Austrian GP: Preview and Predictions for Spielberg

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After a less than thrilling race in France, Formula 1 has the chance to make amends at the Austrian Grand Prix this weekend.

The Red Bull Ring, set in spectacular Spielberg, returned to the calendar in 2014 and has once again become known for close, competitive action, producing some great racing over the years. 

It all began with the original Osterriechring which debuted in 1970, a fearsome high-speed circuit which tested both car and driver but would eventually be deemed too dangerous and was dropped after 1987.

10 years later, after being the first project for F1 circuit designer Hermann Tilke, F1 returned to a shorter and much less terrifying track, which was renamed the A1-Ring.

After a seven-year stretch until 2003, the race made way for the expansion into new markets over the next two years like China and Bahrain.

But as Red Bull became a major F1 player at the start of the decade, CEO Dietrich Mateschitz would buy the ageing venue and renovate it back into its former glory, paving the way for the third coming of the Austrian Grand Prix.

The track:

As mentioned today's layout is much different from the original which was effectively the current track on steroids.

The basic shape was similar but the corners were all high-speed sweeping turns with the Bosch Kurve, a fourth-gear, long right-hander with no run-off approached at over 200mph in the turbo cars, the most challenging.

Now, Turns 1-4 are much tighter and provide excellent overtaking opportunities, particularly the long, uphill drag to Turn 3, while the second half of the lap is all about precision, particularly Turns 9 and 10.

Form guide:

What the Red Bull Ring is unlikely to change is Mercedes' grip on the top two steps on the podium this season.

Ferrari can expect some joy on the long straights, but with hot temperatures expected and the tyres likely to play a critical role, the W10 may well be in a class of its own once again.

The only niggle could be reliability, and last year the Brackley-based team endured their worst race of the season as both Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton retired, allowing Max Verstappen to give Red Bull their first home win.

But providing there isn't an issue this time, an interesting battle is in store between the two Silver Arrows with Bottas something of a specialist in Spielberg.

He won this race in 2017 to claim his maiden F1 win and last year he was on pole but was ultimately caught out at the start before the later retirement.

The Finn also needs a victory over Hamilton to stem the tide flowing solely in the Briton's favour after four straight wins have seen him open a 36-point gap in the Drivers' standings.

Then there's the host, Red Bull, who find themselves stuck in a bit of rut at this stage of the season.

In qualifying, the team is under pressure from the likes of Renault and McLaren and that is hampering them against Ferrari in the race, where their pace remains superior.

There's even some early frustration coming from Max Verstappen as he tries to keep the Scuderia in sight, although he was still able to capitalise on Sebastian Vettel's poor qualifying to beat the German at Paul Ricard.

In the midfield, Renault and McLaren are beginning to put daylight between themselves and the rest, with Racing Point 13 points behind Renault in the Constructors' standings.

They may have to watch out for Haas, who have been particularly strong in recent years including finishing fourth and fifth in 2018, although recent performance woes do mean there's a question mark over exactly how strong they'll be.

Alfa Romeo showed signs of progress in France, with Kimi Raikkonen back in the points for the first time since Baku, and with lap times expected over barely 1m04s in the midfield, every tenth will count.

That's why Racing Point and Toro Rosso also can't be ruled out, certainly if tyre wear is as significant as expected, but one thing that is still guaranteed is Williams again bringing up the back of the field.

Predictions:

Hamilton to troll us all again...

For Bottas' strong record at the Red Bull Ring, it is hard to see him stopping Hamilton as he continues his charge to a sixth world title.

The single lap pace has been tight between the pair and it wouldn't be surprising to see Valtteri on pole, but on race pace, Hamilton is a class above.

Leclerc getting the better of Vettel

The French GP was notable for the Monegasque having the advantage on his teammate for much of the weekend at Paul Ricard and this could be the start of something bigger.

It was always going to take Leclerc some time to get comfortable at Ferrari and the fact is he has been close to if not matched Vettel on numerous occasions.

So, as the season progressed it was likely he would eventually start beating the German more regularly and Austria may just continue that trend.

Gasly's rotten run to continue

Just when things looked better for Pierre Gasly, the past two races have firmly put the pressure back on the Frenchman at Red Bull.

His lack of pace has made him the target of McLaren and Renault in qualifying and the race and both times he failed to deliver.

Christian Horner and Helmut Marko continue to back their man, but there's little reason to see this streak of poor results ending at the company's home race.

Ricciardo to show Red Bull what they're missing

In the battle to lead the midfield, the instinctive nature of Daniel Ricciardo and his overtaking is likely to play a part as we saw in France.

There it got him penalised, but Renault is likely to be stronger in Austria and as Gasly struggles, the Australian may well prove a point to his former team.

Giovinazzi poised to breakthrough

Luck hasn't been on Antonio Giovinazzi's side this season as he settles in at Alfa Romeo, but there are signs the Italian is finding his feet in F1.

He out-qualified Kimi Raikkonen in France but was hampered by starting on soft compound tyres and slipped down the field in the race.

As the Swiss team improves, Giovinazzi will finally get that first big F1 result and it's not improbable that will be in Austria.

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