F1 Preview: 2017 Austrian Grand Prix

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After flyaway races in Canada and Azerbaijan, Formula 1 returns to its European heartland this weekend with the Austrian Grand Prix to start a stretch of races on the continent taking us to the beginning of fall.

Austria returned to the F1 calendar in 2014 after an 11-year absence at the redesigned and rebranded Red Bull Ring, with the race since becoming a firm favorite among drivers, fans and teams.

While it may be Red Bull Racing’s home race, it is Mercedes who has ruled the roost in recent years with three straight victories between Nico Rosberg (2) and Lewis Hamilton (1).

Hamilton arrives in Austria looking to bounce back from a difficult Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend that saw him lose more ground on title rival Sebastian Vettel following a controversial clash.

Contact between Hamilton and Vettel behind the safety car saw the latter receive an in-race penalty for dangerous driving, but escaped further punishment after making a formal apology.

Hamilton was unimpressed by his rival’s actions, acting as the first needle between the title contenders in 2017 after a cordial start to their battle through the opening seven races.

With a 14-point lead, can Vettel kick on and extend his advantage in Austria? Or will Hamilton bounce back and cut the gap at the top? All will be revealed in Spielberg this weekend…

2017 Austrian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Will the Hamilton-Vettel fight rumble on?

The clash between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel caused shockwaves in the F1 world, with the aftershock even being felt across global sport, such is the interest in having a sporting rivalry boil over in such fashion.

The parties involved may have said that it is case closed and moved on from the incident, but Hamilton and Vettel will both be barraged with questions over the Austria weekend – as, most probably, will the rest of the paddock – and their responses will be of interest.

Vettel has fulfilled the FIA’s requests by issuing a public apology, although he is yet to speak about it on the record. The first opportunity will come during the press conference on Friday, where he will be sat alongside – you guessed it – Hamilton.

Hamilton made his feelings clear about the incident speaking to NBCSN after the race in Baku, believing it to set a “dangerous precedent” for future clashes. Mercedes’ F1 chief Toto Wolff may have moved on, but will Hamilton toe the party line?

Mercedes looks to pull clear after Baku pace advantage

Away from the clash, Mercedes and Ferrari have been going head-to-head all season long, seemingly level-pegged and only experiencing a performance swing depending on circuit or tire characteristics.

But Baku appeared to change that. Mercedes finished a full second clear of Ferrari in qualifying, and Hamilton rarely looked challenged in the race up front. Mercedes had an advantage that was perhaps only neared by Ferrari in Monaco, and even that was circuit-specific.

So can Mercedes kick on in Austria? The German marque has a 100 per cent record since the race’s revival to defend, and will want to send out a statement to its rivals by taking another victory on Red Bull’s home turf.

Red Bull looks to build on Baku victory

Daniel Ricciardo’s victory in Azerbaijan two weeks ago may have marked a big breakthrough for Red Bull as its first win of the season, but the team is under no illusions about where it stands in the F1 pecking order.

Clearly Mercedes and Ferrari remain the teams to beat in F1, so Red Bull’s challenge will be to once again pick up the pieces if either of them drop the ball. It worked a treat in Baku.

The Austrian Grand Prix has been a strange race for Red Bull in recent years though. Despite being a promotional goldmine for the brand and a celebratory event for the team, its results have been left wanting, scoring just one podium finish from a possible six in the last three years through Max Verstappen last year.

While a repeat result may prove difficult this year given Mercedes and Ferrari’s advantage, it will be interesting to see just how close Red Bull can get.

Fractures at Force India?

The clash between Hamilton and Vettel was not the only one of note in Baku, with a tangle between Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon on one of the safety car restarts costing Force India a shot at a podium finish – or perhaps even bigger things.

The pair made contact while running third and fourth respectively, with Perez pointing the finger at Ocon. Force India said earlier this week that it would not change its approach in regards to letting its drivers race, although it did take steps to remind its drivers that the team result must not be hurt by their own on-track battles.

Ocon and Perez are yet to talk about the incident, with a meeting scheduled for later today, but after two straight races with clashes, both will need to be careful if they want to capitalize on the team’s growing ability.

McLaren hopes to impress with Spec 3 power unit

Some rare good news for McLaren arrived earlier this week: Honda’s ‘Spec 3’ power unit update that was tested in Baku is now ready to go in both cars this weekend in Austria, giving Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne a boost for the Red Bull Ring.

McLaren arrived back in Europe on a high after scoring its first points of the year in Baku, with Alonso getting two on the board for ninth place. While it was by no means representative of where the team stands, it was progress nonetheless.

Honda has so much ground to make up that a single upgrade is likely to make a world of difference to the team. That said, McLaren will hope to take a step forward against its rivals and maybe get in the mix for points once again in Austria, should signs of improvement come from Honda.

2017 Austrian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Red Bull Ring
Corners: 10
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:08.337 (2003)
Tire Compounds: Ultra-Soft/Super-Soft/Soft
2016 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:07.922
2016 Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:08.411
DRS Zone: T10 to T1, T3 to T4

2017 Austrian Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

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Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
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Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
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Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
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