F1 Preview – 2018 Austrian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images

The second leg of a three-race “triple header” – a stretch of three races in a row for Formula 1 – is at the Red Bull Ring for this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.

The circuit may be named for the Austrian energy drink, meaning it’s a home race for Red Bull Racing, but Mercedes has dominated at the circuit since it returned in 2014. Former Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg won twice (2014 and 2016), while Lewis Hamilton (2015) and Valtteri Bottas (2017) have one victory each.

And Mercedes enters the Red Bull Ring on a high note, coming off a dominant Hamilton victory at the French Grand Prix, a win that vaulted Hamilton back into the championship lead – he leads Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 14 points entering Austria.

Talking points ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix are below.

Who will have the advantage between Mercedes and Ferrari?

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MAY 13: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 13, 2018 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Mercedes and Ferrari have engaged in a tug of war throughout 2018, and each race seems to change which one has the upperhand over the other.

In France, it was Mercedes that had the advantage, possibly thanks in part to a power unit upgrade. Hamilton and Bottas were fastest all weekend and qualified 1-2, with Hamilton going unchallenged on his way to victory.

Bottas, meanwhile, suffered misfortune in the form of contact with Sebastian Vettel in the first corner, which punctured the left-rear tire of Bottas’ W09 – he eventually finished seventh.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff fully expects the back and forth with Ferrari to continue, however, highlighting the Austrian circuit’s tighter nature as well as an additional DRS zone – there are three in play at the Red Bull Ring – as obvious variables they’ll have to account for.

“The relatively short lap in Austria makes the circuit challenging as it closes up the field in qualifying and will make the margins even tighter. We will aim to hit the ground running as qualifying is particularly important because overtaking has historically been tricky despite the long straights – although we need to wait and see if that changes this year with an additional DRS zone,” Wolf explained.

Rest assured, things will likely be very close again amongst the two heavyweights.

Bottas Looks for Lady Luck to Cut Him a Break

Valtteri Bottas during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 22, 2018 in Le Castellet, France.

Valtteri Bottas might be the unluckiest driver of the 2018 season. Although he sits fourth in the driver’s championship with four second place finishes to his name, Lady Luck simply hasn’t blessed him when he’s needed it.

A victory beckoned in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix before a cut tire in the final laps saw it slip away and he finished 14th – teammate Hamilton won that day.

And in France, Bottas should have easily finished on the podium, but the aforementioned contact with Vettel, which was not of Bottas’ doing, dropped him from podium contention and forced him to spend the remainder of the race with a damaged car.

Wolff highlighted Bottas’ bad luck, asserting that he’s run better than the results have shown.

“We’re going to Austria leading both the constructors’ and the drivers’ championships, but we know that we will once again get every detail right if we want a chance to win the race – and, in Valtteri’s case in particular, he needs luck to go his way a little more than we have seen in recent races, because he hasn’t had the results that his performances should have earned,” he explained.

Bottas is the defending winner in Austria, so this round presents an opportunity for him to get back on track.

Red Bull Looks for Success on its Home Turf

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JUNE 22: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 22, 2018 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

The 2014 and 2015 races at Red Bull’s home circuit left a little bit to be desired – they did not score a podium in either race.

However the last two have seen their fortunes shift. Max Verstappen finished second in 2016, and Daniel Ricciardo back up that effort in 2017, finishing third.

The Red Bull Ring is among the shorter circuits on the schedule, giving it something in common with the Monaco Grand Prix circuit – Red Bull dominated that event, with Ricciardo overcoming an MGU-K issue to take the victory.

Mercedes and Ferrari have a pace advantage on Red Bull, but the short Austrian circuit could negate that and give them more of a fighting chance.

“Austria is a short lap, but a very busy one. It’s pretty hectic,” Ricciardo said of the circuit. “The middle and last sectors are really fast, in fact the final two corners are my favourite, especially in the current cars. The race is intense and feels high paced from start to finish so you have to concentrate hard. As the lap is so short there is no room for error – one little mistake will cost you, as all the times are very close.”

Verstappen is motivated to improve upon last year’s outing, which saw him drop out after Lap 1 due to contact. And an influx of Dutch fans will give him extra motivation to do well, giving him his own small “home race” of sorts.

“Last year ended way too soon due to contact at Turn 1 so I’ll be out to make up for that this year,” he explained. “The track is a fun lap, sector two is definitely my favorite part of the circuit. As you come into the infield you have back-to-back fast left hand corners which are really enjoyable. This year there will also be a stand full of Dutch fans there, so that will make it even more special. There is in fact a Dutch campsite just outside the circuit which I heard around 5,000 fans are attending – that sounds like it will be fun, certainly noisy!”


  • Romain Grosjean is yet to score any points in 2018 despite a strong amount of pace. Conversely, teammate Kevin Magnussen sits on 27 points after finishing sixth in France. Grosjean will be desperate to get in the points, and soon – being so badly outscored by a teammate, even if it is largely down to luck, is never a good thing.
  • McLaren looks to rebound after both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne failed to score points in France. Alonso hasn’t scored since the Spanish Grand Prix, while Vandoorne has been scoreless since Azerbaijan.
  • Charles Leclerc will look to continue his strong run of performances. He has four finishes inside the points in 2018, putting him on the radar of teams like Ferrari, and more finishes like that will only add to his stock.


Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The Red Flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500