Mercedes search for a record-equalling victory as Ferrari and Red Bull look to end their winning streak. Elsewhere, will the McLaren resurgence continue and will we see a tight battle for pole position on Saturday? Here are the talking points ahead of the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix!
A record weekend for Mercedes?
Mercedes stand on the brink of equalling a 31-year old record this weekend. A win at the Austrian Grand Prix would be their eleventh consecutive win – equalling the previous record set by McLaren of eleven wins in a row. McLaren scored their eleven consecutive wins at the hands of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the 1988 season. The Italian Grand Prix was the only race which the team failed to win that year!
Lewis Hamilton certainly seems like the driver to beat at the moment having won all of the last four races and holding a 36-point advantage over his team-mate in the championship standings. Should he win this weekend, it’d be only the second time that he’s taken five back-to-back wins in his career, having previously done so in 2014.
Could Ferrari end the Mercedes streak?
Could this be Ferrari’s best chance of a winning weekend so far in 2019? On paper, it may appear so. The updates which Ferrari brought for the SF90H in France didn’t make much of an impact, though Mattia Binotto says the team have “some ideas” on how to fix their early season struggles.
The car’s strong straight-line speed will suit the Red Bull Ring, which has only eight real corners. Even if Mercedes take pole, look out for the scarlet cars on the first lap of Sunday’s race – three straights in the first half of the lap may help them get ahead in the opening stages.
Home race for Red Bull
Red Bull will be hoping for a repeat of last year’s result at their home event. After both Mercedes drivers retired with mechanical issues, Max Verstappen was the winner, scoring Red Bull’s first win on home turf. You can expect plenty of orange in the grandstands once again in 2019 as Verstappen’s supporters will be out in force.
On the other side of the garage, speculation continues to grow concerning Pierre Gasly’s future with the team following another disappointing result at the French Grand Prix. The home star finished eleventh on the road, but picked up a point as a result of Daniel Ricciardo’s penalty. Helmut Marko has rubbished rumours that the team are considering a swap of seats between Gasly and Daniil Kvyat.
Perhaps significantly for future driver news, Red Bull junior driver Patricio O’Ward will make his F2 debut in Austria. He replaces Mahaveer Raghunathan at MP Motorsport, who picked up nine penalty points in a single race last weekend and misses this round as a result.
Another strong showing for McLaren?
McLaren impressed during qualifying for last weekend’s French Grand Prix. Their pace was enough to see Lando Norris qualify in fifth on the grid and team-mate Carlos Sainz just behind in sixth. It marked the first time the team have had both cars in the top six on the grid since the 2014 Italian Grand Prix. Both drivers performed strongly in the race too, with Sainz finishing sixth and Norris nursing his failing car home to score two points.
New Team Principal Andreas Seidl has spoken of the team’s “good momentum” heading into the weekend. McLaren currently sit ‘best of the rest’ in the Constructors’ Championship, eight points clear of their engine supplier Renault. Will the team be able to impress again this weekend?
A close qualifying battle
Though the current layout is just a shadow of the former Österreichring, the Red Bull Ring still gives opportunities for close racing. At only 4.318km, the track is the shortest of the year in terms of lap time. The lap time here has been edging ever closer to 60 seconds in recent years, with last year’s pole lap being 1:03.130. It also means that the times in qualifying will be close.
A staple of Saturdays in 2019 has been a very tight battle in the midfield to make it through to Q3 – and you can expect that group to be closer than ever this weekend. Be on the look out for cars getting in each other’s way over the qualifying hour too; it’s something which Sebastian Vettel picked up a three-place grid penalty for at this circuit twelve months ago.
Meanwhile, at the sharp end, the battle is likely to be just as close – at least between the Mercedes team-mates, if Ferrari aren’t included in the battle for pole. Last season, Valtteri Bottas took pole position by just 0.019 seconds, the smallest pole margin seen at the track. A pole for the Finn this weekend would see him become only the second driver, after René Arnoux, to take pole position on three consecutive visits to the Austrian Grand Prix.