This weekend sees F1 return to a more conventional circuit after the ‘outlier’ of the new street track in Baku.
The Red Bull Ring, as it is now known, is a simple 9 turn high speed circuit with some long straights, open corners and technical challenges. So who will come out on top and what does a winning strategy look like for the other teams?
On paper this race should favour Mercedes and not do any favours to Red Bull, which has struggled on its own race track since it came back on the calendar.
With three straights where the cars hit over 300km/h, the track is classed as a power circuit and while Renault has made great progress since the new update was introduced over the Monaco and Canadian GP weekends, it’s still a good 30hp down on the Mercedes and Ferrari engines.
This should be a good circuit for Ferrari, which is only now able to show the improvements made during the spring after a series of mistakes and unfortunate events masked their pace. Whether Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen can hope to challenge Mercedes for the race win, as they could in Montreal, for example, remains to be seen.
Qualifying remains a challenge, as Mercedes still have the edge over the single lap, but the three tyre options open up some possibilities for Ferrari to be aggressive on race strategy and take the fight to Mercedes.
Force India is another team that should go well this weekend; the team has been on great form since the chassis updates introduced in Barcelona and Sergio Perez’ confidence is soaring. Williams is another; after Valtteri Bottas’ strong performance in Canada, this is another track where Williams would expect to feature strongly. Felipe Massa was on pole here in 2014.
The weather is expected to be much cooler than last year, with temperatures of 20 degrees on race day and some showers around for Saturday and Sunday. This will affect the tyre life.
The Pirelli tyre choice is Ultra Soft, SuperSoft and Soft. This combination was in action in Monaco and Montreal and it was interesting to note in the latter race that the Supersoft was a poor race tyre in the cool conditions, so most teams avoided it.
Austria has been a one stop race in recent times, but this year could see some variation. With Ultrasoft being the qualifying tyre and therefore the starting tyre for the top ten runners, it will be interesting to see how the teams decide to play it. A pit stop is quite fast at 22 seconds, so a strategy that leans on two fast stints on UltraSoft could be worth exploring.
One of the key considerations with switching onto the soft, based on last year’s situation, is that the slow warm-up of the soft tyre meant that undercut would not be possible. This means that the tactical option for the car behind of pitting a lap earlier than the rival ahead and then using the performance of the new tyre on the out lap, will not necessarily work out to put you ahead of your rival.
The key numbers at the Austrian GP
Nico Rosberg’s victory in the European Grand Prix gave Mercedes its 52nd F1 triumph, which moves the team clear of Red Bull into fifth place on the all-time win list.
Mercedes can overcome another one of Red Bull’s records if its drivers lead 66 more laps than Daniel Riccardo or Max Verstappen in Austria. If they do, the German manufacturer will move above Red Bull’s tally of 3,161 F1 laps led.
A third piece of history, and the first outright record, is also up for grabs for Hamilton and Rosberg. If either one of the duo secures first place in qualifying, they will tie F1’s all-time record for teammate poles, which is currently held by Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, who notched up 52 for Ferrari between 2000 and 2005.
Sergio Perez claimed his second podium in three races with his third place in Baku, and that means he has now tied Pedro Rodriguez’ Mexican record of seven F1 podium finishes. Interestingly, the drivers starting from pole, third and seventh on the grid, have comprised the podium of the last three races.
One driver who left Baku with a notable streak coming an end was Pascal Wehrlein. After the German driver’s brakes failed at Turn 1 in Azerbaijan with 11 laps to go, it forced him into his first retirement of the season and the first DNF of his fledgling F1 career.
Although only Rosberg is the only driver from the current crop to have won at the Red Bull Ring, Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and Manor’s Rio Haryanto have scored GP2 wins at the Austrian track. Nasr won the feature race in 2014, while Haryanto triumphed in the 2015 sprint race.
Finally, if Hamilton, Jenson Button or Jolyon Palmer takes the win on Sunday, it will be the 250th victory for a British driver in F1. Germany is second on the list, with 164, most of which come courtesy of Schumacher and Vettel
What are you looking forward to at the Austrian Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.