2016 Austrian Grand Prix Practice Review

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Nico Rosberg wins the European Grand Prix ahead of Sebastian Vettel in second place and Sergio Perez in third place. Williams, Force India and Red Bull managed to get some much needed points from the race.

The Red Bull Ring, formerly known as A1-Ring, is host for the Austrian Grand Prix. The circuit is located near the city of Spielberg in Styria, in the southeast of Austria. The area is harmoniously integrated into the landscape and offers a breathtaking surrounding, a panoramic view as well as a great safety because of long, asphalted run off areas. With lap times of around 70 seconds, it is one of the quickest laps on the Formula 1 calendar.

Red Bull Ring is 4.326 kilometers long with a total of only 8 turns, 6 right-handers and 2 left-handers. The driving direction is clockwise. Due to stop and go passages on turn 1 and 2, the track is very challenging. The downhill sections with the curves are very tricky, especially if the track is wet. Get this right and a driver is well on his way to a competitive lap time. Cars need plenty of power as the few corners are relatively quick and are linked by long straights that require plenty of full-throttle running. Drivers are flat out on the accelerator for 72 percent of the lap.

A race track has existed at the current location in one form or another since 1969. The originally name was Osterreichring and it was a spectacular, scenic and unique circuit. It was totally redesigned by German track designer Hermann Tilke and rebuilt in 1995 and 1996. It was also renamed the A1-Ring. Its length was shortened from 5.942 to 4.326 kilometers, and the fast sweeping corners were replaced by three tight right-handers, in order to create overtaking opportunities. The track was renamed the Red Bull Ring in 2011.

Practices 1, 2 and 3

The main headline from the Practice sessions is that Mercedes and Ferrari look to have the driver-car package to beat this weekend as weather conditions and tyre management which will test the drivers, teams and the cars throughout Friday and Saturday practice sessions.

Nico Rosberg tops the timesheets in FP1 and FP2.

Nico Rosberg tops the timesheets in FP1 and FP2.

Practice 1 saw Nico Rosberg tops the timesheet with a time of 1.07.373 followed closely by Lewis Hamilton with a gap of 0.357 seconds behind, Sebastian Vettel was in third with a gap of 0.661 seconds behind, Kimi Raikkonen in fourth with a gap of 0.849 seconds behind and Daniel Ricciardo in fifth with a gap of 1.155 seconds behind Rosberg.

Carlos Sainz Jr is sixth with a gap of 1.430 seconds behind, Felipe Massa is seventh with a gap of 1.451 seconds behind, Max Verstappen is eighth with a gap of 1.589 seconds behind, Daniil Kvyat is ninth with a gap of 1.617  seconds behind and Valtteri Bottas is tenth with a gap of 1.625 seconds behind Rosberg.

Rosberg’s time of 1:07.373 beat Michael Schumacher’s best time from the first qualifying session in 2003 by over half a second and was more than a second quicker than last year’s pole position time.

Although the Red Bull Ring only has nine corners, it proved to be a tricky challenge for several drivers during the 90-minute session. Max Verstappen twice damaged his car against the new kerbs at the exit of Turn 5 and exit of Turn 8. The bright yellow kerbs sit beyond the normal red and white kerbs and are there to act as a deterrent for drivers attempting to steal a tenth or two by either running wide at Turn 5 and 8 or cutting the apex at Turn 7.

But Verstappen was unperturbed by the warning and in the first half of the session lost a front wing endplate as he clouted the yellow kerbs on the exit of Turn 8. During a lull in the session he used his team radio to register a very public complaint, saying: “I think those yellow kerbs on the high-speed corners are really dangerous.”

When he rejoined the track for a quick lap on super-soft tyres he hit the kerbs on the exit of Turn 5, again shedding a front wing endplate before damaging his front right suspension as he rejoined at speed over the second section of kerbing on the outside of the corner. From that point on he was just a passenger and ended up beached in the gravel trap beyond Turn 6.

Vertsappen wasn’t the only driver to make mistakes. Twenty five minutes into the session Hamilton spun on the exit of Turn 3, briefly entering the gravel before ending up on the edge of the circuit. Romain Grosjean was following him into the corner and had to swerve to miss him, leaving his Haas pointing towards the barrier. He managed to recover to the track without damage and went on to finish the session 11th fastest.

Rosberg took a trip through the gravel at Turn 3 with 30 minutes remaining before Daniel Ricciardo crossed the gravel on the exit of Turn 6 towards the end of the session. Both drivers were able to rejoin with no major damage.

Two incidents will be investigated by the stewards after the session. Marcus Ericsson strayed over the pit lane entrance line just as Ricciardo passed him around the outside at Turn 8, forcing the Red Bull to run wide. Onboard footage showed Ericsson lost the rear of his Sauber in the corner, pushing him wide just at the wrong moment. Pascal Wehrlein is also under investigation for failing to stay above minimum lap time under a Virtual Safety Car period, which was deployed to clear Verstappen’s stricken Red Bull.

Practice 2 saw  Rosberg tops the timesheet with a time of 1.07.967 followed closely by Hamilton with a gap of 0.019 seconds behind, Hulkenberg was in third with a gap of 0.613 seconds behind, Vettel in fourth with a gap of 0.622 seconds behind and Daniel Ricciardo in fifth with a gap of 0.682 seconds behind Rosberg.

Sainz Jr is sixth with a gap of 0.746 seconds behind, Verstappen is seventh with a gap of 0.794 seconds behind, Raikkonen is eighth with a gap of 0.853 seconds behind, Bottas is ninth with a gap of 0.974 seconds behind and Button is tenth with a gap of 1.027 seconds behind Rosberg.

Both of the two Mercedes drivers set their times either side of a rainstorm midway through the session, with Rosberg clocking his on super-soft tyres on a bone-dry circuit, while Hamilton used ultra-softs on a track that was still damp off the racing line after the rain. Hamilton’s lap was also set on his second flying lap on a fresh set of tyres after he aborted his first attempt after coming across a slow-moving Esteban Gutierrez at Turn 5.

Rosberg then attempted a quick lap on ultra-softs at the end of the session but after setting fastest first and second sectors dived into the pit, opting not to set a lap time. His best effort was still 0.6s shy of his best effort in the fully-dry morning session, suggesting none of the times offer a true representation of each driver’s ultimate pace.

During FP2, Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel spun off on a late attempt on ultra-soft tyres. The rear of the Ferrari snapped out under braking, pitching car into a 360 degree spin before it beached itself in the gravel. “I don’t know what happened there,” Vettel said over the team raido. “I lost completely the car when I hit the brakes.”

The heavy rain approached the circuit from the east, drenching Turns 8 and 9 first while the first sector remained bone dry. A number of drivers were caught out by the sudden downpour, with several spinning off at Turn 8 before recovering to the pit lane. At its peak, the rainstorm blew over parasols in the seating area of exclusive F1’s Paddock Club, while mini waves of water blew down the pit straight.

The weather brought a halt to proceedings for a good 20 minutes before the Red Bull drivers headed out on track on the intermediate tyres. But the rain that fell on the first sector had mostly dried up and only the final sector was wet enough for the tyre choice. A combination of sunshine and track running meant the circuit was dry enough for slicks in the final 20 minutes as steam continued to rise from the track off the racing line.

Sebastian Vettel tops the timesheets in FP3.

Sebastian Vettel tops the timesheets in FP3.

Practice 3 saw Vettel tops the timesheet with a time of 1.07.098 followed closely by Raikkonen with a gap of 0.136 seconds behind, Hamilton was in third with a gap of 0.210 seconds behind, Ricciardo in fourth with a gap of 0.541 seconds behind and Verstappen in fifth with a gap of 0.663 seconds behind Vettel.

Bottas is sixth with a gap of 0.716 seconds behind, Massa is seventh with a gap of 0.733 seconds behind, Hulkenberg is eighth with a gap of 1.187 seconds behind, Button is ninth with a gap of 1.206 seconds behind and Alonso is tenth with a gap of 1.229 seconds behind Vettel

During FP3, Romain Grosjean runs wide into Turn 2 after struggling to hold the rear of his Haas car. But he was able to continue on with the session without hurting the tyres or the car. We also see Lewis Hamilton especially struggling with his Pirelli tyres as the track temperatures rise at the Speilberg circuit.

With twenty minutes left into the session, Nico Rosberg spins off the circuit just after Turn 2, with a suspected left rear suspension failure. Rosberg then hit the barrier and damaged his front wing off his Mercedes. This then brought out the red flag as the marshals see if Rosberg is okay and that they can remove the car off the track safely. But Rosberg got safely out the car and many are left wondering if the car will be fixed in time for qualifying.

In the last five minutes of the session, Valtteri Bottas spun his Williams after taking too much speed into the final corner and losing the rear end. Bottas was able to get back onto the track and continue on during the session.

You would be stupid not to bet against the Mercedes drivers of Hamilton and Rosberg to gain pole position again this weekend. As the Mercedes drivers seem to be performing brilliantly at the moment and the momentum is with them from all the track mileage and their strong form from the last race. Vettel, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Perez, Hulkenberg or Sainz Jr also cannot be discounted for the pole also as they are consistently within the top ten places at the moment.

However, I think that Toro Rosso, McLaren and Force India have shown that they could throw themselves into the mix and could qualify well here to be in the hunt for some decent points this weekend. We all look forward to the qualifying session of the Grand Prix with excitement…

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