Leclerc aims to get back on track but history at Austrian GP does not favour Ferrari

Silverstone provided a thrilling race and a victory for the Italian team but Red Bull are expected to dominate their home race

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc finished fourth at the British Grand Prix despite leading until the final few laps, a tyre strategy scuppering his chances of victory. Getty
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Heading to Austria the mood music in Formula 1 has changed dramatically.

There is not only the euphoria of a new winner at Silverstone but the sport having dodged a bullet after emerging unscathed from two massive accidents, as well as one of the best races of recent times.

The last few months had bought increasing noise that the new regulations were not working, but that has been laid to rest – at least for now – by the drama of the British Grand Prix.

Watching a five car battle for second place right to the flag – and even the identity of the winner hanging in the balance until late on – had the capacity 140,000 crowd on their feet and screaming.

But this column has contended before that far from a formula finding its feet the real truth could be elsewhere. Maybe these bigger, heavier cars will only truly shine on the more expansive, old-school circuits like Silverstone, Belgium, Imola and Monza.

Ironically these are the so-called legacy tracks that find their future endangered by new venues with fatter wallets queueing up to join the F1 calendar.

Silverstone is unlikely to be on the chopping block but Spa, a fans' favourite and perhaps the place most suited to the new ground effect cars, is in the last year of its current deal. One source says both Spa and Paul Ricard in France were not on a provisional calendar for 2023 circulated to teams recently.

Monza has two more years and Imola just one more than that. Monaco, as far from an expansive track as you can get admittedly but nonetheless a legacy venue, is out of contract and sweating.

While in the paddock the championship contenders look to Spielberg with contrasting emotions. Austria is a mini-Silverstone in many respects with its string of high speed corners and usually dishes up drama.

That is sure to be doubled by the love-it-or-hate-it sprint formula with its packed schedule, Saturday racing and increased jeopardy.

British Grand Prix - in pictures

With it comes an extra nine points Charles Leclerc desperately needs to get his derailed season back on track. But the chances are they will go the way of his biggest rival, championship leader Max Verstappen, who won both ‘home’ races here last year and has triumphed twice before that.

Silverstone was another messy affair for Ferrari. Missed strategy calls and unnecessary accidents were only part of the story. That teammate Carlos Sainz defied team orders and then went on to win will only have added to tensions at Maranello.

And the finger-wagging their driver received from his boss left the mood decidedly sombre on one side of the garage. So gloomy in fact that some engineers reportedly refused to take part in the podium celebrations or the team victory photograph that followed, until management stepped in.

There are few things so corrosive as a team divided within itself. Healthy competition between the two halves is supposed to be the engine of increased competitiveness.

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr claimed his first victory at the British Grand Prix. AFP

Despite the win the feeling of a championship slipping inexorably out of reach is feeding the desperation at Ferrrari rather than creating a determination to redouble their efforts.

We are no longer talking about a few missed opportunities now but a seven-race catalogue of calamity that grows with every raceday despite having the fastest car.

And history does not favour the guys in red who have not won at Spielberg since the height of Michael Schumacher’s fame and the brace of wins in 2002/03, one which ended with an infamous $1 million fine.

Lewis Hamilton, like Schumacher, has always struggled at the Red Bull Ring. While he has won eight times at other venues he has ‘only’ a pair of victories and been bettered by his teammates four times here.

Lewis Hamilton, who took third at the British Grand Prix, has a patchy record in Austria. Reuters

Even so, Austria is a chance to prove whether Mercedes upgrades are as potent as they appeared at Silverstone, and behind the scenes could be even better news for the champions.

FIA safety investigations into ‘porpoising’ uncovered a loophole exploited by Ferrari and Red Bull. While not illegal Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said the news was “a shocker” given the intent of the regulations was clear.

Could this be the reason for the superior speed of both teams? And could the FIA’s ‘clarification’ coming in for the next round in France catapult Mercedes back into contention?

The last thing Ferrari need right now is a revitalised Mercedes stealing even more points off the table as they attempt to recover lost ground.

Updated: July 07, 2022, 7:50 AM
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