Austrian GP: Red Bull and McLaren expecting tight fight at Red Bull Ring on Sprint weekend | F1 News

Austrian GP: Red Bull and McLaren expecting tight fight at Red Bull Ring on Sprint weekend | F1 News

Max Verstappen admits his team cannot afford “messy” weekends to continue winning in Formula 1, such are the tight margins between Red Bull and McLaren ahead of this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen and Lando Norris have fought for the win in four of the last five events as the field has closed up since the latter won the Miami Grand Prix in early May.

Ferrari and Mercedes were slightly off the pace last time out in Barcelona but the short lap time at the Red Bull Ring, which is the shortest of the year, should make things extremely competitive.

McLaren are the team with momentum though and it was this time 12 months ago when they put their first major upgrade on the car, which marked the start of their move towards the front of the pecking order.

“I think McLaren at the moment, they’re just very solid. They’re good everywhere, every single track,” said Verstappen, who leads the championship by 69 points from Norris.

“You could see in Barcelona, they were very good on their tyres. They could just push more on them compared to, I think, everyone else on the grid without actually degrading off that much at the end of stints.

“Even the last stint, my last few laps were quite a struggle, where Lando was definitely catching up a lot, so these are things that we have to do better. Plus, of course, our known issues with the kerbs and bumps, low speed, basically.”

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Max Verstappen dismissed rumours he’d leave Red Bull anytime soon saying he’s focused on next year.

Important to be quick out of the blocks

Austria is a Sprint weekend, so there is just one practice session at 11.30am on Friday before going straight into Sprint Qualifying at 3.30pm – live on Sky Sports F1.

In Imola and Canada, Red Bull found themselves on the backfoot but spent hours in the simulator overnight to find a sweet spot and Verstappen was able to get onto the front row.

I would say Barcelona, we had just a normal weekend, we were just too slow,” said Verstappen on Red Bull’s inconsistent Fridays recently.

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Look back at some of the most dramatic moments throughout the years at the Austrian Grand Prix.

“Then you try to keep on making adjustments and then luckily, I think in qualifying, it all felt a bit better. But that was probably just a normal progression that you have throughout the weekend.

“Before that, of course, we had some messy weekends. So we cannot afford that anymore, these kind of things. So of course, I just hope for a clean weekend, basically like we did in Barcelona, but hopefully a little bit more pace as well.”

As for McLaren, they appear to have a more well-rounded car that is easier to get into the optimal working window.

Oscar Piastri has struggled at the last two events but thinks McLaren’s car is able to be fast straight away on a race weekend.

“Barcelona aside, I have been comfortable with the car from the first lap in practice,” he said.

“I think we should be pretty confident we can hit the ground running. Last weekend was a reminder it’s not always easy to achieve that, but we should be confident we can be strong out of the blocks.”

Traffic to be an issue

The short lap time means traffic will be a major problem in Sprint Qualifying and Qualifying, especially in the first segment of each session.

Ideally, the drivers will want to be three seconds behind another car who is also on a flying lap to get a small benefit of the slipstream without being hindered by dirty air in the corners.

However, the drivers will also back up before starting their lap in the final two corners, which now features gravel close to the edge of the circuit.

It’s an area which Norris is highly aware of and he believes certain drivers tend to allegedly block more than others.

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George Russell says it’s good to see Lando Norris at the top battling for wins but joked he hopes it won’t ‘last long’.

“It’s always crazy, especially on shorter circuits. There are common denominators of people who get in the way and stuff like that. It’s normally quite clear who does it,” said Norris.

“For us, getting out of the way of people is the highest priority of our communication and it doesn’t seem like that’s the case for other people. Nothing we can do about it.

“It’s always chaotic because you use it to try to get slipstreams at times but with a blind last two corners it’s sometimes hard to know because the speed difference between a slow lap and quick lap are pretty big. That’s the challenge of the circuit.

“It’s up to the drivers, if they don’t want to get a penalty, they should tell their engineer to give more information on where people are.”

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Take a look at Lando Norris’ rollercoaster race in Spain as the McLaren driver came so close to his second Formula 1 win.

Close fight expected for rest of the season

Red Bull have a 60-point advantage over Ferrari and are 93 points in front of McLaren in the constructors’ championship.

Sergio Perez has scored just four points in the last three races, with Christian Horner admitting the Mexican must improve to help the team in the title race.

Whether Perez can consistently perform closely to Verstappen will dictate McLaren and Ferrari’s chances to reel Red Bull in.

“We are working flat out as a team to make every weekend better and more straightforward. I know there will be good weekends and bad weekends,” said Perez.

“Last weekend the margins were extremely tight and if you find a couple tenths it will make a massive difference. It’s important to be calm about it.”

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Sergio Perez says he’s aiming for a positive weekend in Austria after suffering several ‘nightmare’ races this season.

Perez hasn’t beaten Verstappen when both drivers have seen the chequered flag for over a year and the close fight at the front has seen other teams get in between the Red Bull pair.

The 34-year-old says “it’s important to maximise form” and expects the close competition to continue all the way until the season-finale in Abu Dhabi.

“I think it will be like this for the rest of the year unless someone finds a magic bullet. But I don’t expect it.

“It’s getting harder and harder for people to find performance. There will be tracks where one team is very good at and vice versa.

“It will be down to the level of detail, level of precision and maximising weekends when you have the opportunity to win.”

Sky Sports F1’s live Austrian GP schedule

The Austrian Grand Prix takes place this weekend at the Red Bull Ring - live on Sky Sports F1

Thursday June 27
12.30pm: Drivers’ Press Conference

Friday June 28
7.50am: F3 Practice
9am: F2 Practice
11am: Austrian GP Practice One (session starts at 11.30am)
12.55pm: F3 Qualifying
1.50pm: F2 Qualifying
3pm: Austrian GP Sprint Qualifying (session starts at 3.30pm)*

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Look back at some of the most dramatic moments throughout the years at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Saturday June 29
8.25am: F3 Sprint
10am: Austrian GP Sprint (race starts at 11am)*
12.25pm: F2 Sprint
2pm: Austrian GP Qualifying build-up
3pm: Austrian GP Qualifying
5pm: Ted’s Qualifying Notebook

Sunday June 30
7.25am: F3 Feature Race
8.55am: F2 Feature Race
12:30pm: Grand Prix Sunday: Austrian GP build-up*
4pm: Chequered Flag: Austrian GP reaction*
5pm: Ted’s Notebook

*also live on Sky Sports Main Event

F1’s triple-header continues at the Austrian Grand Prix this coming week – with the Sprint format returning at the Red Bull Ring. Watch every session live on Sky Sports F1, with Sunday’s big race at 2pm. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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