The Austrian Grand Prix is hosted on the A1-Ring near Zeltweg.
The A1-Ring is a moderately fast circuit. Average speeds were well over 210 km/H (130mph) in the past and we can expect these to be exceeded by a considerable margin this weekend.
This year there are two tyre manufacturers and we can already see substantial improvements in lap times on all circuits. Michelin and Bridgestone are involved in a competitive battle of their own, and tyres are far stickier than they were last year when Bridgestone was the only supplier (the emphasis was on supplying reliable and predictable tyres – not necessarily fast tyres).
The better compound has dramatically increased the mechanical grip of the cars, making them considerably faster through the very slow corners where aerodynamics hardly work.
Despite the changes in the rules it appears that most teams have recovered most of the aerodynamic grip, which, with more grip from the tyres, has also increased their high speed cornering ability. With the increased power from this year's engines we can expect dramatic improvements in lap times.
The A1-Ring has around 15 corners (depending on how one defines a corner) of which 6 are negotiated below 160 km/H (100mph). The rest are very fast.
Wing size and angle should be average to maximise grip on the very fast, long curves that this circuit is famous for. A very low downforce configuration will be fast on the straights and gentle curves but may sacrifice too much speed on the slower corners. It will be interesting to see how the teams cope with this compromise.
Only two of the corners (Castrol Kurve and Remus Kurve) are below 130 km/H (80mph). On these two corners mechanical grip will play a big role but on all the other corners aerodynamic grip will be needed to keep the cars on the track.
This year overtaking seems a little easier, but even then I do not believe that we will see too much overtaking as this circuit does not lend itself to easy passing.
The easiest overtaking spot will be into Castrol Kurve under brakes at the end of the pit straight. To pull this off it will be necessary to follow the leading car very closely on the exit of the A1 Kurve onto the straight. As this is a corner that will probably be rounded at over 220 km/H (130mph) and cars will be relying on aerodynamic grip it will be difficult to do in the turbulence of the leading car.
Overtaking into Remus Kurve may be possible but this means that to be on the inside in Remus, one needs to be on the outside of the long curve that leads up to it. As this will probably be negotiated at over 300 km/H it will be a brave move.
The only other overtaking spot is on the approach to Gosser Kurve but again it means going very fast on the wrong, dirty, side of the curved approach.
This year I expect the leading cars to all exceed 300 km/H (186mph) before braking for Castrol, Remus and Gosser Kurves and possibly on the approach to Jochen Rindt Kurve as well.
With their obvious power advantage, Williams could easily be the team to beat. Both drivers are fast and, providing the cars remain reliable (and are not in any accidents) both could finish on the podium.
Ferrari must also be desperate to regain the small speed advantage that they had over McLaren in the early part of the season. Michael may have won the last race but Mika was faster and would have easily won if his engine did not fail.
Michael has to do well in Austria. The Williams cars are rapidly improving and it would be foolish to not take them seriously. By the end of the season Williams will be on the podium a lot and if Michael wants another championship he needs to build a good points buffer while he can. This is not the race to get his strategy wrong again.
Barrichello is so unpredictable and seems to lack the motivation to finish on the podium. I do not expect to see him in the top three but with him it is hard to tell.
Hakkinen will be highly motivated after his near win. He seems to have finally come to grips with the new car and is again faster than Coulthard.
Coulthard has been consistently fast so far this season and could also do well. In past seasons he seemed to lose heart soon after Hakkinen gets the upper hand – let's hope it does not happen this year.
McLaren certainly have closed the gap to Ferrari, they may even be a little faster than Ferrari, but are they capable of staying with Williams?
I feel that the Honda powered cars (Jordan and BAR) are the only other teams that could come anywhere near the three leading teams. Villeneuve did better in Spain than he has for a very long time and will be anxious to show that this was not a fluke. It has been a very long time since he has had a car that could even remotely be described as competitive.
Benetton are unlikely to do well as they have a long way to go before they can claim that their car is ready for racing (they will get there, but probably not this season) and Sauber will be falling back more as the season progresses (not that they enjoyed a great run in front in the early part of the season).
Arrows and Jaguar (Who would have thought that we would class Jaguar with Arrows and Minardi?) will struggle to stay ahead of Minardi.
Enjoy the race.
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