• Austrian Grand Prix - Preview

Mercedes out to spoil Red Bull homecoming

Nate Saunders
June 19, 2014
Daniel Ricciardo's victory in Canada means Red Bull returns home on a high © Sutton Images
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It is fitting that Formula One returns to Austria and the newly-named Red Bull Ring in Spielberg for the first time in 11 years on the back of Red Bull's first win of the 2014 season. Daniel Ricciardo's memorable maiden victory in Canada was a refreshing change to a season which has otherwise been dominated by Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, as Mercedes' invincibility from the opening six races seemed to fade in the midst of engine and brake issues. The circuit plays right into the hands of Mercedes once again but the events of Montreal will have surely left a dent in the team's psyche after such a dominant start to the season - another one-two at Red Bull's stomping ground would go a long way to proving the team is not about to let its position slip.

In form

Daniel Ricciardo arrives in Montreal as a race winner, a fitting reward for a man who has had a phenomenal debut season at Red Bull, one so good that he has made four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel look fairly ordinary at times. The Australian has gone from strength to strength at his new home and has not only set up a fascinating season-long duel with Vettel, but also given Red Bull hope it can legitimately challenge Mercedes with two world class drivers in a straight fight should it find itself in a position to do so this year. Sebastian Vettel was gracious in parc ferme and on the podium alongside Ricciardo as he returned to the top three for the first time since Malaysia. He's not the in-form driver in the Red Bull garage at the moment but third will have been a huge lift for the champion.

Nico Hulkenberg's endeavours in Montreal were overshadowed by team-mate Sergio Perez's race form and last-lap crash, but by crossing the line in fifth the German continued his run of scoring points in every race so far this season. While the erratic Perez has been spectacular in small bursts, Hulkenberg has been solid all season - finishing outside the top six just once. Fellow countryman Nico Rosberg still leads the championship after an invaluable second position in Canada, coming after he coaxed his stuttering Mercedes home despite engine troubles. Lewis Hamilton's second retirement of the season has given Rosberg breathing space at the top of the standings once again.

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Out of form

It's been two costly races for Lewis Hamilton. Despite finishing second in Monaco he lost the championship lead and had something of a mini meltdown, before a retirement out of his hands in Canada saw him drop a further 22 points off Rosberg in the battle for the title. In a season which has seen the pendulum swing between the two Mercedes drivers, it is now Hamilton in need of a fightback. Mercedes will be hoping the problems encountered by both its drivers in Canada was a one off, especially as those problems eventually helped Red Bull to its first victory of 2014. On the whole there should not be too much concern, however, as the nature of the Spielberg track should play right into its hands.

Kimi Raikkonen's frustrating season continued in Canada, with the Finn registering just a single point in another race he seemed to spend a significant portion of fighting with his car. The Finn was angry with rumours circulating the Montreal paddock suggesting Ferrari is planning to dump him after just one season - which do not seem to be grounded in any fact whatsoever - but he failed to turn in a performance to silence the critics. If anyone needs a slice of luck and, more importantly, a strong showing in Austria, then it's Raikkonen.

Ones to watch

Mercedes power will have the edge in Austria given its long straights, meaning Williams and Force India may have another chance to battle it out for a podium following the ugly fallout from Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa's last-lap crash in Canada.

Felipe Massa's crash with Sergio Perez in Canada culminated in a bitter war of words © Getty Images
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After failing to deliver on a season which promised so much, this appears to be a great opportunity for Williams to finally get back to parc ferme. Meanwhile McLaren targeted Austria to be the beginning of its fightback after a disappointing start to the season and arrives with an upgrade package which could put them back in the mix.

Talking points

Tipping the balance

It's easy to forget that Lewis Hamilton was almost untouchable just a few races ago given how the last two weekends have gone for him. Monaco was a low point for Mercedes' season so far in terms of the harmony of the garage, but Hamilton came off worse in pretty much every way conceivable. He arrived in Canada expected to dominate but was pipped to pole by Nico Rosberg, a man who seems to have been given a new lease of life since his victory in Monte Carlo.

There is no guarantee Rosberg will have two mechanical retirements this season, and if he does, there is no guarantee Hamilton will not have any more on his side. He will remember how long it took for him to claw back Rosberg's initial 25-point lead after his retirement in Australia. With Mercedes likely to be on the podium in each race for the foreseeable future Hamilton cannot afford to lose further ground to Rosberg in Austria. It may be early on in the season but the last couple of weekends have had something of a season-defining feel to them; Hamilton needs to respond in kind to see that momentum return to his side of the garage.

White noise

Once again Formula One has spent the down time in between races calling for meetings and/or attending meetings to discuss the future of the sport. At the top of the agenda at Wednesday's meeting of the F1 Commission at Biggin Hill in London was how to make the sport "more attractive" to its fans. It may seem like a valid question given F1's falling viewing figures and the debate around the V6 turbo era, but it is an odd topic of discussion when the sport is persevering with double points at the final race in spite of the fact the vast majority of fans are strongly opposed to it. Even Bernie Ecclestone, the brains behind the idea, has admitted it is "unfair", but still it remains. If F1 is serious about improving the product, listening to the fans on the issues that are really driving them away from the sport would be a good place to start.

Power trip

Much like Montreal and Silverstone, Spielberg is a circuit which will benefit the power unit of Mercedes while it is the dominant engine in the field due to the fact it has just nine corners in between a series of long straights. With just eight corners and four sizeable straights, approximately 50% of the lap will be taken at full throttle, placing a greater strain on the MGU-H - which needs to recover and deliver energy to the MGU-K to minimise lap time. The higher altitude will also cause the turbo to spin at a higher rate to compensate for low ambient pressure, which could provide the likes of Mercedes with a bit of a headache given the big problems they suffered at mid-distance in Montreal.

Facts and stats

Michael Schumacher claimed a controversial victory in 2002 © Sutton Images
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  • The Red Bull Ring largely mirrors the configuration of the A1 Ring, the site it was built on and the circuit which hosted the Austrian Grand Prix in its former guise between 1997 and 2003.
  • After purchasing the circuit in 2008, Red Bull began a €70million reconstruction with the hope of one day bringing the venue back to Formula One standards, which it has done with major trackside updates.
  • Of the current grid, only Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa have competed in a Formula One race at the Spielberg circuit.
  • Alain Prost's three Austrian Grand Prix victories (1983, 1985 and 1986) is a record yet to be surpassed.

Betting

Despite the anomaly in Canada, Mercedes are still outright favourites to visit the top step again this weekend. The bookies seem to still be sticking with Lewis Hamilton despite his recent fortunes, pipping Nico Rosberg with odds of 8/13 over 7/4. Daniel Ricciardo is 14/1 to make it back-to-back wins, while there are odds of 7/1 for Felipe Massa to make up for his Montreal disappointment and secure his first podium for Williams.

Weather

Rain could make Friday practice something of a washout if the teams decide there is little to be gained by attempting wet runs, as we saw at Monaco. At the moment it looks as though the rain will be staying away, meaning surely only another engine catastrophe or a clash between Hamilton and Rosberg will stop Mercedes returning to winning ways in Spielberg.

Prediction

Having predicted a Mercedes victory in every preview so far this season we are going to go for something slightly different. Though the odds seem stacked in favour of Mercedes we are going to stick our neck on the line and say Sebastian Vettel will silence the naysayers and give Red Bull the most perfect of homecomings.

Brake Facts: Austria
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