MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Austrian GP

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Formula 1 returns to Europe this weekend for the first Austrian Grand Prix since 2003, and the stage is set for another great battle at the front between the two Mercedes drivers just south of the team’s homeland.

Nico Rosberg took advantage of Lewis Hamilton’s DNF in Canada to move into a 22 point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship, but he missed out on victory after developing a similar problem on his car. The Briton has vowed to strike back, and this weekend could see him cut the gap with his first win since the beginning of May.

With this circuit being new to the current era of F1, our writing team’s predictions are a little harder to make this weekend.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Toss of a coin between Lewis and Nico once again this weekend, but my money is on the Briton to fight back in Austria. It’ll be another close run thing though, that’s for sure.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. By surprising, I mean something in the top five. As one of just four drivers on the grid to have raced an F1 car around this track before, he might be well placed. In Monaco, he showed signs of improvement, but Canada was nothing but disastrous.

Most to prove: Ferrari… and Sauber. Ferrari was awful in Canada, and Fernando Alonso will need to run well if he is to regain third place in the drivers’ championship from Daniel Ricciardo. And Sauber? Well, I always say Sauber, and I’ll continue to do so until the team bucks its ideas up and scores some points.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Sebastian Vettel is a tempting pick, but after his near-miss in Montreal, I like Rosberg to get the Silver Arrows back on the board at Red Bull’s home race.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Experience should pay dividends for the veteran Brazilian, who took a mid-pack Sauber to P7 on the grid here in his only prior start (2002). At another track heavy on straights, perhaps this is Massa and Williams-Mercedes’ elusive breakthrough weekend.

Most to prove: Ferrari. At both Bahrain and Canada Ferrari has pulled off the rare “both cars in the points, but neither one of them anywhere near close to earning them on merit” distinction. They’re in the news more for di Montezemolo’s comments and possible sports car program instead of their actual F1 team’s efforts. Here’s hoping they’ve made strides upon the return to Europe following an anonymous Canadian Grand Prix.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. A win at the Red Bull Ring will help Hamilton take back the momentum his teammate Nico Rosberg has gained in the last two Grand Prix – and even more important, he’ll take it back before heading into his home race at Silverstone.

Surprising finish: Sergio Perez. Perez has Force India’s lone podium of 2014, but his overall form has paled compared to his steady teammate, Nico Hulkenberg. But with this track appearing to favor Mercedes power, Perez should capitalize and get a good result on the board after back-to-back DNFs.

Most to prove: Sebastian Vettel. So it would appear that the defending World Champion has finally come around after a podium finish in Canada. Now comes the tough part: Bringing the fight to Montreal winner Daniel Ricciardo, who has been leading the way at Red Bull this year.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Jenson Button. The return of F1 to Austria for the first time in over a decade makes this a wild, wide-open affair. It’s the perfect track for drivers who have gotten off to rough or winless starts to take chances they normally might not. Button certainly falls into that category. He’s long overdue for a podium finish.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Along the same lines of Jenson Button having nothing to lose in a race like this, Massa is also in a similar position. He needs a big boost that comes with a big finish, and Sunday’s race may very well prove him that chance.

Most to prove: Austria. We’re going to take a different tact here and not focus on a driver, but rather on the country of Austria. F1 fans there have fought hard to bring the series back to within their borders and Sunday’s sanctioned race will be the culmination of their efforts. But all the hard work to date doesn’t end now. If anything, it’s just getting started. Austrian F1 fans (and those from surrounding countries) need to turn out en masse to prove to F1 officials that they made the right decision bringing the race back to their homeland. It will be especially heartening to see Austrian native Niki Lauda there.

Hamilton: McLaren could help create four-team F1 title fight in 2018

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Lewis Hamilton says the Mercedes Formula 1 team cannot afford to let up in its push to improve ahead of a fiercer fight at the front of the field in 2018 – potentially including former team McLaren.

Hamilton clinched his fourth F1 drivers’ title in Mexico at the end of October as Mercedes continued its perfect record of championships since the introduction of the new V6 turbo hybrid engines in 2014.

The team faced a stiffer challenge in 2017 thanks to a resurgent Ferrari, while Red Bull also posed a threat towards the end of the season, setting the stage for another close fight next year.

Hamilton is expecting both Ferrari and Red Bull to remain a force at the front of the pack, but also feels McLaren could join the fight after ditching Honda in favor of a Renault engine supply for 2018.

“When I’m training and preparing for a new season, I firmly believe that we can be contenders for the next championship. It may turn out to be not possible, but you have to have that mindset,” Hamilton said.

“If you go in with expectations of finishing fifth, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to gear yourself up to win.

“Next year, McLaren will have Renault engines, then we may see four teams fighting for the championship. I think Red Bull will be quicker and Ferrari for sure will be fast again.

“We can’t stand still – we have to keep moving forwards.”

Hamilton started his F1 career with McLaren back in 2007, winning his maiden world title in 2008 before leaving the team for Mercedes at the end of the 2012 season.