One of the highlights of the 2014 season is upon us as Austria makes its surprise return to F1 following an 11 year hiatus. The upgraded and newly named Red Bull Ring will host the 8th race of the season and conditions are expected to be perfect for 71 laps on Sunday where the 22 cars will battle it out.
Remarkably, only four drivers have ever driven around this circuit in Formula One before, but only Kimi Raikkonen has finished on the podium. His fellow elder statesman: Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa all have prior experience of the track, which is has the same layout at 11 years ago. Red Bull have put a lot of money into the circuit and financed a new grand stand and pit-straight for their home grands prix. This weekend will be as much a celebration of the drinks company as it is of Austria’ welcome return.
The 4.2 Km circuit is a re-modified version from the legendary Osterreichring, which hosted races from 1970-1987. Not as frightening as the original, the current guise still has history of producing controversy and drama. Now, it is one of the quickest laps on the calendar as Michael Schumacher showed in 2003 by setting the lap record at 1:08.670. Modern cars may go even quicker.
There are two DRS zones this weekend, with the first down the pit-straight and the second down another long straight between turns 2-3. There will be plenty of overtaking opportunities so expect plenty of wheel-to-wheel action in the midfield. Cars high on power, such as Williams and Force India, will benefit from the extra horse power they have from the Mercedes engines. It could mean that both Red Bull and Ferrari struggle more than usual, with the Scuderia almost resigned to another fruitless season. Pirelli have supplied the soft and super-soft tyres this weekend, so strategy will be as crucial as ever.
Who’s going to win?
Red Bull has momentum after Daniel Ricciardo won his maiden grands prix in Canada. But the track doesn’t really suit their strengths. This means that Mercedes are expected to be untouchable again, if their car keeps together. Nico Rosberg could take a firm grip on the world championship if he can extend his current lead of 22 points over Lewis Hamilton.
The Brit needs to hit-back this weekend, but it is possible that events in Canada saw his momentum swing dramatically away from him, after a stellar first few races. Rosberg will fancy his chances, and you feel that if he is to follow in his father’s footsteps and become world champion he needs to take full advantage when Hamilton is out of luck or out of form. The German believes he has a psychological edge over Lewis and it is hard to disagree.
However, it is irrelevant if both cars fail to finish. Austria is very much like Canada in that it is hard on brakes. The Mercedes failed when put under severe strain and the fragility of their car has been exposed. If they have failed to fully rectify the problems they suffered two weeks ago then the likes of Force India and Williams will be licking their lips.
Sergio Perez was handed a five-place grid penalty for his monstrous crash with Felipe Massa at the end of the Canadian race, while Max Chilton was also handed a penalty for tripping up his team-mate. Chilton is therefore likely to start at the back, while Perez will struggle to start any higher than 15th.
This intriguing championship battle goes on and on. Rosberg has the momentum and after the deflating result in Canada, Hamilton will struggle here. I predict Nico to win, just from Lewis. Sebastian Vettel has showed no signs of improvement against Ricciardo, so expect the Aussie to follow his win up with another podium here. Alonso, Raikkonen and Button could also score well as they have experience around the track.