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Austria preview - can Williams spring another Spielberg surprise?

18 Jun 2015

Williams sprang an upset in Austria last year as Felipe Massa stormed to pole position and Valtteri Bottas hounded Mercedes throughout the race. And with significant upgrades arriving for the FW37 this weekend, the team strongly believe they will once again be frontrunners.

"It's a circuit that is very rewarding for power and drag and we know that our car is strong in these areas, so we're confident," says head of vehicle performance Rob Smedley.

"We are coming out of a race where we've shown great pace and good tyre management so going into Austria we can be confident of aiming for the front again. It's a great little track out in the countryside, you get a lot of fans there who are big fans of Formula One which is always nice.

"Third is looking even more solid but we can't take anything for granted and it isn't just about third. We want to push on and try to close up to Ferrari. It's a circuit where we can make points on them and that is our target."

But just as the Spielberg layout suits Williams, it also plays to the strengths of the Silver Arrows. Last year it was Nico Rosberg who got the upper hand, but championship leader Lewis Hamilton - victorious last time out in Canada - has pledged to go all out to reverse that defeat.

"It was a great feeling to finally get back on top in Canada and add to the great memories I have there," the world champion says.

"Now, though, it's time to move on and put things right at a circuit I had a tough introduction to last year. Although I struggled in qualifying, starting down in ninth, it was actually a great race fighting back through the field. I think I was about fourth or fifth by the end of the first lap and then just kept chipping away to claw my way back to the podium, which was really good fun. Of course, I'll be working hard to have a clearer shot at the win on Sunday."

Rosberg is all too aware of the advantage of pole position - or perhaps to be more accurate the disadvantage of not starting from it. "Canada was really lost for me on the Saturday. Not getting everything together in qualifying hurt my chances big time - but I had the pace and that's a big positive to take forward and go maximum attack here.

"My first race at this track last year couldn't have been much better. Of course, we didn't have the ideal start in qualifying - but we nailed it on Sunday and it was great to get the win. I'm sure we'll have some tough competition here once again, though, with Williams and probably some others too."

Besides Williams, Ferrari are hopeful of a much better weekend in Austria after an underwhelming weekend in Canada where their pre-race engine upgrades failed to yield a major performance benefit. In contrast, Lotus showed some very strong form in Montreal so they come here optimistic of another decent performance, though Romain Grosjean will again surrender his E23 Hybrid to Jolyon Palmer for FP1.

"I think we are a good combination," says Pastor Maldonado, who celebrated his first points of the 2015 season in Canada. "We do have a good car this year and it's one which we seem to be able to get working well at different tracks. 

"We know it's not the fastest car as the Mercedes performs exceptionally well, but it's one which we can push hard and put up a fight. The other positive is that we seem to be getting on top of all the small reliability issues we had earlier in the year so there's potential for us to score good points in the races ahead."

It will likely be another challenging weekend for Red Bull and Toro Rosso however, with Renault's relative lack of horsepower a significant disadvantage on such a power-dependent track.

It could also be tough for McLaren, who struggled badly in Canada and are at a crunch point where an upturn is long overdue.

"We can't deny that retiring both cars in Montreal was a bitter blow," admits racing director Eric Boullier. "But what's important to remember is that, despite the disappointment of the last race, we're always learning and improving. 

"Reliability has been a key issue during our development push, particularly on Fernando's car. It's a crucial element of a race weekend that we need to improve in order to continue making progress. We're getting there, but, like some other teams, we're now getting to the stage of the season where faults and failures could result in penalties. But those are the rules, and they're the same for everyone."


Performance-wise, the race places big demands on the ERS systems, which have been an Achilles Heel for McLaren's Honda V6 at times this year. Also, Spielberg is not unlike Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in terms of high fuel consumption, although brake wear is less significant given there are four long straights that help cooling. Sheer grunt and good terminal velocity are also important, as is low-speed grip and traction out of corners. 

"Austria ends the run of soft and supersoft nominations that we see towards the middle of the season, on quite a diverse variety of tracks," Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery says. 

"This year, the drivers head to Spielberg with real data about the track for the first time, which will help them find the most efficient way to use the tyres. We're only expecting a small time gap between the two compounds in Austria, so this opens up a number of different possibilities as to how to run the race.

"The tyre strategy will depend on some extent to the weather: if it is warm we are more likely to see two stops, whereas if it's cool the balance might shift towards a one-stopper. Rain is also a distinct possibility in Styria at this time of year, as we saw during free practice last season, so the teams will basically have to be prepared for everything."

Indeed, current forecasts suggest a high chance of rain on Saturday and the possibility of afternoon showers on Sunday. Temperatures meanwhile are expected to fluctuate over the three days of running, from 18 degrees Celsius on Friday to 17 on Saturday and 20 on Sunday.

As in 2014, two DRS zones will be in operation over the weekend. The first has a detection point on the run down to Turn 2, and an activation point just after the same corner, while the second has a detection point just after Turn 8, and an activation point just after Turn 9, the start of the pit straight.

The 4.326-kilometre circuit meanwhile is largely unchanged from last year. Sunday's Grand Prix will start at 1400 local time (1200 GMT) and will run over 71 laps, or 307.020 kilometres (190.776 miles).