Charles Leclerc and Ferrari missed a huge opportunity to really hurt Max Verstappen at Silverstone and they may regret that should the defending champion strike back on Red Bull‘s home track at the Austrian Grand Prix.
Verstappen carries a 34-point lead in the F1 driver standings from teammate Sergio Perez, with Leclerc a further nine points behind.
But, there are more points on offer this weekend because it’s the second sprint event of the year so up to 34 points can be won on Saturday and Sunday.
The threat of rain means a bigger chance of a surprise, on a track where the margins are typically very tight.
Verstappen’s impressive Red Bull Ring record
The Red Bull Ring is arguably Verstappen‘s best track on the calendar, in the same way Lewis Hamilton always goes well at Silverstone.
Verstappen took his second podium in F1 there in 2016 and has won four of the last five races he’s finished in Spielberg since 2018.
He blitzed the field in the two Austrian races last year, which were probably two of the most forgotten Grand Prix in a dramatic and thrilling 2021 season.
The Red Bull powertrains turbocharger will work wonders on the power-sensitive Spielberg circuit and the low-drag philosophy of the RB18 will truly make it a beast on the straights.
Traditionally, shorter radius corners play into the hands of Red Bull too, and Verstappen‘s ability to attack the kerbs and stand on the throttle in each of the seven ‘proper’ corners around the 4.3km track is a mighty combination.
“It’s always a really enjoyable weekend for me to have so much support coming from Holland,” Verstappen told the press.
“But also it’s a home Grand Prix for us and we’ve had really good results in the past. So, somehow, it’s always been good to us.
“I really enjoy the layout as well, fast corners, but also few technical low-speed corners. With the elevation changes as well in the track, I think it just makes it a really interesting track.”
Can Leclerc have a clean weekend?
The last five events have been a disaster for Leclerc, most of which has been down to the team and the car.
An engine failure in Spain was followed by a strategy error in Monaco, another engine problem in Baku, grid penalties in Canada due to his power unit issues and a major strategic mistake last time out at Silverstone.
Leclerc could have won all five of those races to pick up 125 points, instead he gained 34 points. That is a punch to the stomach.
Somehow, Leclerc continues to pick himself up race after race, showing he is a champion in the making. Surely his luck will turn around soon.
He almost drove with anger during the final 10 laps of the British GP, salvaging fourth with a stunning defensive drive with plenty of aggression.
Team principal Mattia Binotto visited Leclerc at his home in Monaco this week to ensure the pair were on good terms. In the end, good results are what usually keep a driver and team together in F1.
“We know where we did the mistakes and I hope we can grow from that,” Leclerc told reporters.
“Me personally there’s nothing I could have done differently in a way, then as a team, we have changed a few things already, just in the way of communication throughout the race, to be ready in that particular moment.
“Once a safety car is out, you need to take a decision there, and if you are not ready for that, it’s tricky. As a team we have changed a few things.”
Changing things is all well and good, but doing it when the pressure is on is something Ferrari need to prove if they want to beat Red Bull.
Can Mercedes continue their Silverstone form?
Mercedes definitely made a step forward with their upgrades at the British GP, but Austria could see Hamilton and George Russell return to a fight with Alpine and McLaren.
The Red Bull Ring will be a true test as to whether Mercedes‘ latest development has really worked, or if Hamilton‘s superb Silverstone performance was track specific.
There’s no doubt the W13 looked stable and was excellent in the medium and high speed corners.
But, the softest tyre range in Austria and the nature of the track will be difficult according to Toto Wolff.
“It’s a very different track to Silverstone and one that hasn’t always suited us in the past,” said Wolff.
“But the cars have changed drastically since we were last in Spielberg. We’ll keep our heads down, prepare the best we can and hopefully we can build momentum from Silverstone.”
AlphaTauri need points this weekend after scoreless Grand Prix in Montreal and Silverstone where Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda tangled during the race.
Tsunoda has been much improved in 2022, but a silly crash at the pit exit and a half-hearted move in his teammate have undone his good work.
“I am glad that we can go racing again after just a few days to put the Silverstone race behind us,” said Tsunoda.
“The only good moment of that weekend was on Saturday afternoon when we worked well in the wet conditions to qualify better than we had hoped, based on how Friday went.
“I couldn’t do anything about the collision after the start and later unfortunately I had the incident with Pierre. We discussed it as a team and now we move forward.”
Given they also have a Red Bull powertrains engine and a car which can attack the kerbs, AlphaTauri could punch above their weight and be towards the sharp end of the midfield.
More great racing on the way
Like Silverstone, the Red Bull Ring is a great track for racing with three DRS zones on consecutive straights going into Turns 1, 3 and 4.
Verstappen and Leclerc had their first big F1 battle at the 2019 Austrian GP which saw the Dutchman controversially barge his way past to win.
We shouldn’t forget Carlos Sainz too, who has the F1 maiden win monkey off his and can drive with more confidence and freedom. Sainz will need to deliver another strong weekend to consolidate his good form.
A sprint weekend means there are two race starts which adds to the excitement as things can get very tight on the opening lap at Austria due to the big braking zones in the first few corners.
Expect elbows out and a Red Bull or two which could rule the Ring.