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F1 2017: Austria Gp Preview – Advantage Mercedes

Red Bull Ring - Austrian Grand Prix

From the confines of Baku City Formula 1 returns to the sprawling vista of Austria for the ninth round of the 2017 championship.

Situated in Spielberg the Red Bull Ring is a short circuit consisting of nine corners in total. These corners are linked with several long straits and though it may be a power-dominant circuit its layout allows more than a few good spots for overtaking. “At any kind of power circuit like Austria you want to be smooth and get good exits in order to give yourself the best chance on the long straights,” said Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. “The compromise is always the aero package. In the middle to the end of the lap you want more downforce because the corners are quite fast but more downforce means you are slower on the straights, so the key is to find a good balance throughout the lap”.

The Austrian circuit is of course owned by Red Bull which makes the weekend all the more important for the team. Ironically the layout of the Red Bull Ring and its demand on engine power has never been a Renault strong suit. Nevertheless, a minor upgrade, brought by Renault in Baku, has moved them slightly forward in terms of ultimate power output. What’s more, both Red Bulls ran relatively well in Baku, which is similarly in its demands on the power unit. It is perhaps unlikely that Ricciardo or Verstappen could, on pure pace, beat either Mercedes or Ferrari but likewise, they’ll likely not be challenged by either Williams or Force India who traditionally perform well at low drag circuits. Red Bull and their drivers are probably the most canny drivers on the grid and they will be close enough to snatch up any positions should something go awry.

GP EUROPA F1/2016The Pirelli tyre compounds available this weekend, the ultra- and supersoft, would ordinarily play to the strength of the Ferrari. While they’ll still likely fair better on the ultrasoft compound the low level of degradation will limit any creativity on pit stop strategies. What’s more the ultrasoft tyre is effectively last year’s supersoft tyre and on a circuit where drivers made do with a one-stopper in 2016 it’s unlikely that any one team will carry a significant advantage.

The FIA had announced that there would be no further punishment for Vettel behaviour in Baku during which he turned his Ferrari into the side of Hamilton’s Mercedes behind the safety car. While the outcome of the re-investigation has gone in Vettel’s favour it is an important weekend for the Ferrari driver regardless. As it stands Vettel remains in the lead of the championship but there’s no denying that Canada and Baku were messy races, which has somewhat, stalled Ferrari’s momentum. This will not be an easy weekend for Ferrari either. The circuit layout means that Mercedes start the weekend as clear favourites and you can bet that the media will still be posing questions about the Baku-incident. In fact, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Ferrari institutes a media blackout on their drivers this weekend.

Sebastian Vettel - Italian Grand Prix qualifyingWhatever your opinion of Vettel’s behaviour and what sort of punishment he does, or does not deserve, he must deliver this weekend. The best way to put the last race behind him and to control the story is by delivering on track. It wont be easy though. Hamilton and Mercedes not only start the weekend as clear favourites and without the incessant and uncomfortable attention of the media, but, vitally, with a sort of momentum that can quickly become ominous.

About Natalie Le Clue

Natalie Le Clue is an F1 aficionado of the most dedicated vein. And, true to form for any F1-enamoured junkie, she readily admits to crying the first time she saw a F1 car, calling it an ‘overwhelming moment’. Natalie has won the 2010 gSport Woman In Media award, the 2015 Woman In Media Print award, and has been named as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in South African Sport by the Department of Sport and Recreation. Natalie is currently serving as SAfm's F1 correspondent. Follow Natalie on Twitter @nlc27

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