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Austrian GP Preview: Vettel in focus as Red Bull head home

Written by  Jul 06, 2017

Sebastian Vettel's post-Baku reaction is likely to dominate the spotlight as Formula 1 returns to Continental Europe for the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring.

The German avoided further punishment for deliberately making contact with title rival Lewis Hamilton but now on his absolute final warning from the FIA and with the prospect of a race ban hanging over him should he pick up three more penalty points will that change his approach at Spielberg, a circuit known for dramatic races. 

Certainly, we would find out if he ends up wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton again, a distinct possibility with a very close battle between Ferrari and Mercedes on the cards. The mix of high-speed straights and sweeping corners will suit both cars and the shortness of the lap, expected to be sub-1m05s, means the entire field will likely be the closest it has been all year.  

Under pressure will be the hosts Red Bull as their legion of fans heading to the Styrian Mountains with high hopes following Daniel Ricciardo's victory in Azerbaijan. Their own track hasn't been kind, however, since returning to the calendar in 2014 with just a single podium for Max Verstappen last year in the three races so far. 

Austria has also become something of a home race for the Dutchman with large swathes of orange expected to fill the grandstands, the 19-year-old will be desperate to perform after four retirements in the last six races.

Whether the recent improvements are enough to be competitive against Mercedes and Ferraris is doubtful, they may need to rely on the usually fickle weather to move up and Red Bull may also find themselves under threat from an ever-growing Force India team and Williams, who historically go well at Spielberg.

For Force India, they will hope for a weekend of no dramas between their drivers with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon told to put "the team first" after their collision last time out in Baku.

There is some momentum at Williams too following Lance Stroll's first F1 podium. The ever-improving Canadian will also enjoy his first Grand Prix on a circuit on which he has raced at before, winning twice and finishing second at in three European F3 races at the Red Bull Ring last year.

Though still a power-sensitive circuit, Austria should also give the likes of Toro Rosso, Haas, Renault and even McLaren a better chance of competing for the top 10.

One error is likely to be fatal to any driver in qualifying with hundredths likely to split many of the six teams from P7 to P18, Sauber too could enjoy a little more competitiveness but it will be from this stage of the season that their 2016-spec Ferrari engine will start to hurt them.

McLaren is the unknown for some heading into the weekend with the new Spec 3 Honda power unit set to be used. It is also unknown at this point if further grid penalties will be imposed to take on the upgrade but with the main aim of it to fix the main reliability problems and produce more power, just where the British team features will be a story to watch.

Renault too is bringing fixes and optimisations to their power unit after the problems suffered by all their teams in recent races, that could help the works team and Toro Rosso close the gap to the likes of Williams and Force India in the midfield.

That just leaves Haas, who will be hoping for some progress to be made in solving their ongoing brake issues. Romain Grosjean is particularly desperate for an improvement after a scary race in Baku and with several big braking areas to negotiate around the 2.6-mile lap of the modern Osterriechring.

It's going to be a very difficult weekend to predict on numerous fronts whether it be competitively on track or watching the sky. Matching the madness of Baku might be difficult but Austria is one track that might just be up to the task.

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