Formula 1 returns to the Red Bull Ring this weekend, and in doing so returns to the site of yet another controversial collision between Lewis Hamilton and a fellow title contender.
Nestled in the hills of Spielberg, Austria, sits the Red Bull Ring – a ten-turn, 2.63-mile race track owned, unsurprisingly, by Red Bull. It’s had several stints in F1, hosting eighteen races between 1970 and 1987 and then seven more between 1997 and 2003, before returning in 2014.
The track is the fastest of the season in terms of lap time (beating even Monaco) and, with this year’s cars proving decidedly faster than last year’s, we’re likely to see lap times tumble even further (and the number of blue flag calls rise exponentially).
With such high average speeds around the track congestion will play a part, and catching a slower car at the wrong point could spell disaster. Thankfully the circuit has a number of long straights, meaning getting past a slower car should be relatively easy (and that the tow will be integral).
Though it’s a home for the Red Bull team the track holds a special place in the hearts of many F1 fans and personnel. Mercedes’ Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff are both Austrian, with the former having won his home Grand Prix at the track in 1984.
CONTROVERSY AT AUSTRIA
The Austrian Grand Prix follows on from the Vettel-Hamilton contact at Baku last time out, and was the site of the Rosberg-Hamilton contact last year.
Nursing a brake issue and under heavy pressure from Lewis Hamilton, the last lap saw Nico Rosberg run deep into the first corner. This put him at a disadvantage for the long, uphill run to turn two, where Hamilton made up considerable ground and pulled alongside. Taking the defensive line Rosberg braked, looked at the apex, then carried on straight ahead. Figuring Rosberg had made at least an attempt to make the corner Hamilton turned in, only to find Nico Rosberg’s car was there. The pair made contact, with Hamilton running over and breaking Rosberg’s front wing.
The battle wasn’t over yet though. Having run wide Hamilton tried to rejoin the track, only to find Rosberg was there as well, blocking him from rejoining. He eventually got back on and passed Rosberg, as did Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen. Rosberg managed to crawl back home in fourth.
The crowd was clear who the fault lay with and booed Hamilton on the podium. It inevitably brought up the discussion of team orders – the idea of which made Mercedes AMG Petronas Team Boss Toto Wolff “want to puke [himself]”.
Of course the track is no stranger to infamous last lap moments and team orders discussions, with perhaps the most controversial coming in 2002. Rubens Barrichello was leading the race when, on the last lap, Ferrari ordered him to let team-mate Michael Schumacher through at the finish line so the German driver could collect the maximum amount of points. Barrichello obeyed the order, and lost the race by less than three tenths of a second – much to the ire of the crowd.
The podium saw Schumacher receive the first place trophy, then hand it to Barrichello to appease the jeering crowd. He then also took the second place trophy whilst Rubens (a Brazilian) stood atop the podium to the sound of the German national anthem. The two then stood on the winner’s step for the Italian anthem. Of course it wasn’t just the fans that were outraged by the display; the World Motor Sport Council were furious too, and handed Scuderia Ferrari a one million dollar fine for the podium antics.
2017 RACE WEEKEND
Heading into the 2017 Austrian Grand Prix Mercedes are at the top of the Constructors’ table, a mere 24 points ahead of Ferrari.
A tough weekend for Hamilton saw him finish behind Sebastian Vettel, the Mercedes driver now fourteen points behind the Ferrari driver. Valtteri Bottas sits third, 42 points adrift of the lead. The Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen is a distant fifth in the Championship.
Red Bull Racing enter the track that bears their name third in the championship. With a 113 point deficit they need to start putting together a car that Verstappen can finish races with if they want to start making headway in the Constructors’ Championship.
Sahara Force India had a disappointing finish in Baku, made all the worse for the contact between team-mates Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon. They’re fourth in the championship, with Perez and Ocon seventh and eighth respectively.
An incredible third place last time out saw Williams move up to fifth place in the Championship. Rookie Lance Stroll showed some real potential at Baku – will we see more this weekend?
Scuderia Toro Rosso are sixth, and will be looking for a strong result at what is also their home track. Drivers Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat are ninth and sixteenth in the standings, and both will be looking for strong finishes this weekend. Sainz will be particularly keen to impress, having spun on the opening lap of Baku in an overreaction to Kvyat rejoining the track.
Car and reliability issues have plagued Haas Ferrari throughout the season and they’re down in seventh, some twelve points below Toro Rosso.
Renault’s points this season have all come from driver Nico Hulkenberg, with the beleaguered Jolyon Palmer yet to get off the mark. Palmer’s car spent some time on fire in practice in Baku, ruling him out of qualifying, then an engine issue prevented him from finishing the race. Hulkenberg had a much simpler path to DNF, breaking his suspension against a wall after a safety car period.
Sauber Ferrari have just five points and no team principal following Monisha Kaltenborn’s departure. The five points have come from embattled driver Pascal Wehrlein, who famously scored his first F1 points at the Austrian Grand Prix last year whilst driving for the Manor team.
Last and, unfortunately, least it’s McLaren Honda. Fernando Alonso managed to take two points at Baku, the team’s first points of the season. Team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne is yet to score any points this season.
With such a short track, such fast cars, and such a fierce battle for the Championship emerging, the 2017 Austrian Grand Prix is sure to be one to watch. Whether we’ll see Red Bull Racing making a challenge at their home track, more contact between Hamilton and a title rival, or even another shock podium for Williams, you won’t want to miss the battle between two hardened champions at one of the shortest and fastest tracks of the year.