Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton will inevitably dominate the headlines but there’s much more to talk about at this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.
The title fight enters a new phase
The clash between the championship contenders in Azerbaijan has injected real venom into the title contest. It’s probably inevitable this was going to happen eventually.
Of course that doesn’t make a repeat this weekend any more likely. But the pair will be under especially fierce scrutiny. And Vettel, of course, is within striking distance of collecting a race ban if he steps out of line again.
Mercedes were extremely strong in Baku and a key question this weekend will be how much of their advantage was circuit-specific and how much of it was down to them making progress with the car. Have they solved the set-up problems which plagued the W08 early in the season?
In Baku Ferrari found themselves out-gunned by Mercedes in terms of sheer power, prompting some to conclude the FIA’s clamp down on teams burning engine oil as fuel was targeted at them.
Will Red Bull finally succeed at home?
Aside from Max Verstappen’s second place last year, the Red Bull Ring hasn’t been a particularly happy hunting ground for its owner’s team. But they arrive at this weekend’s race off the back of a surprse win in Azerbaijan.
The RB13 is unlikely to be in contention for victory without more of the same strange circumstances we saw at the last race. But the team made clear progress last time out and were a threat to Ferrari in qualifying.
The car’s combination of efficient downforce should serve it better at this track than it has done before. A return to the podium could be on the cards.
Will Stroll sustain his momentum?
Were you a Stroll sceptic? I certainly have been, but his superb run to third place in Azerbaijan unquestionably demonstrated the best we have seen from him so far.
Can he build on that this weekend? This is one of few tracks so far Stroll has prior experience of. He won twice at the Red Bull Ring last year.
If he can out-qualify his team mate again and take a solid points finish in a ‘normal’ race it will be more food for thought for doubters like me.
Can Force India impose order on their drivers?
The Force India pit wall has been a tense place at the last two race weekends. First Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon clashed over team orders in Canada. Then they clashed quite literally in Azerbaijan, which potentially cost the team a double podium finish.
Points are precious in the midfield and they can’t afford to squander any more of them. A frank talking-to will have been adminsitered, but will they heed their latest warning?
Will the crowd continue to fall?
A large crowd welcome Formula One back to Austria when the race was revived in 2014. Since then the drop in attendance has been steep – weekend crowd figures fell by more than 29% year-on-year in 2016.
The Red Bull Ring is far from the only circuit to have this problem. But it begs the question how long the owners will be willing to keep the race on the calendar.
It also casts doubts on their plans for the future of the track. A new chicane has already been built beyond turn one, indicating plans are in motion to extend the circuit, most likely by using the old stretch of track to the east.
But is it being built in the hope F1 attendances will improve, or as a means of creating new interest in the race? The promoters are keeping this to themselves for now.
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