Austrian Grand Prix Preview: Can Williams spring a surprise again?

After a quick stop in North America, Formula 1 returns back to Europe for the eighth race in 2015. After some time away from the calendar, new ownership, a new name and after being given a facelift, the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg last season marked its return to Formula 1 in fine style.

Speaking of returning in fine style, Lewis Hamilton made quite the statement in Canada didn’t he? After losing out to Nico Rosberg in both Spain and in controversial style around the streets of Monte-Carlo, it was Hamilton that took pole position on Saturday and cruised to victory the following day putting the momentum firmly back onto his side of the Mercedes garage.

All hope is not lost for Rosberg. Whilst the German is 17 points behind Hamilton, he did win this event last time out. With home advantage at the race following this weekend, now wouldn’t be the worst time to take a victory.

Just nine corners make up the Red Bull Ring. Ironically, despite the owner of the circuit calling the shots at the team, expect this weekend to be somewhat of a struggle. Much like Canada, Austria is what you would call a “power circuit”, a track that rewards an engine in the form of a Mercedes or to a lesser extent a Ferrari.

For all their dominance, there is a glimmer of hope, not for Red Bull, but for Williams. Mercedes have taken pole position for eighteen consecutive races. When was the last time that the run away leaders did not start from pole you ask? Here, in Austria. Last season, much to the surprise of everyone it was Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas that led away the pack on Sunday afternoon.

This season has not quite gone to plan for Williams. In 2014 they were the surprise package and were for the most part nip and tuck with Red Bull aiming to be the second fastest car and made regular visits to the podium. This season? Not so much with Bottas recording the team’s first podium of the season in Canada, two weeks ago. With upgrades coming to the car this weekend, another podium looks to be on the cards. 

Ferrari’s weekend in Canada was underwhelming to say the least and one that the team will look back on with great fondness. Sebastian Vettel failed to make it out of Q1 after reliability problems, with that said, the four-time champion did recover well to finish in fifth place, just five seconds behind team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. 

The performance from the Ferrari engine upgrades looked great back at base and on paper did not materialize on track, with a trouble free Sunday, perhaps it could be a better weekend for the Prancing Horse and will give an indication as to whether or not the gap has been closed to the Mercedes powered cars.

Lotus finally showed some good pace in Canada, but it was still a case of what may have been. Romain Grosjean opened his account in Montreal with his seventh place finish. Grosjean was also on for a good haul of points until he made contact with the Marussia of Will Stevens when trying to lap the backmarker on the run to the final chicane, which surprisingly caught no one out during the weekend, so well done to all involved. Perhaps Lotus could be in for another strong showing this weekend.

What does an F1 driver do on his weekend off? Depending on whom you ask, the answers will vary. Most drivers probably enjoy a rare weekend off to rest, but not Nico Hulkenberg. The German who at the minute seems to be everyone’s favourite driver thought he would compete in the LMP1 class for Porsche at Le Mans, he didn’t do badly either.

After 24 hours it was Hulkenberg who crossed the line to take an historic victory at perhaps the most famous race in the world. Quite the achievement. Unfortunately his Force India car doesn’t quite match his talent, but points are on the horizon. Team-mate Sergio Perez, narrowly missed out on points in Canada after finishing eleventh place.

Canada was another chapter in McLaren’s long book of woes this season with neither car making it to the finish, with the Red Bull Ring sharing similar characteristics to Montreal. There are encouraging signs for McLaren this weekend with the team bringing a major area update to the car, with that said though there is still gloom. Honda look set to make changes to the engine on car number 14 with the team admitting to “expect penalties”. It looks like it will be a long 71 laps for both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso. Patience will be tested.

What do you think of the Austrian track? Have your say in the comments section below.