points leader Nico Rosberg prey to Ricciardo in the closing stages in Canada.

And while Rosberg is keen to safeguard his points lead - he has 140 to team mate Lewis Hamilton's 118 - the Briton is desperate to start closing the gap all over again, as he had done going into the Monaco weekend.

"Although it was a really, really tough day, I'm pleased with the result in Montreal," Rosberg says. "The car was strong throughout the weekend, so to have the problems we experienced in the race was not what we expected. It just goes to show that you can never be too well prepared and our priority has been to make sure the car is bullet-proof for the rest of the season.

“When you take everything into account, finishing second in that race was quite an achievement for everyone in the team. But we know we cannot afford to slip up, as our rivals are always there to take advantage. I'm looking forward to the chance to get back to our winning form once again."

"Montreal was a bit of a strange one for me," Hamilton admits. "I felt I had the pace right from the beginning of the weekend, but things just never quite came together. It's frustrating when these things are out of your hands.

“The two DNFs so far this season have not been ideal but that's racing and there's a long, long way to go. I caught up before and I can catch up again. It's going to take another four wins to make the difference so I'm going to do my best to get those results. I'm feeling good in the car right now and I'll be pushing flat out to come away with maximum points this weekend."

A quartet of drivers raced at the track when it was the A1-Ring - Ferrari pilots Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, Williams' Felipe Massa, and McLaren’s Jenson Button - and for all four this weekend could be crucial.

Alonso says Ferrari can draw hope from Red Bull’s example of turning a troubled pre-season around with victory in Canada, although Kimi Raikkonen has the more immediate concern of addressing his current struggles as he bids to out-score Alonso for the first time this season.

McLaren, meanwhile, will be bringing a major aerodynamic upgrade this weekend for the MP4-29, which could boost their performance and also reveal their chances of success over the remainder of the season.

“I think it's great that we're going back to Austria," Button says. “I think it's a great venue, a fantastic location for a Grand Prix. From my previous visits, I remember the racing line for Turn 1 would lead us far out over the exit kerbs and on to the run-off - it was crazy! It'll be interesting to see what has changed in the intervening 10 years - I hear that the track has been left largely unchanged, but that the pits and paddock have been renovated. I think that's a good call - the track is simple but great. A mini-classic."

Regarding the modifications to the car, racing director Eric Boullier says: “For this weekend we'll be evaluating a number of short- and long-term performance steps. It's still too early to feel confident about calling them raceable options - it's more about evaluating their applicability at the circuit than simply hoping they'll improve lap-time. Nonetheless, we hope the steps will pave the way for an improvement."

Across at Williams, Massa and the team will be looking to bounce back immediately after his last-lap collision with Sergio Perez robbed the Brazilian of a potential top-four finish in Montreal. Team mate Valtteri Bottas salvaged points with seventh, but it was another case of what might have been for the team.

That was also true of Force India, with Perez and Nico Hulkenberg coming to the fore courtesy of a bold one-stop strategy in Montreal. The Mexican had a glimpse of potential victory as he hounded Rosberg’s ailing Mercedes, but faded in the final laps and had been pushed to fourth when he and Massa collided. As a result, he will have to take a five-place grid penalty this weekend.

Marussia likewise need to fight back from the impact of collateral damage, after Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton wiped each other out just three turns into the race in Canada. While the pair disputed the blame, it was Chilton - whose record of finishing every one of his 25 career Grands Prix was finally ended - who was reprimanded by the stewards, with the Briton carrying a three-place grid drop into this weekend.

While the Red Bull Ring has been significantly upgraded since it last hosted Formula One racing in its previous guise as the A1-Ring between 1997 and 2003, it is also not too dissimilar to Montreal’s Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve - which means fuel consumption and brake wear are expected to be high. Four long straights will help cooling, and also mean high top speeds will once again be crucial to success - while one tricky aspect is that all the major braking zones are uphill, which can make overtaking difficult as the braking distances are reduced.

Pirelli have brought the same supersoft and soft tyre selections they took to Monaco and Montreal, though the Red Bull Ring has different characteristics to both, with just nine corners and two main straights.

"It's always exciting to go to a new circuit,” Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery says. "Everyone starts on a level playing field, with the teams and drivers who dial themselves into the new conditions soonest coming out on top.

“With any new venue, the work done during free practice becomes particularly important, so the teams will be looking to take as much information as possible from the Friday and Saturday sessions in order to assess the behaviour of the tyres on the track with different fuel loads and set-ups. This will be the key to qualifying race strategy.”

Weather forecasts suggest settled conditions for the majority of the weekend, with ambient temperatures in the range of 20 to 24 degrees Celsius - although overnight showers are also expected.

Two DRS zones will be used this weekend. The first begins 85m after Turn 2, with the detection point 360m before the same corner. The second uses a detection zone 10m after Turn 8, with activation occurring 110m after the final Turn 9.

Sunday’s race will run over 71 laps or 307.020 kilometres (190.776 miles) and starts at 1400 hours local time, which is two hours ahead of GMT.