F1 Grand Prix of Austria - Previews

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.

Rosberg wary of engine power deficit in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg is anticipating a tough weekend in Abu Dhabi due to a deficit in engine power caused by the high mileage on his current unit.

Rosberg and the Mercedes team have managed to avoid any engine-related grid penalties in 2015 by keeping within the limit of four power units per season.

By doing so, Mercedes has been forced into extending the milage of its engines, with a failure for Rosberg at the Italian Grand Prix in September having a knock-on effect at the end of the season.

Rosberg therefore arrives in Abu Dhabi with an engine down on power that makes him wary of his chances despite leading practice on Friday.

“It’s been a good start here in Abu Dhabi, but it will be a tough weekend for me as I have quite a high mileage engine in my car,” Rosberg said.

“After the Monza problem, we have had to stretch the engine life more than we had planned over the 19 races, so I definitely have a small lack of power on the straights and therefore need to make up extra time in the corners.

“It will be a big battle with Lewis here. He didn’t really bring together his quick laps, so it will be even closer tomorrow I’m sure. I’m looking forward to it and I definitely want to win this race and give the boys in the garage a reason to celebrate at the end of the season.”

On the other side of the Mercedes garage, world champion Lewis Hamilton was left unhappy with Mercedes’ long-run pace in practice, believing that there is ground to be made up.

“The long run pace doesn’t feel quite as strong so that’s something I need to work on,” Hamilton said. “I’ll probably make some more tweaks tonight and hopefully tomorrow it will be better.

“It’s very hard to overtake here, so of course it’s better to be up on pole. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to win from further back.”

Renault: Lotus announcement “very likely” next week

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Renault Formula 1 chief Cyril Abiteboul has said that the French manufacturer expects to make an announcement regarding its pending takeover of Lotus next week.

Renault has been engaged in negotiations with Lotus over a takeover of the team for many months, and signed a letter of intent back in September confirming its plans to revive a works F1 operation at Enstone.

Although a deal is still yet to be formally agreed and announced, Renault employees have already started working at Lotus to lay the foundations for 2016.

It was speculated that Renault may announce its takeover of Lotus during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, but Abiteboul confirmed on Friday that nothing would be made official at Yas Marina.

The Frenchman remained coy when asked what exactly Renault’s involvement in F1 would entail in 2016, saying: “I’m afraid I can’t answer to that question. I would like to be in a position to be able to answer to that questions, but I am not today.”

Despite there being no announcement in Abu Dhabi, Abiteboul said that he envisages one being made next week following the conclusion of the 2015 season.

“What I can say is that there will be no announcement regarding Renault’s future – short-term or middle-term future – over the weekend, but there will be an announcement, very likely, in the course of next week,” he said.

“We have always said that we would like to do that after the season. The season is ending on Sunday, around the start of December and that is what we will do stick to that plan, which is to make an announcement then.”

Abiteboul said that every effort was being made to finalize the deal with Lotus, but he is excited about the prospect of Renault returning to F1 with a works team for the first time since 2010.

“It’s fair to say that there is a process going on since the signing of the letter of interest on the 28th of September, there is a process involving a lot of people,” Abiteboul said.

“I think 50 people have been working night and day on the realisation of a possible acquisition of a majority stake in Lotus. It’s just a project, It’s been a proper rollercoaster, very exciting.”

Vettel, Raikkonen take on world’s fastest rollercoaster in Abu Dhabi (VIDEO)

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Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen both live life at high-speed racing in Formula 1, but how would they get on when faced with the fastest rollercoaster in the world?

To celebrate the fifth birthday of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Vettel and Raikkonen took on the Formula Rossa rollercoaster alongside reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez and other members of the Ferrari team.

Raikkonen is known for being the ‘Iceman’ and showing little emotion, and this was true even at the fastest points of the rollercoaster ride as he kept a straight face while Vettel raised his arms and whooped with excitement.

Never change, Kimi…

Alonso: Tough year with McLaren “necessary”

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Fernando Alonso believes that his tough 2015 Formula 1 campaign with McLaren was a “necessary” stage within his racing career.

Alonso left Ferrari at the end of 2014 after five seasons with the Italian marque to rejoin McLaren ahead of its new partnership with Japanese manufacturer Honda.

McLaren-Honda enjoyed immense success in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but 2015 has proven to be a stark juxtaposition thanks to numerous problems with the power unit.

The issues have limited Alonso to just two top-ten finishes in 2015, yielding 11 points to leave him a lowly 17th in the drivers’ championships.

However, the Spaniard was upbeat when reflecting on the season in spite of McLaren’s troubles, believing it to be an important stepping stone.

“Well, tough year, obviously difficult and struggling with the pace all year and the reliability, so definitely a difficult season for us,” Alonso conceded.

“But personally I think it was necessary. It was a step forward in my career after the two championships, after five fantastic seasons fighting for the world championship but arriving second, so I needed some new motivation, some new project that I could trust and I could believe is the only way to become champion again.

“After one difficult season, as I said, I learn so much. I enjoy working with McLaren, with Honda, with all the Japanese discipline and Japanese culture into the team.

“I still remain very positive. I’m very, very happy and looking forward to next year being a little bit easier than this one that, as I said, has been difficult in terms of results.”

Looking ahead to 2016, Alonso expects McLaren to make progress and move up the grid, but is unsure whether it will make enough of a leap forward to challenge for race wins once again.

“At the moment there’s a question mark, I guess, where McLaren-Honda can be next year,” Alonso said.

“There are a lot of expectations in the team. I think we worked really all season, being united in some difficult moments and always moving forward, so I think for 2016 the main goal for the team is to come back to where we belong, we think, and being competitive, fighting for the top positions.

“I don’t know if that means fighting for the championship, I don’t know if that means fighting for victories of just being on the podium sometimes, that’s always difficult to know in a very complex sport like Formula One.

“There are definitely some big challenges ahead in this winter and I see all the things that the team has done in the last couple of months and these seem very logical, very positive and I’m confident that it’s going to be a completely different season next year and I’m happy with the progress.”