Hamilton F1 Groundhog Day In Austria

Hamilton F1 Groundhog Day In Austria

It might be Groundhog Day as Formula One returns to the Red Bull Ring five days after Valtteri Bottas won there last Sunday, but there’s more than a few drivers who are hoping for a different outcome second time round in Austria.

And there could be rain to mix things up with a wet-weather forecast in the Austrian alps.

Lewis Hamilton tops the list of hopeful game changers in the Styrian Grand Prix after enduring a sloppy weekend by his standards.

Not only did he lose to his Mercedes-Benz team mate in both qualifying and the race, but Hamilton also copped a three-place qualifying penalty for not slowing under yellow flags and a five-second race penalty for causing a collision with Red Bull’s Alex Albon.

Some suggested he was distracted by his stand against racism, something he denies after arriving back at the track.

“I need to do a better job but I wouldn’t say I was distracted,” he says.

“My race was pretty strong but I don’t feel like I need to re-focus. I’m focused on both trying to win this championship and fight for equal rights.”

Those equal rights could be reflected in another pre-race stand on Sunday, although Hamilton is not aiming for a protest at every GP.

“I’m not against taking the knee again so if I can find a way of making sure it doesn’t get in the way of us doing our job, then I will.”

Mercedes showed some fragility in their cars with both drivers warned to stay off Spielberg’s notorious shark-tooth kerbs for fear of damaging their gearboxes, biut there was little else that stood in the way of the Silver Arrows dominance with Bottas nabbing pole by half second from the Red Bull of Max Verstappen in third and maintaining that race pace in the early stages.

“We were a bit down on pace compared to Mercedes in qualifying so we definitely need to close that gap to fight them in that area rather than on strategy,” Verstappen says, referring to the team’s gamble to start on medium tyres when all around him on the grid were on the faster soft-compound Pirelli rubber.

“I was looking good for a podium which I thought was easily possible because it was basically between Mercedes and myself on race pace.”

In the event, both Red Bulls were parked with what Honda says were electrical gremlins.

Honda’s F1 technical director, Toyoharu Tanabe says there were different problems in the two cars and that the good news for the team was that the power units on both cars were not damaged.

Lando Norris, still just 21 in his second year with McLaren, became the third-youngest driver to stand on an F1 podium after he set the fastest lap of the race while chasing down Hamilton’s five second penalty. He bridged the gap by less than 0.2 of a second to take third.

“I think we knew we’d be strong but the whole weekend was unexpected,” Norris says.

In the case of Ferrari, however, it’s more a case of looking to the skies for answers rather than rain.

Ferrari – and the Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeo and Haas cars – suffered miserably and with the exception of some hastily-prepared aero updates being rushed over from the factory, it seems little will change for the Prancing Horse on Sunday.

“It will be interesting to see a direct comparison to last weekend and where we will end up,” Vettel says.

Not surprisingly, the four-time world champ is quiet before the press given a lacklustre performance that heard him complaining over the radio about struggling to keep up with the Williams of George Russell.

Teammate Leclerc, who bravely dragged his car into second at the finish, was more vocal about his chances on Sunday.

“We are bringing some updates. We don’t know how much we’ll gain and if it will put us in contention for the podium, but realistically it is going to be very difficult because Red Bull and Mercedes are very quick,” he says.

“The safety car helped last week but we also made the best of our opportunities and I think anything is possible if we do the same this weekend. I don’t think we can be on the podium with pure performance but we are working to change this.”

If the sun is shining and Hamilton and Bottas stay off the kerbs, their rivals can expect to see little more than the tail of the two Mercedes disappearing into the distance.

However, after three safety car periods last weekend with thunderstorms predicted, and little likelihood that the nine retirements will be repeated this time in Austria, there is every chance of another competitive clash for the Styrian trophy.