Start, Red Bull Ring, 2014

Will upgraded Williams and Ferrari’s soft-tyre pace narrow the gap to Mercedes?

2015 Austrian Grand Prix preview

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Start, Red Bull Ring, 2014Formula One’s return to Austria last year was a major break with convention.

A new (or at least, revived) round of the championship was held not in some far-flung corner of the globe, but within easy reach of the teams’ headquarters. Instead of empty grandstands, locals flocked to the race in huge numbers.

There were surprises for the competitors as well. The Red Bull Ring may have been the first F1 venue to get the Hermann Tilke treatment back in 1997, but it retains a whisper of the character of the old Osterreichring. Drivers reacted with surprise to the rare pleasure of racing on a circuit where most of the corners are mid-to-high speed.

This should all set the scene for an exciting contest, but as recent rounds have shown Formula One is struggling to provide that at the moment.

What’s to blame? The small field, DRS, too much team radio, fuel-saving, over-conservative Pirelli tyres, domination by Mercedes

Track data: Red Bull Ring

Lap length4.326km (2.688 miles)
Grand prix distance307.02km (190.773 miles)
Lap record (in a race)1’08.337 (Michael Schumacher, 2003)
Fastest lap (any session)1’07.908 (Michael Schumacher, 2003, qualifying one)
Tyre comoundsSoft and Super-soft
2014 Rate the Race6.7/10
2014 Driver of the WeekendValtteri Bottas

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Red Bull Ring track data in full

Or, perhaps, none of those things. Yes, F1 has its problems, but that’s not to say it can’t serve up a good race when the stars align. We all know that – that’s why we all keep tuning in and turning up.

Last year’s Austrian Grand Prix weekend showed that even in hyper-professional Formula One, mistakes can be made – several slip-ups by Lewis Hamilton in qualifying compromised his and Nico Rosberg’s run in Q3 and opened the door for Williams to lock out the front row of the grid. That set up an intriguing race as the Mercedes drivers set about prising the lead from the hands of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.

Twelve months on, no one has beaten Mercedes to a pole position since. But Williams and Ferrari could be a more competitive proposition this weekend, and the Red Bull Ring’s compact layout often serves to lessen the performance gap between cars.

Austrian Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Mercedes

Having bounced back from his Monaco setback, Lewis Hamilton heads to Austria looking to add a victory at one of few tracks on the calender where he hasn’t won before.

Nico Rosberg won this race last year but while he remains firmly in contention for the championship there’s been a lack of conviction about his title bid so far. As he demonstrated last year, if he can line up in front of his team mate on the grid he should be able to count on getting to the chequered flag first.

Red Bull

Red Bull’s round of the world championship ironically takes place on a circuit which is profoundly ill-suited to its cars. Last year Christian Horner jokingly suggested they insert a few chicanes to break up the long straights on which their Renault power unit is outgunned.

It’s hard to see the team managing much better than the sole eighth place they mustered last year. It could turn out to be an even tougher weekend, as the threat of grid penalties looms overs their two drivers should they need a replacement engine.

Williams

Felipe Massa, Williams, Red Bull Ring, 2014Williams may have locked out the front row of the grid last year but that owed more to problems at Mercedes’ end. However hopes are high for the team as they plan to bring a significant upgrade package to this weekend’s race.

Valtteri Bottas has taken Ferrari scalps on more than one occasion already this year, and will be looking to repeat the form with which delivered his first podium finish in this race last year.

Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2015We may be yet to see the true combined effect of the aerodynamic upgrades Ferrari introduced in Spain, but did not immediately master, and the power unit revisions which came in Canada, the gains from which were disguised by Sebastian Vettel’s qualifying problems and Kimi Raikkonen’s mid-race spin.

That, plus Pirelli’s choice of the softest tyre mix for a circuit which includes several quick corners, may give Ferrari cause for optimism that they will have Mercedes within range this weekend.

McLaren

Fernando Alonso, McLaren, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2015The 2015 season is placing far higher demands on McLaren’s media spin-masters than it is their drivers. Both MP4-30s conked out as per routine in Canada, leaving the PR department to once again devise a fresh positive angle on an excruciating situation.

Force India

Nico Hulkenberg arrives fresh from winning one of the world’s greatest races but it was Sergio Perez who surprisingly led 11 laps of this race last year.

Don’t expect a repeat performance from Force India this time out, but they intend to have their B-spec car ready for the post-race test, which they hope will deliver front-end aero gains.

Toro Rosso

Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso, Circuit de Catalunya, 2015Round eight of the championship is the first track which Max Verstappen has raced on before, although he did end up in a row with the stewards on that occasion as well.

“It’s a bit of an old-school track,” said Verstappen, “which is the type of circuit I like.” He has some good memories from the circuit too: it was after testing a Formula Renault 3.5 car here last year that Red Bull took the surprising decision to promote him straight to F1.

Lotus

Canada was by far the most impressive showing from Lotus so far, and but for Romain Grosjean’s needless collision with Will Stevens would have resulted in a strong double points finish.

“There’s nothing to say we can’t perform as we did in Montreal,” reckons technical director Nick Chester. However he admitted their usual pattern of being stronger in the races than in qualifying was inverted last time out. “Generally our drivers report an understeery car in qualifying but a more balanced car in the race, whereas this time the feedback was more of a well-balanced car in qualifying but some oversteer in the race.”

Sauber

That season-opening fifth place in Melbourne now seems a distant memory. The C34 appears little-changed since then, which goes some way towards explaining why the team has only added seven points to the fifteen it scored in Australia.

Manor

Things are looking up for Roberto Merhi – he was on terms with team mate Will Stevens for the first time this year in Canada and he gave his Pons Formula Renault 3.5 team their first podium finish in four years at the Hungaroring last weekend.

2015 driver form

DriverG avgR avgR bestR worstClassifiedForm guide
Lewis Hamilton1.141.57137/7Form guide
Nico Rosberg2.142.00137/7Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo6.718.005137/7Form guide
Daniil Kvyat9.578.204105/6Form guide
Felipe Massa8.007.434157/7Form guide
Valtteri Bottas6.866.003146/7Form guide
Sebastian Vettel5.003.14157/7Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen6.004.17266/7Form guide
Fernando Alonso14.8311.5011122/6Form guide
Jenson Button16.2912.258164/6Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg12.1411.337156/7Form guide
Sergio Perez12.7110.437137/7Form guide
Max Verstappen11.2912.507174/7Form guide
Carlos Sainz Jnr11.5710.178136/7Form guide
Romain Grosjean9.579.177126/7Form guide
Pastor Maldonado10.5711.007152/7Form guide
Marcus Ericsson13.1412.178146/7Form guide
Felipe Nasr12.8610.575167/7Form guide
Will Stevens18.5016.4015175/5Form guide
Roberto Merhi18.8316.4015185/6Form guide
Kevin Magnussen17.000/0Form guide

Are you going to the Austrian Grand Prix?

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Over to you

Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Austrian Grand Prix? Have your say below.

And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:

2015 Austrian Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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43 comments on “Will upgraded Williams and Ferrari’s soft-tyre pace narrow the gap to Mercedes?”

  1. Graham (@guitargraham)
    17th June 2015, 12:16

    i honestly think it’ll be same as usual. last years mercedes had issues with rear brakes and harvesting which caused issues at several races at this point in the season putting them within reach of other teams. this years mercedes doesnt show anything like the same weakness and with the knocking issue solved in the engine and able to run at 100% i expect mercedes to dominate again

  2. The gap may shrink, but I very highly doubt that it will be reduced by a significant amount, unless Mercedes trip up, as we have seen them do several times over the last 12 months or so. This race hasn’t been decided already, but I’m going for a Merc 1-2 in my predictions anyway.

  3. Always Mercedes. It would be fun though, Vettel and Hulkenberg on podium with Hamilton DNF, since it’s Austria and one of them just won Le Mans and the other is 3rd in the standings. But then this is the boring Formula 1. Why would there be any fun?

  4. I know we seem to be saying this every weekend, but Rosberg really needs a good result here if he is going to start putting pressure on Hamilton in the title fight. He has been beaten 6-1 in qualifying (with an average gap of 0.292s in Hamilton’s favour), 5-2 in races and he is currently 17 points behind, and that doesn’t even tell the full story – but for Hamilton’s unnecessary pit stop in Monaco, Rosberg would be behind 6-1 in qualifying and 6-1 in races, with Hamilton 34 points ahead after 7 races. Those statistics don’t convince me that Rosberg is up to challenging Hamilton in a straight fight, unless something changes pretty soon.

    1. Mercedes should dump Rosberg at the end of this season. He’s always making a fool of himself by saying that he will improve but we all know that he’s average at best and they should replace him with Bottas or Hulkenberg.

      1. No doubt Rosberg will be dumped when competition gets tough for Mercedes. There will be a point when they can’t afford having him anymore, I think.

    2. Of course he is not going to fight Hamilton. You seem to be believing in the press that someone is fighting Hamilton….

      1. Anton OBee (@)
        17th June 2015, 16:12

        Rosberg was psychologically beaten by Lewis along time ago. About 19 years ago to be precise.

    3. What is interesting is that I never heard people calling for Mark Webber’s head even though he could barely bring himself to at least finish second behind his team mate with dominant cars. 2011 and 2013 in particular really showed how average Webber was. Yes he had mechanical failures and the like but in the races in which he finished he barely gave Seb much to think about after 2010. In fact it was up to the Alonsos and Hamiltons to challenge Seb with less competitive machinery.

  5. Alonso finished fifth last year. This years Ferrari is much better, also relative to the competition. I expect Vettel to be on the podium. Hopefully even beat one (or two) Mercs!

    1. Don’t worry, Vettel will beat Rosberg easily and he might challenge Hamilton as well.

      1. lol, is it 2016 already or something? even then it’s just wishful thinking…

  6. Maybe the weather will play a role as well. Apart from that, I doubt Mercedes will repeat the mess that enabled the Williams cars to take the first row, and surely they will not be surprised by Ferrari like they were in Malaysia.

    Then again, I certainly hope that we will get a good race again. Tip to the FOM guys: please keep giving us a lot of on boards.

    1. @bascb more onboard shots yes please

    2. @bascb @satchelcharge for what it’s worth the french tv company canal+ has an onboard tv show which is just fantastic. It is without spoken comments and lasts 30 minutes. It is not live however but still a really nice way to watch again a grand prix under the raw onboard angle.

      1. Thank you for bringing that up @spoutnik. That channel is an incredible source, and let us all hope we can access it forever. I have had quite a bit fun watching things like Monaco etc on that in the past.

        1. SKY TV in NZ have 3 channels running all live over the duration of the 3 practices + Qualifying + Race,
          1st the normal transmission 2nd pits complete with info on drivers + last years race, over all points, 3rd channel has in car cameras changing to another car after each lap,
          are we the only country that has this on pay TV????

  7. Anton OBee (@)
    17th June 2015, 15:10

    On a purely personal level. I cannot wait. Mainly because im flying out tonight and am looking forward to the carnival atmosphere, the beer, the climate (ahem) and the beautiful scenery. Oh yes and the race.

    I can tell you from experience that going to an “away game” in F1 totally reinvigorates your interest in it, unless of course you are a tired cynical hack.

    I know its expensive and it takes a lot of planning but I think if all f1 heads went to more races they would connect more with it. TV has a diluting affect on outdoor sports that aren’t played on a rectangle green square.

    You wouldn’t think you’d got the best of Glastonbury by watching it on telly. F1 is not far off.

    btw- I’ll be one of 3 clowns wearing retro Martin t shirts waving a “hammertime” union jack.

    1. Brilliant!! Keep pursuing the Whitmarsh Quest!! Love it.

    2. dedicated for sure, great to be at the race but now for me its impossible,
      but i know where your coming from i used be a track marshal and that was pretty exciting,
      i can enjoy the TV coverage and the info from sites like this and still get my fix.
      hope your trip is full of enjoyment..

  8. Both Ferraris will be on the podium. Their long run pace will force Merc to compromise a characteristic of the car and hence lead to reliability problems like in Bahrain. This will be the turning point to where Ferrari will put the “F” in F1 again.

    1. Massa will qualify ahead of his teammate, but then gremlins will overrun his car and he’ll create a big pile up with Grosjean&Maldonado&Verstappen trio. Everyone OK. SC is out. Bottas will get demoted because of this incident ruining his strategy. Hulk will smash Checo to podium with the boost he got from his Le Mans win, and he’ll get his first podium in F1.

  9. Omar R (@omarr-pepper)
    17th June 2015, 15:42

    No

  10. Narrow the gap to Mercedes?
    I’m sure they will (from 40s to 35s)

  11. Will upgraded Williams and Ferrari’s soft-tyre pace narrow the gap to Mercedes?

    No, Mercedes will walk way with it as usual.

  12. Williams vs Ferrari.
    Torro Rosso vs Red Bull hehe.
    Hulk vs Checo.
    How far Maldonado will get.

    There’s lots of interest, they just need to start covering it better. Even as it is, I can’t wait.

    1. Problem is we got demoted to Ferrari vs Williams from Ferrari vs Mercedes.

  13. No, the opposite. The gaps in Austria will be % wise some of the largest.

  14. “Will upgraded Williams and Ferrari’s soft-tyre pace narrow the gap to Mercedes?”

    No.

  15. Now that I think of it, could be what F1 need is a rule that simply punished drivers that went off track limits? Last year strict rule that delete qualy times for everyone that went off track limit certainly makes lot of driver error. A simple time deletion in qualification and 5s penalty at race should shows drivers showing up their skill to push the car without going overboard. Afterall, removal of gravel traps is because for safety reason so it would be a step backward to putting it back. Also even though it probably gonna make race results changed by penalties, the rule itself is simple to explain to casual fans (i.e. cars can’t leave the track for any reason and leaving the track is defined by anytime all 4 wheels is outside of 2 white line that define track border) and the spirit of the rule itself is pretty clear.

    1. To clarify, the rule will make any kind of leaving the track (pitstop area is obviously part of the track) gonna be more punishing than now especially when locking up the brakes could give you extra 5s in addition of losing couple tenths of a seconds. Also pushing another car off the track rule could also be tweaked or reinforced more so people would not start to push other driver off the track while side-by-side.

    2. Yeah, let’s make sure Vettel doesn’t push for first row in case he gets demoted to somewhere behind Williams…
      He almost got pole in Malaysia under wet, maybe they should make it easier on him so that no one realizes Mercedes is 0.8 sec faster than Ferrari. Otherwise why are we watching these races if we know who is gonna win all of them? I mean, I don’t even expect reliability issues from Mercedes, at least not before their competition. Rosberg might just win a couple of them when Hamilton doesn’t feel like it, Mercedes might get tested at some track for reliability issues, but then there is no one to push them beyond those limits. Maybe we should install infrared asphalt heaters instead of sprinklers to add some excitement. For the slightest possibility of Ferrari doing something interesting in baking hot conditions.
      I don’t like huge tarmac areas by the way, but better boring than sorry.

      1. Yeah, let’s make sure Vettel doesn’t push for first row in case he gets demoted to somewhere behind Williams…

        I don’t understand what you mean? Just like last year Austrian qualifying, only the lap they leaving the track are deleted, which means if anyone can still push as many as they can as long as they got tires and fuel. And on that note pushing to the limit is more rewarding because they now have a chance to get better position than drivers that played it safe. It maybe won’t matter much if there a car that dominate almost over 1s per lap, but if, say, Vettel play it safe, Ricciardo that succesfully push may start in front of him.

        Also on the race 5s penalty itself is not really significant so the result, so 1 violation won’t send someone back from podium position to back of the pack. However multiple violation will hurt since those 5s penalties can stack. Also remember Canada last year when Rosberg cut the chicane and get away with it, with the rule he can’t do that whether lifting after that or not. The penalty itself can be served in pitstop so early violations don’t really make results confusing. Violations after last round of pitstops tho will be added after the race and it could potentially make the result not clear, however I don’t think there will many penalties to throw around because they all are afterall skilled drivers.

    3. I’m not sure, I don’t want there to be a lot of penalties flying around it frustrates the drivers and they would always argue with it which is annoying for fans. How about a very thin gravel strip on the outside of the corner followed by Tarmac? Obviously shallow enough that the cars don’t dig in and flip but would unsettle the cars enough to make them spin and ruin their tyres on the Tarmac.

      1. @williamstuart The main reason of gravel removal isn’t for F1 but for other series like MotoGP. Even a tiny strip of gravel is enough to flip bikes and making tarmac afterwards will just make it worse since the rider will land on much harder surface afterwards.

        1. Yeah very true, just more motivation for the bikers to keep it clean!

  16. As he demonstrated last year, if he can line up in front of his team mate on the grid he should be able to count on getting to the chequered flag first.

    Rosberg’s 2014 Poles:
    Bahrain
    Winner: Hamilton (-1)
    Monaco
    Winner: Rosberg (+1)
    Canada
    Winner: Ricciardo (+1, seeing as Hamilton retired and Nico didn’t with the same issue)
    British Grand Prix
    Winner: Hamilton (0, as Rosberg retired)
    Germany
    Winner: Rosberg (0, Hamilton went out in Q1 with brake failure and started 20th, so fair comparison cant be done)
    Hungary
    Winner: Ricciardo but Hamilton ahead of Nico (-1)
    Spa
    Winner: Ricciardo (0, no points seeing as he took his teammate out which resulted in Hamilton retiring)
    Japan
    Winner: Hamilton (-1)
    US
    Winner: Hamilton (-1)
    Brazil
    Winner: Rosberg (+1)
    Abu Dhabi
    Winner: Hamilton (-1/2 , seeing as Rosberg had reliability issues but Hamilton was passed Rosberg and pulling away before those issues started)

    Overall Points: -1.5 points.

    Hamilton’s 2014 Poles:
    Australia
    Winner: Rosberg (0, as Hamilton retired)
    Malaysia
    Winner: Hamilton (+1)
    China
    Winner: Hamilton (+1)
    Spain
    Winner: Hamilton (+1)
    Italy
    Winner: Hamilton (+1)
    Singapore
    Winner: Hamilton (0, as Rosberg retired)
    Russia
    Winner: Hamilton (+1)

    Overall Points: +5 points

    Hamilton’s Pole to Win % (excluding DNF’s): 100%
    7 Poles – 1 DNF from Pole – Net 6 Poles – 6 Wins From Pole
    Rosberg’s Pole to Win % (excluding DNF’s): 30%
    11 Poles – 1 DNF from Pole – Net 10 Poles – 3 Wins From Pole

    Doesn’t really show that if Rosberg lines up ahead of Hamilton he can count of taking the flag first. Really if you take away the DNF’s, Hamilton has never finished behind Rosberg when starting in front of Nico, on the contrast again if you take away DNF’s Rosberg has never started behind Hamilton in the race and finished in front of him which is something Hamilton has managed to do 3 times.

    1. They should have said “as demonstrated this year” as in Barcelona (regardless of how the victory came) or Malaysia. Although Lewis appears dominant this year, he’s won only from pole.

      1. …and Monaco of course. Regardless of circumstances, it shows this year to be less predictable, so far at least…

      2. This year is abit different but then we’re not far enough into the season to get any real data. IF it had of said this year then that would have made more sense but no last year as the numbers above show.

  17. I was there last year – smashing race and entertainment (air show, classic GP car demos etc.)

  18. I would like to see Mercedes promoting a “Nico-swapping” and bringing The Hulk.

    Rosberg is doing a good job, but he is there for 6 seasons already. Hamilton isn’t losing his head anymore and Hulk may be as good if not better than Rosberg.

    Things may clear up a bit if Ferrari brings Bottas for Kimi’s place, as it’s been said.

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