Spielberg bei Knittelfeld, Austria: The Formula One circus sets up camp in the picture-postcard Styrian Alps this weekend for the Austrian Grand Prix, which presents Max Verstappen with the perfect antidote to last week’s Silverstone suffering.
The world champion has a fearsome record at the circuit owned by his RedBull team, winning not once but twice last year claiming the Austrian and Styrian Grand Prix in successive weekends.
That took his tally to four wins out of seven at one of the shortest venues and he again has the chance of double celebrations with the RedBullRing chosen to stage one of this season’s three sprint races.
First sprint of the year
Saturday’s 100km dash offers eight points to the winner with Verstappen more than capable of walking off Sunday night with all the 34 points on offer.
He managed that feat in the first sprint of the year at Imola, adding the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and the one point for the fastest lap 24 hours later.
A repeat would represent just the tonic after a trying time at the epic British Grand Prix when debris from an Alpha Tauri put paid to his pursuit of a seventh win out of 10 races run.
His and his team’s standout start to life with this radically new generation of cars sees him lead the drivers standings by 34 points from his Monaco-winning teammate Sergio Perez.
Next, a further nine points adrift, is Charles Leclerc whose pleasured at teammate Carlos Sainz’s maiden F1 win last weekend was diluted by frustration with Ferrari’s tactics.
Perez chased Sainz home with Lewis Hamilton revelling in his rebooted Mercedes, which was at last matching the top two teams’ speed to lift him tantalisingly close to ending his now record 11-race winless sequence.
The massive Silverstone crowd subjected Verstappen to plenty of booing, with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner saying pointedly about this weekend’s race: “We’ll maybe get a warmer reception there than here.”
It may be mid-summer in the Austrian mountains, all the snow finally melting away, but autumnal orange will be the predominant shade this weekend as tens of thousands of Verstappen’s Dutch fans make the trek to one of their European ‘home’ races.
Verstappen called on his Dutch supporters not to get their own back on Lewis Hamilton.
“They don’t have to do that for me. It’s not like it gives me extra power or anything like that,” he told De Telegraaf newspaper.
Solution to Mercedes car problems
Mercedes, meanwhile, had concrete evidence at Silverstone to suggest all their head-scratching to try to rid their capricious car of its faults, ‘porpoising’ or bouncing being high on the list, was finally paying off.
“We’ll keep our heads down, prepare the best we can and, hopefully, we can build momentum from Silverstone,” said Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ Austrian team chief.
He said Hamilton had driven a “brilliant” race last Sunday and the team were “proud of the character” displayed by teammate George Russell.
That was reference to how Russell went over to check on crash-victim Zhou Guanyu while the Chinese driver was trapped in his car which hurtled over the final barrier separating the circuit from the crowd.
Traditional weekend format
Zhou singled out the halo device for saving his life and he subsequently tweeted: “ I am now more keen than ever to be back on the track. I’ll see you in Austria!”
The appearance of the sprint means the traditional weekend format is changed with on Friday first practice and qualifying for the sprint which is preceded by second practice and which shapes the grid for Sunday’s race.
The RedBullRing circuit appears to have it own weather system, which adds an appealing dose of uncertainty into this 11th round of the 22-race championship.