The ninth round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria.
Sebastian Vettel leads the world drivers’ championship for Ferrari on 153 points, extending his lead over Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton (139 points) to 14 points after both finishing off the podium in Azerbaijan in fourth and fifth respectively, making it the first race since the Malaysian Grand Prix last year where neither Vettel or Hamilton finished on the podium.
Both the championship protagonists had problems in Azerbaijan, with Vettel receiving a 10 second STOP-AND-GO penalty after causing a collision with Hamilton, while Hamilton had to unexpectedly pit to change his headrest after it wasn’t attached properly after the red flag midway through the race.
The penalty for Vettel received a lot of criticism for various media sources close to Formula One, as well as teams, drivers, and legends of the sport.
I have stated my opinion on the incident between Vettel and Hamilton last week and while I thought Vettel should have been disqualified for breaches of Article 27.4, and Article 39.8 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations, I can understand the difficulty stewards had in handing out a penalty that fit the crime due to the penalty-points system that has been introduced into Formula One in recent years, and thought it was the better way of handling the incident, although many people would disagree with this.
Valtteri Bottas is third in the world championship for Mercedes on 111 points after salvaging a miraculous second after being a lap down after two laps after a tyre puncture after a collision with Kimi Räikkönen.
Räikkönen drops to fifth in the world championship on 73 points after having a myriad of issues in Azerbaijan, eventually retiring with an oil leak. He needs to respond this with a podium (at worst), otherwise his place at Ferrari for 2018 will be under scrutiny.
The man in fourth position in the world championship is Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo (92 points) after a remarkable victory on the streets of Baku, taking his fifth race win of his Formula One career, and capping off a run of four-consecutive podiums.
While he has never had to best car throughout his Formula One career so far, Ricciardo has this innate ability to put himself in at the right place, at the right time to pick up the pieces if rivals have problems, and run with it!
Talking about fierce rivals, Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen cannot a trick right now in his Red Bull, suffering his fourth retirement of the season, and his second retirement in a row at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, growing ever frustrated at his team’s inability to produce a reliable car.
Verstappen looked like a genuine contender for a race victory in Baku for most of the weekend until encountering issues with his car. Red Bull have got to sort out their reliability issues with both cars if they want to make sure they keep third place in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of Force India.
Before I touch on the Constructors’ Championship, I would like to give a special mention to Lance Stroll for his first podium in Formula One. Stroll drove a very mature race to become the second-youngest driver to finish on a Formula One podium, and while he is not the finished product yet, he does have some untapped potential and deserves to be persevered with.
In terms of the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes (250 points) lead by 24 points over Ferrari (226 points), with both Red Bull (137 points) and Force India (79 points) comfortably in third and fourth respectively. There is a good scrap for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship with Williams (37 points), Toro Rosso (33 points), Haas (21 points), and Renault (18 points) all within 19 points of each other, with Sauber (five points) and McLaren (two points) battling for ninth and 10th in the Constructors’ Championship after Fernando Alonso scored McLaren’s first points of the season in Azerbaijan.
Looking at who will be strong at the Red Bull Ring, on paper Mercedes looks like the better package, who have all the ingredients for success in Spielberg, with a strong powerunit, a well-balanced car through the quick corners and changes of direction, and decent traction out of the slow to medium speed corners.
Ferrari also look close to Mercedes on paper, while it will be interesting to see whether Red Bull will have a good package in Austria to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari.
I am tipping a Mercedes victory, with Lewis Hamilton leading home a Mercedes one-two finish.
The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 10am and 2pm local time (6pm and 10pm AEST).
The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 11am and 2pm local time (7pm and 10pm AEST).
The 71 lap race is on Sunday from 2pm local time (10pm AEST).