It has been one year since Ferrari last won a Formula 1 race, something that seemed scarcely believable when they were leading the championship in the first part of 2022.
Charles Leclerc overtook Max Verstappen three times on his way to victory at the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix, but 2023 has all been about the Dutchman.
He has led 224 consecutive laps coming into the 2023 Austrian GP and could add to that this weekend at Red Bull‘s home track.
All the predictions suggest more Verstappen dominance as he has already won four times in Spielberg – the most of any F1 driver since the sport returned to Austria in 2014.
The likelihood is Red Bull will make it nine wins in a row this season, but there are a few signs that Ferrari may cause a surprise.
Ingredients for a fast Ferrari
Ferrari had a tricky Saturday last time out in Canada as Leclerc was knocked out in Q2 and Carlos Sainz seemed to impede on a few occasions, receiving a three-grid place penalty for blocking Pierre Gasly.
Both drivers came from 10th and 11th to finish inside the top five, with Leclerc just 4.5 seconds behind third placed Lewis Hamilton.
Helmut Marko stated Ferrari were faster on both the medium and the hard tyres, than Verstappen, and that Red Bull were lucky the red cars started in the middle of the pack.
Ferrari are very good in traction zones and are generally better on soft tyres too. This is why they could be a serious threat to Red Bull as the Spielberg circuit relies on a strong rear out of the slow corners.
Pirelli have brought the softest tyre range to the Austrian GP – the C3, C4 and C5 – so you can begin to see why Ferrari might have a great chance of victory.
The Scuderia also conducted a filming day around their test track, Fiorano, ahead of Austria and will bring a raft of upgrades including a new floor.
“Another step in the right direction is definitely the target,” said Sainz. “The team back in Maranello has done an incredible effort to bring them forward to this race.
“I cannot thank enough the people back in Maranello with the extra hours that everyone’s put in to try and revert the situation and trying to put those extra minutes, extra hours of work to make these parts arrive.
“It’s been a huge effort by everyone, and from here, I wanted to congratulate them and tell them that we’re going to do our best to make them work well. And hopefully they’re all worth it and we can be competitive this weekend.”
Norris with upgrades only at McLaren
McLaren will also bring a significant upgrade package to Austria as they look to get back into the points after finishing outside the top 10 in Spain and Canada.
Lando Norris will have the new parts, with Oscar Piastri having to wait until the British GP, before McLaren bring further upgrades to Budapest.
“We’ve got upgrades on Lando’s car this weekend,” said Piastri. “The plan was both of us to have [it] in Silverstone but the team have done a very good job of getting one set forward for this weekend.
“So looking forward to seeing how that performs and of course we’ve got a stable package on my side of things, we know exactly what it’s capable of, so still try to get into the points and do what we can.”
A big month for De Vries
Nyck de Vries has been under pressure at AlphaTauri, having been outshone by Yuki Tsunoda so far this season.
There has been talk of whether De Vries will even last the season, but a couple of good results in Monaco and Spain saw those rumours fade away.
But, he had a tricky Montreal weekend which featured a clumsy incident when outbraking himself going into Turn 3 as he tried to overtake Kevin Magnussen.
Red Bull advisor Marko revealed Christian Horner and himself disagree about many things, and that the team principal didn’t want De Vries, which might be right.
“I think Dr Marko would appreciate it if I proved him wrong on track,” said De Vries. “That’s all I feel about it and what’s within my control.
“Equally there is no need to force anything. I think whenever you are trying harder or trying to force something that is not kind of ready then it won’t happen and then mistakes will happen.
“So I think the key is to just continue as we are and continue to focus on the job, remain patient, and then I think the potential is there. So, it’s just a matter of trying for things to come together.”
Wet weather and sprint variables
As it’s a sprint weekend, there is just one hour of practice before going into qualifying, so nailing the setup is more important than normal.
Earlier in the season, Red Bull were slightly vulnerable in being fast out of the blocks but that has not been the case recently as Verstappen has often blitzed FP1.
Wet weather is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, which could mix things up for both the sprint and the Grand Prix.
When it rains in Spieberg, it chucks it down too, so the drivers who can dance their way out of the traction zones and terrain changes will shine.
Fernando Alonso was very optimistic ahead of Montreal but is playing down his chances of challenging Red Bull this weekend.
“I think Red Bull is in their own league at the moment, this year,” said Alonso. “So, for us, it is important to score points with both cars every weekend and try to keep up the fight with Mercedes and Ferrari, which obviously is still hard to believe for us, that we are in this battle.
“When we started the season in Bahrain we were definitely not expecting to be up there, and now we are just enjoying every weekend and it’s good to be in this battle.”