PREVIEW: 2019 Formula 1 Austrian Grand Prix – Red Bull Ring

by Sudha Sundararaj

The ninth round of the 2019 FIA Formula 1 World Championship will take place this weekend at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria. The thirty-second running of the Austrian Grand Prix will take place at the foothills of the picturesque Styrian mountains.

The Austrian Grand Prix first debuted on the Formula 1 calendar in 1964 at the Zeltweg Airfield. The circuit was deemed dangerous and dropped after one race there. The race rejoined the calendar at the Österreichring (Austrian circuit) in 1970.

Since then the race has been held at differently configured and named circuits there. Currently the circuit is called the Red Bull Ring and the Grand Prix has returned to the calendar after a decade-long hiatus in 2014.

The inaugural Austrian Grand Prix was won by Lorenzo Bandini for Ferrari in 1964. Nico Rosberg won the first Austrian Grand Prix on its return in 2014.

The Formula 1 paddock will return to Austria for the first time after the death of the legendary Austrian three-time world drivers’ champion Niki Lauda.

What happened at the 2019 French Grand Prix?

Lewis Hamilton scored his sixth win of the season at the 2019 French Grand Prix. The Mercedes AMG Motorsport team maintained its perfect record with eight wins in the first eight races of this season. The Silver Arrows topped every session and were dominant in the scorching heat at the Circuit Paul Ricard.

Hamilton took pole position ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas. Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen started on the second row. The McLaren drivers, Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz, were on the third row. Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly, and Antonio Giovinazzi lined up behind them.

Hamilton made a good start to lead Bottas, Leclerc, Verstappen, Sainz and Norris into Turn 1. The Briton steadily built a comfortable gap to Bottas in his first stint on the medium compound tyres.

Vettel started out of position in seventh-place on the grid and had to fight his way to fifth position behind Hamilton, Bottas, Leclerc, and Verstappen.

The McLaren drivers were the best of the rest and had good race pace. Behind them Gasly, Giovinazzi (both on the soft compound tyres), Ricciardo, Kimi Räikkönen, and Nico Hülkenberg held station.

After the first set of pit stops, Gasly and Giovinazzi fell behind and Hamilton stretched his lead at the front. A rather processional race unfolded with all the excitement coming in the final laps.

An errant bollard brought out the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) for a few minutes. When the VSC period ended, Bottas had lost tyre temperature and Leclerc cut the gap to the Finn rapidly. The Frenchman was in DRS-range in the final laps but could not overtake Bottas.

Meanwhile behind them, Norris hit trouble as a hydraulics issue affected his DRS, brakes and power steering. The young Briton managed to stay ahead of the trio of Ricciardo, Räikkönen, and Hülkenberg until the final lap.

But a dodgy overtake move by Ricciardo pushed Norris off the track and saw him drop three positions in one corner. Ricciardo then tried to overtake Räikkönen for seventh position with all four wheels outside the circuit limits.

The two five-second penalties that was imposed post-race by the stewards on Ricciardo for both the infringements dropped him to eleventh position from seventh position.

Hamilton led from lights to flag to clinch his sixth win of the season. Bottas held on to second position as he survived the late charge by Leclerc. Verstappen finished comfortably in fourth position ahead of Vettel.

Sainz,  Räikkönen, Hülkenberg, Norris and Gasly completed the top 10 positions and scored valuable points. Vettel took the extra point for fastest lap to add to his points tally.

What happened at the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix?

Max Verstappen scored a resounding victory at the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix to take his first win of that season. The Dutchman cheered on by a large sea of orange-clad countrymen scored the first win for Red Bull Racing at their home Grand Prix. Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel finished second and third respectively.

Bottas started in pole position with Hamilton beside him on the first row. Räikkönen got a good start and was alongside the Mercedes drivers. As Hamilton edged ahead, Bottas lost out and fell to fifth position. With intense jostling at the front, Vettel who started in sixth position fell behind at the start.

By the time DRS was enabled, the order was Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Räikkönen, Ricciardo, Vettel, Grosjean, Magnussen, Hülkenberg and Ocon.

On lap 12,  Hülkenberg pulled off the track with smoke pouring out of the back of his car. Two laps later, the unlucky Bottas’ race ended with a gearbox problem. As the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was deployed briefly, Ferrari and Red Bull double-stacked their drivers and put on the more durable soft compound tyres.

Mercedes did not pit the race leader Hamilton and was caught napping by their rivals. On an unusually hot day with temperatures in the mid-40 degrees centigrade, the Pirelli tyres were blistering fast.

On lap 25, Hamilton pitted and rejoined in fourth position behind Verstappen, Räikkönen and Ricciardo. Mercedes appeared to have thrown away a win with yet another strategy blunder under the Virtual Safety Car.

Even as team-mate Verstappen led the race, Ricciardo suffered heavy blistering on his tyres. On lap 39, the Australian was forced to pit again. On lap 53, Ricciardo was forced to retire with a gearbox issue.

Hamilton complained about loss of power and had fallen to fifth behind title-rival Vettel. On lap 64, Hamilton’s race ended with fuel pressure problems. This was the first double retirement for the Mercedes team since the Spanish Grand Prix in 2016.

Verstappen managed his overheating rear tyres and defended against the faster Ferrari cars behind him in the final laps. Verstappen held firm to take his fourth career victory. Räikkönen and Vettel finished on the podium and brought home vital points and made it count for the Italian team.

The Haas F1 team and Romain Grosjean redeemed themselves at this race. Grosjean scored his first points of the season as he finished in fourth position. Team-mate Kevin Magnussen finished in fifth position for a double-points finish for the Haas team.

The then Force India team (now Racing Point team) scored a double points finish also. Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez finished in sixth and seventh positions respectively.

The then Sauber team (now Alfa Romeo Racing team) had their drivers in the points with Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson in ninth and tenth positions respectively. Fernando Alonso who started in the pit lane finished in a creditable eighth position to bring home points for McLaren.

The unexpected double DNF for Mercedes handed the lead to Ferrari in both the title races. Red Bull Racing had with the win at the Austrian Grand Prix scored three wins to match the three wins of Mercedes and Ferrari in the first nine races of the 2018 season.

The Circuit

The 4.318 km Red Bull Ring has ten corners, the fewest on an Formula 1 circuit. The circuit consists of four long straights which end in tight corners. This is a medium downforce circuit and puts a premium on straight line speed.

The cars are on full throttle 65% of the lap and it is a high brake-wear circuit. The engines are stressed out more at this track as it is 680 meters above sea level. This is one of the fastest circuits on the Formula 1 calendar with the shortest lap time of the year.

Credit: Pirelli Media

Sectors, Corners, and DRS Zones

Sector 1 (Turn 1 to Turn 2) starts with a right-hander at Turn 1 and a very long uphill straight leading into Turn 2.

Sector 2 (Turn 3 to Turn 6) starts with Turn 3 a heavy braking zone that offers good overtaking opportunities. This corner is an almost ninety-degree right-hander which leads to a long straight. The sector ends with the left-hander at Turn 6.

Sector 3 (Turn 7 to Turn 10) starts with the fast left-hander at Turn 7 which takes the cars around the “Bull of Spielberg” statue. The sector is then comprised of a series of fast right-hand corners with two long straights. The Jochen Rindt Kurve at Turn 9 is the fastest corner on the lap which is at the top of a crest and drops downhill after the apex.

There is an additional third DRS zone this year also. The first DRS detection point is after Turn 10 with the DRS activation zone after Turn 1. The second DRS detection point is before Turn 3 and the activation zone is on the long straight after Turn 3. The third DRS zone newly added last year has its detection point after Turn 9 and the DRS activation zone is on the long straight after Turn 10.

This is a circuit that offers good overtaking opportunities. This is further enhanced by the third DRS zone now.

Tyre Strategy

The white-striped hard tyres (C2), the yellow-striped medium tyres (C3) and the red-striped soft tyres (C4) nominated for this race is in the middle of the range of Pirelli tyres. This was the same compounds of tyres nominated for the races in Australia, China, Azerbaijan, and France.

The drivers have chosen seven or more sets of the soft compound tyres (C4) in the thirteen sets allocated to them.  The Mercedes drivers have chosen nine sets of the soft compound tyres. The Ferrari drivers have chosen only seven sets of the soft compound tyres. Verstappen has chosen eight sets of the soft compound tyres.

It was a one pit stop race for most of the drivers last year. The smooth asphalt surface causes low tyre degradation at this circuit. The high temperatures last year led to heavy blistering of the tyres. Cooler temperatures are predicted this year with very low chance of rain.

Credit: Pirelli Media

What should we look out for this year?

This is the first back-to-back race of the season. This gives the teams very little time to make any dramatic new changes to their cars after the last race in France.

Mercedes has been dominant so far winning the first eight races of this season. Hamilton will start as the favorite this year, even though the 2018 winner Verstappen will be the crowd favorite at the home Grand Prix of Red Bull Racing.

Ferrari brought new updates to the French Grand Prix that did not work very well. The Italian team persevered with the new front and rear wing and brake ducts, but did not use the new floor in the race.

The Ferrari SF90 with its strong straight line speed should perform well at the Red Bull Ring. But the team is trying to add more downforce to make up for the time lost in the medium and slow corners to Mercedes.

Verstappen has made a strong start to the season, totally outperforming his team-mate Gasly. The Dutchman has shown patience and good race craft to extract the maximum from the car this season.

Renault brought new updates to their home Grand Prix that worked to some extent. But McLaren was the class of the midfield in France and it will be interesting to see if they continue to make progress in Austria.

The struggling Haas F1 team had a poor weekend in France. Last year in Austria, the American team made a comeback of sorts. They will be hoping to do the same thing this year to get back on track as their struggles have worsened in recent races.

Hamilton (187 points) is now leading team-mate Bottas (151 pts) by thirty-six  points in the drivers’ championship. Vettel (111 points) retains his third position in the championship.  Verstappen (100 points) and Leclerc (87 points) rounds off the top 5 positions in the drivers’ championship.

Mercedes (338 points) has extended the lead in the constructors’ championship to 140 points over Ferrari (198 points). Red Bull Racing (137 points) led by Verstappen but hampered by the lack of points from Gasly sits in third position. McLaren (40 points) and Renault (32 points) complete the top 5 positions in the constructors’ championship.

Mercedes has made a dominant start to this season. At the end of the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix, the ninth race of the season, Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing had three wins each.

This season Mercedes goes to the Red Bull Ring with a perfect 100% win record. Last year in the scorching heat, Mercedes’ reliability issues took both their drivers out of the equation. The Silver Arrows has had niggling reliability issues in spite of winning the last two races.

Will the Austrian Grand Prix be the first race of this season at which a non-Mercedes driver finally ascends to the top step of the podium?

What’s the schedule?

Friday 28 June

12:30 GMT / 14:30 Local Time – Free Practice One
16:30 GMT / 18:30 Local Time – Free Practice Two

Saturday 29 June

13:30 GMT / 15:30 Local Time – Free Practice Three
16:30 GMT / 18:30 Local Time – Qualifying

Sunday 30 June

16:40 GMT / 18:40 Local Time – Race

How can I keep up with the action?

Follow all the action at the Checkered Flag with our extensive coverage, quotes and analysis of every session of the Austrian Grand Prix.

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