Austrian Grand Prix preview – can anyone stop the Hamilton juggernaut in the Styrian mountains?

It will be another emotionally charged weekend as teams arrive in the beautiful setting of the Red Bull Ring in Austria’s Styrian mountains.

Thoughts will naturally be of one of the country’s greatest ever drivers in Niki Lauda, who passed away recently. And his good friend Lewis Hamilton will be doing everything he can to continue his relentless momentum and win a seventh race this season after another masterful drive in France.

Perhaps a crumb of comfort for the opposition is that last year’s race was not a good one for Mercedes, who recorded a rare double DNF.

“Our result in last year’s Austrian Grand Prix was the low point of the 2018 season,” explained team boss Toto Wolff. “A double DNF after a promising front-row lockout meant that we left a lot of points on the table. “The race was a cruel reminder how quickly things can go wrong in our sport and that reliability and performance go hand in hand in Formula One.

“This year, our race finishing record has been good, but it would be complacent to ignore the fact that for two weekends in a row now, our mechanics had to perform the equivalent of “open-heart surgery” on our cars. We’ve faced a number of different issues on different components, each of which could have easily caused us to retire, so we need to get on top of those challenges as quickly as possible.”

The team predicted to give Mercedes a close run for its money this season is Ferrari. Yet a combination of questionable race tactics and technical niggles have stagnated the Maranello team’s challenge this season. It’s something team boss Mattia Binotto is eager to fix as quickly as possible.

“We are happy to be getting back on track so quickly, because it’s the best way to put ourselves to the test again to try and understand the elements that did not go according to plan in France,” said Binotto in Ferrari’s race preview. “We have various test items to evaluate, mainly in order to give us a clearer picture as to why some of the updates we brought to Le Castellet did not work as expected.”

With the weather forecast to be extremely hot this weekend, emphasis will be on tyre management and cooling of both engine and brakes.

“The forecast for Austria predicts temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius and more – combined with the reduced air density owing to the track’s location at altitude, this means that cooling could become a real challenge in Spielberg,” added Wolff. “Add to that the short lap and the close gaps on that circuit and our direction is clear: we need to keep working diligently, stay humble and give it everything to do a better job than we managed 12 months ago.”

Another team hoping to put a spanner in the Mercedes works is Red Bull Racing, and the Austrian fans will be out in force to cheer on their home team at the Red Bull Ring.

It will be particularly special for Max Verstappen, returning to the scene of his memorable victory in last year’s race.

“I’m looking forward to the Austrian Grand Prix, especially going back there after we won. Winning at the Red Bull Ring in a Red Bull car was a very special moment and it was incredible with so many Austrian and Dutch fans in the crowd. Wherever you are sitting around the circuit, you can get a good view of the whole track, which I think is good because it creates more of an atmosphere when the fans can follow the race so closely.”

For Acronis partner team SportPesa Racing Point, an unfortunate and perhaps harsh opening lap time penalty for Sergio Perez scuppered what almost certainly would have been another points finish in what is becoming an intriguing battle behind the big three in the constructors’ standings.

“I’ve had some good results in Austria over the years, but my favourite memory is the 2014 race where I did a very long first stint and lead the race for quite a few laps,” said Perez. “That was the first year we returned to Austria and it was a really busy weekend with so many fans.

“Even though it’s a short lap, there are some interesting corners. The best section for me is turns nine and ten – the last part of the lap – because they are really quick and you have to be committed. The track drops away too so it’s easy to run wide. When you hit the apex just right, it feels very satisfying.”

Echoing the sentiments of Toto Wolff, Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer is expecting the race to be an extremely tough one in terms of car reliability.

“Other things to look out for in Austria include the big demands on the brakes and we’ve often seen cars running out of brakes in the closing laps of the race,” said Szafnauer. “It’s also a track where mistakes are punished with some big kerbs that can do quite a bit of damage. In that sense it’s quite a challenging lap for the drivers despite there only being ten corners.

“It’s a home event for BWT – Europe’s leading water technology company – and fittingly we celebrate our 50th race together in Austria.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.