The sound of Formula 1 returned to the Styrian mountains for the first time in over ten years today as practice for the Austrian Grand Prix took place at the Red Bull Ring. Predictably, Mercedes ruled the roost once again, with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton sharing the spoils on Friday.
However, much of the talk in the paddock had little to do with the on track action. In a rather tenuous team principals’ press conference, some tough topics were tackled including cost cutting and the need for fan engagement. Predictably, little appears to have moved on; action is needed, not more meetings that go nowhere.
Here is the full Austrian GP paddock notebook from Friday in Spielberg.
- First blood went to Nico Rosberg at the Red Bull Ring, as he edged out Lewis Hamilton by 0.140 seconds in the opening practice session.
- However, Hamilton redressed the balance in FP2 to finish over three-tenths of a second clear of his German teammate. Mercedes finished over half a tenth clear of the rest of the field.
NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK
- Lewis Hamilton could win fourteen races in 2014 and still not be crowned world champion, by virtue of the double points rule.
- In another attempt to ‘improve the show’ in Formula 1, two of the cars in FP1 were fitted with skid blocks to create sparks when the cars ran along the straight. It had mixed results.
- Will Buxton brings you the latest Paddock Pass from Austria, bringing you all of the main news and interviews ahead of this weekend’s race.
- Just why has Sebastian Vettel’s title defence been so tame? I take a look at his 2014 form and the reasons behind it.
- Toto Wolff has sold 5% of his shares in Williams to American businessman Brad Hollinger.
- Marco Mattiacci is excited about American involvement in F1, and expects a decision on supplying Haas Formula with engines in the coming weeks.
- Mercedes has found the perfect formula in 2014, so we’ve taken a look at the secrets behind its success.
- The FIA stewards in Austria have upheld the decision to give Sergio Perez a five place penalty for his part in the crash with Felipe Massa in Canada.
THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK
A busy day in Austria today, both on and off the track. Let’s start with the drivers themselves and how they fared out there on the circuit.
First up, Mercedes. I’m desperately trying not to re-use old headlines when surmising the Silver Arrows’ dominance, but after a while it can prove to be difficult. It was honors even between Lewis and Nico on Friday in Austria, taking one session each, and both drivers will be in the hunt for the race win on Sunday. Hamilton appears to be a little more at ease with the W05 car, but as we saw in Canada, Nico has the ability to spring a surprise and edge out his teammate when it matters.
Trailing in the German marque’s wake were Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams. After a poor first session, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo hit back in FP2 to finish inside the top ten. Although their one lap pace may not be too promising, Ricciardo’s long runs were impressive. He could be in the running to reach the podium on Sunday. Fernando Alonso finished third in both sessions for Ferrari, and he too will be in the hunt for his second podium finish of the year, while the Williams duo of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa should vie for the British team’s first of 2014.
Now to the off track stories…
The word “crisis” is being thrown about quite a lot in Formula 1 recently. A crisis in terms of costs, a crisis in terms of fan engagement, a crisis of viewing figures… the list goes on. However, whenever efforts are made to resolve these crises, there always appears to be something in the way.
In the team principal’s press conference, the topic of cost cutting came up again. Five of the teams present – Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Toro Rosso, Ferrari – have financial security and can willingly spend as much as they need to fight for championships (within reason, of course). The sixth, Sauber, was the only outfit that needs a cost cap or something of a similar ilk. The S.O.S signals have been sent out time and time again.
When a question about cost cutting was put to Toto Wolff of Mercedes, he reacted by asking why it had been asked at all. He preferred to focus on the fact that F1 had returned to Austria after so long away, and was shaping up to be a great event. Of course, from the top of the pile, the problems for those lower down are irrelevant. It is nice to be back in Austria, though.
Reports in the paddock today suggested that as of next season, restarts following a safety car period will come from a standing start. Once the issue has been resolved, the drivers will line up on the grid and start from there. Immediately, it received snorts of derision and exclamations of “seriously?” from members of the paddock. Why not just red flag the race every time that there is an incident warranting a safety car? It would have the same effect.
For all of the talk about fan engagement, the steps that are being taken appear to be doing quite the opposite. The political landscape in Formula 1 is a muddy one at the moment, especially with the abyss between the F1 Strategy Group members – Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, McLaren, Lotus – and the rest of the teams seeming to grow by the minute.
Tomorrow should see focus switch back to what is happening on the track. That’s definitely for the best.
You can watch qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET tomorrow. We will also be live streaming FP3, which will be online at 5am.