Hamilton fast catching Schumacher
Lewis Hamilton is only twenty race wins away from matching Michael Schumacher’s all-time Formula 1 record of ninety-one Grand Prix victories. Once believed untouchable, the Englishman continues to edge into the sports ultimate records, which he could pass next season.
Hamilton has dominated the last twelve months following his last retirement at last years Austrian Grand Prix, winning the last fourteen out of the last nineteen races. Should he win in Spielberg, it would, however, be only his second win in the Styrian Mountains.
Mathematically he could equal the record this year – but would have to win all-but-one of the remaining thirteen races between Austria and the season-concluding Abu Dhabi GP on December 1.
Hamilton is expected to be in a strong position this weekend in Austria, the layout of the Red Bull Ring plays to both his own and Mercedes strengths. Mercedes, however, have said they will be expecting not to win all the races in the second half of the season.
Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff warned that critics of the five-time champion are missing out on a unique opportunity. He told Sky Sports, “I think in the United Kingdom, in Britain, Lewis is not recognised how he should be recognised.”
“One day he’s going to stop his career with multiple records and people will say he was the greatest driver on the planet and we were witnesses of that journey – and wasn’t he an interesting personality with all the things he did.”
His immediate threat this weekend is teammate Valtteri Bottas, the Finn also has an impressive record at the Red Bull Ring. He scored his first podium here with Williams in 2014, starting a good run of results for his team.
Bottas will be looking to mount a serious challenge in Austria, the circuit has been one of his strongest over his career. The Finn took his first podium with Williams in Austria in 2014 as well as winning for Mercedes in 2017.
He also is in his best run of his careers with six podiums in eight races and four seconds, but a win would see him regain vital ground in the championship
Ferrari unable to catch Mercedes
Charles Leclerc has admitted Ferrari is unlikely to catch Mercedes and make the championship an inter-team battle before the end of the season. Mercedes have taken victory in all eight races so far, while Ferrari has failed to win a race this season.
The Monacan told BBC News, “We will believe it until the end, of course. We are all aware the gap is quite big. It’ll be difficult to catch up, but we won’t give up until it’s not possible.”
However, four times champion Sebastian Vettel appears more optimistic. He added, “I’m confident we have what it takes. We haven’t proved it yet and hopefully, we will be able to turn it around sooner rather than later, not only for us, but also for you.”
Ferrari is on average four tenths a lap slower than the Mercedes in qualifying and the team have only had two clear-cut chances to win races this season.
Leclerc says although the circuit on paper rewards engine power where Ferrari is stronger, he believes Mercedes won’t be able to challenge Mercedes.
Adding “To be honest it is quite difficult to be at their level. If they don’t run into issues, it is troubling for us to challenge them.”
Hottest Austrian race on record
Formula One could be set for the hottest Austrian Grand Prix on record as the heat wave across Europe continues. Race temperatures are expected to be much higher than last year, and a record 34C, but it could drop off between practice and the race.
The heat is mostly coming up from the Mediterranean and North Africa due to a high-pressure system over the UK and off its east coast. The UK’s government forecaster The Met Office has described the hot air from the Sahara as an “enormous reservoir” that has engulfed the continent.
Teams will be worried about the cars overheating as well as blistering on the tyres.
Red Bull has ideas to improve Gasly’s form
Pierre Gasly has suggested that he and Red Bull have some “ideas” as to why he is struggling so much, insisting that he isn’t worried that his place with the team is under threat.
The Frenchman has struggled to match his new teammate Max Verstappen’s pace, his difficulties this season has prompted some to begin to question his long term future with the team. Red Bull remains committed to him for now though, and its motorsport advisor Helmut Marko suggested after the French GP that the team would completely take apart his car to see if there is an explanation for what has happened.
Asked by Motorsport.com if the team had discovered anything, Gasly said: “We have ideas. I think for this weekend it should be fine.”
The Frenchman declined to elaborate, however, on what the team had discovered or if anything was going to change on the car. He added “I’m not going to go into details and everything, but we’re all working and developing to make sure we extract the full potential. This weekend that’s what we’re going to do, as every weekend.”
Despite the difficulties and media speculation around his future, he insists that he is not concerned that his future is in doubt. Gasly’s best finish this season has been sixth, and he is sixty-three points behind teammate Verstappen.
He says there is several areas where he needs to improve and in F1 you need to give it more than a hundred percent. The Frenchman has already admitted that there are things he has had to change to get to grips with the car.
Albon takes a ten-place penalty
Alex Albon will take a grid penalty for the Austrian Grand Prix for taking an upgraded engine. Honda introduced its Spec 3 engine last weekend but split its use across the two Toro Rosso drivers to avoid that team suffering grid drops for both cars at Paul Ricard.
Albon will now move onto the upgraded unit, taking advantage of an upgraded combustion engine and turbocharger. As Albon has already used three engines this season, thanks to a practice crash in China, a new V6 will trigger a ten-place grid drop.
Grosjean has a new rear suspension
Haas driver Romain Grosjean will be using the team’s new rear suspension at the Austrian Grand Prix, following his retirement at Paul Ricard.
His teammate Kevin Magnussen had the new rear suspension which entailed changes to the gearbox in France and, without his retirement. However, Grosjean’s retirement on Sunday allows him to switch penalty free to a new gearbox this weekend.
That means the cars will now be mechanically the same, allowing the team to focus on aero and set-up changes this weekend. He told Motorsport.com “I think there’s been a lot of analysis. It’s great that it’s happened. There are things that are not as we were hoping.”
“Things that are better than we thought, and we just need to make sure that the weaknesses we have, we assess them. There’s a lot going on, a lot of testing that we’re going to do here, a lot of different set-ups.” He admitted that the team has been struggling with the tyre.
Looking ahead to this weekends race in Styrian mountains he says the car has a similar setup. The heat wave across Europe could help Haas with the tyre management where they have struggled.
Magnussen admitted that the team doesn’t know how competitive it will be this weekend, despite its good record at the Red Bull Ring. He says the team knows it has a good car aerodynamically which can perform well.
But says Haas they are working hard to resolve the issues, and look at the direction of the cars.
The Weekend Ahead
Austria is going to be another race which favours Mercedes, both because of its cars and drivers. This circuit rewards speed and downforce which is a strength, both Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton have had multiple podiums here. Bottas really needs a win to kick start his campaign again.
One of the big stories this week has been the heat wave across Europe. This could prove problematic for the cars, forcing the teams to open up the bodywork to increase airflow in the cars. We know this circuit is at higher altitude reducing air density as well.
Based on Sunday’s race it should be another close one in the midfield, watch McLaren and Renault as we saw a brilliant battle for fourth in the constructors. This is a similar circuit, as well as Silverstone and Hockenheim, so expect that battle to continue in Austria.
Red Bull naturally under pressure at there home race, winning like last year I believe will be difficult with the Honda engine. But, expect them if the offset in performance to Ferrari is small to be challenging each other.
Ferrari faces a big challenge this weekend, their upgrades failed to deliver the performance needed to fight Mercedes.
You can join us for LIVE coverage of this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix via Twitter @F1VaultLive starting with FP1 Friday from 10:45 CEST / 09:45 BST, Qualifying 14:45/13:45 and forward race coverage 14:40/13:40 lights out 15:10 / 14:10