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

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.