The seven key factors for today’s race

Max Verstappen provided a real demonstration of power in qualifying in Spielberg. The up-and-coming competition around Lando Norris and McLaren suffered a bitter setback. The world champions are also optimistic about the race. So can we expect another monotonous Verstappen performance? Not at all. These are the seven key factors for a spectacular Austrian Grand Prix.

1. S for starting grid

In recent weeks, Formula 1 fans have seen a racing series that hasn’t been seen for a long time. Max Verstappen and Red Bull seemed vulnerable, McLaren became the main competitor and often even had the faster car. Lando Norris even put his Papaya car on pole position in Spain a week ago. But at the Red Bull Ring, Max Verstappen’s dominance returned. The world champion secured pole position by a wide margin ahead of Lando Norris, to the cheers of his numerous fans who had travelled there.

George Russell will be taking his place behind the two rivals in the Mercedes on Sunday. This starting position would actually have gone to the second McLaren driver Oscar Piastri, but his lap time was cancelled due to track limits. A decision against which McLaren has lodged a protest. Russell is followed by Carlos Sainz, Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc. Ferrari and Mercedes appear to be on the same level in Austria as they were in Barcelona. Piastri, a once again disappointing Sergio Perez, Nico Hülkenberg and Esteban Ocon complete the top 10.

Outside of the points, the field is as mixed as ever. Daniel Ricciardo is the first to chase the top 10, followed by Kevin Magnussen, Pierre Gasly and his team-mate Yuki Tsunoda. A hugely disappointing Aston Martin, Williams and Sauber are the Formula 1 backbenchers in Spielberg. Fernando Alonso, Alexander Albon, Lance Stroll, Valtteri Bottas, Logan Sargeant and Guanyu Zhou will probably compete for the golden pineapple in that order.

2. S for Super Max

The Red Bull Ring is and will remain Max Verstappen’s living room. Year after year, the entire Spielberg is filled with the ‘Orange Army’ and the Dutchman is regularly at his best at the Austrian GP. This was no different this time in qualifying. He was over four tenths behind his pursuer Lando Norris. An impressive gap on the extremely short Red Bull Ring. A setup change from Friday to Saturday was perfect for Verstappen, who felt more comfortable in his car than he has for a long time.

The world champion will be the man to beat in the race. Red Bull motorsport advisor Dr. Helmut Marko is already sure of this. “The way Max is going, only something extraordinary can stop him,” said the man from Graz after qualifying. Verstappen was also unusually optimistic about the race on Saturday. But there are some dangers lurking.

3. S for Start

The start at the Red Bull Ring could turn the entire race on its head. For the third time in a row, Verstappen will share the front row with Lando Norris, and the McLaren driver came up short both times. Norris was also unable to exert any pressure at the start of the sprint race. But as we all know, all good things come in threes. If Norris can get past the start this time, Formula 1 fans can look forward to a spectacle at the front. But why?

4. S for legendary DRS effect

The answer is DRS. There is plenty of that at the Red Bull Ring. Three DRS zones are placed one after the other on the 4.318-kilometer-long race track. The frequency of the DRS areas and their arrangement ensure that even supposedly slower cars can attack the cars in front of them. The other side of the coin, however, are the DRS moves, which are hated by drivers, teams and fans and result in few position changes.

Pole setter Max Verstappen leads ahead of Lando Norris in the McLaren
The duel for victory between Verstappen and Norris, Photo: LAT Images

Getting the setup right in relation to the DRS is one of the main challenges for the mechanics of the Formula 1 teams. The fact that the DRS effect is so strong in Spielberg could play into the hands of Max Verstappen’s pursuers. In the sprint, it was already clear how strong the McLaren can be when the driver in front, most likely Max Verstappen, does not have DRS. Norris was even in the lead for a short time – until Verstappen countered brilliantly.

5. Battle of the Tires

It will be warm in Spielberg today – very warm. Meteorologists are predicting temperatures of over 28 degrees at the start of the race. The track already heated up to 47 degrees on Saturday. The result of the heat: the tires on the Red Bull Ring wear out and overheat extremely quickly. Many of the drivers are expecting a strong tire management race. The ability of the driver and car to treat the sensitive Pirelli tires with care can make the difference between victory and defeat in the race.

The teams are all expecting at least a two-stop race. Red Bull has saved two fresh sets of hard tires because of the looming tire battle. It will be exciting to see what strategies the teams will choose for the race. Apart from a few gamblers at the start or drivers who are going for the fastest lap, the soft tire is not considered an attractive option.

6. S like stones on the track

For all the positive aspects of the Red Bull Ring, there has always been one central point of criticism in recent years: the track limits. The drivers are particularly susceptible to these on the track in Styria, especially in the last two corners. The problem culminated in 2023 in a subsequent penalty orgy, during which for a long time no one really knew who had finished the race in which position. But this year the FIA ​​and the track operator have come up with a solution.

Gravel beds have been set into the ground in the critical corners to punish drivers who drive too far off the track. For MotoGP, where gravel beds are hated, they are then inexpensively filled with concrete. So far, the solution has shown very promising results. After years, the track limits are finally no longer an annoying, ongoing issue at the Red Bull Ring. But the solution is still not perfect.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen
Watch out for gravel beds!, Photo: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The result of the gravel beds is a much dustier track. Drivers who misjudge a corner and slide through the gravel bed throw the small stones onto the track in large numbers. This has already been observed in training, sprint qualifying, sprint and qualifying. Small stones on the racing line are of course anything but harmless, which is why the marshals had to sweep them away after each session in qualifying. This is of course not possible in the race. It remains to be seen how the new track limits solution will work out in the race.

7th Styria Spectacle

The Austrian Grand Prix is ​​also known among fans as the ‘Holiday Grand Prix’. Every year, Spielberg is transformed into a huge party – usually orange – for a weekend. Concerts, air shows, stunts and much more have been part of the supporting program at the Red Bull Ring for years.

Haas driver Nico Hülkenberg
Numerous fans at the Red Bull Ring, Photo: LAT Images

But the Austrian Grand Prix promises to be a spectacle not only off the track. In terms of racing, the race in Styria is one of the most entertaining of the entire racing year year after year. Thanks to its special layout and the DRS component mentioned above, fans regularly get to see spectacular duels. The track is also very popular among the drivers. So everything is set for a great afternoon at the Red Bull Ring. wishes you lots of fun at our home GP!

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