The Austrian GP — The Quickest Track on the Calendar
Welcome to Austria, the 9th leg of what has been so far an exhilarating F1 season. Last minute overtakes, former veterans returning to the tracks, a Ferrari 1–2, a Mercedes 1–2 and a rookie-driven Williams finishing on the podium; this season has truly seen it all.
What Happened to Vettel?
The exciting Azerbaijan GP featured a heated exchange between Hamilton and Vettel that warranted further investigation. Fortunately or unfortunately, Vettel has been pardoned with no further punishment, since he agreed to apologize publicly. It is debatable whether Vettel deserved a greater punishment for setting a bad example, or whether Hamilton’s actions were unethical. But all that is behind us now. The fact of the matter is Vettel and Hamilton are going to go at it in Austria, just as hungry for the win as ever.
The Spielberg Red Bull Ring is a 4.32km long circuit set on the backdrop of the spectacular and scenic Styrian mountains. Lush green hills surround this high-speed circuit, and the roar of the cars’ engines pierce the serene silence of the region. Originally known as the Österreichring, the circuit was a regular part of the Formula 1 calendar from 1970 to 1987, and from 1997 to 2003. The circuit in its current form has been raced on since 2014, and Mercedes has dominated all three races held since then.
The Red Bull Ring has only 10 corners and is one of the shortest tracks on the calendar. Right after turn 1 is one of the race track’s main straights, which leads uphill to the braking zone for turn 2. Then a sprint to Turn 3, which is a tricky downhill right hander. Drivers struggle to extract traction at this turn and then get on the gas to get up to speed for a series of 4 high-speed corners. Drivers take these turns at around 200 kph and then accelerate again before slowing for the final two right-handers, which lead back to the start-finish straight.
The track is not very hard on the brakes since only a few of the corners are slow. Engine power is important, but not as vital as it was in Baku since there aren’t any extremely long flat out sections. This circuit will likely test the aerodynamics of the cars, and their ability to extract downforce and grip at high speed.
This track records the shortest lap times on the calendar — the current lap record is at 68 seconds. With the trends we’ve been seeing this year, that record will surely get shattered. Will we see a sub 1-minute F1 lap at some point this weekend?
Our Expectations for This Weekend
The race in 2016 had Vettel retiring while ahead, as his right rear tire exploded after running over debris. Hamilton clinched first after making contact with his then-teammate Nico Rosberg on the final lap. Verstappen was 2nd, closely followed by Raikkonen.
As Spielberg is a fast circuit, we can expect a standard Mercedes — Ferrari top 4 with Red Bull behind. Also worth watching is the Force Indias (provided they don’t crash into each other) and the Williams, as both teams demonstrated their pace in Baku. Red Bull will really want to make sure they provide Max with a race-worthy car, as the youngster will like returning to the track that he finished second at last year. Moreover, Max’s lack of chequered flags this season reflects poorly on the team. Force India will be desperately trying to discipline the team and make sure they don’t potentially self-destruct for the 3rd race in a row. Mclaren-Honda now has their first points on the board, will hope to score more this race especially since they’ve upgraded to the Honda — Spec 3 engine. Although Spielberg is fast, it is not as power sensitive as Montreal and Baku. As a result, we can expect to see an intense battle for points amongst the midfield cars.