Can Ferrari disrupt Red Bull’s homecoming?

Despite failing to make the most of their improved turn of pace at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Ferrari left Canada with renewed hope for the rest of the season.

While they were beaten by Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso on the day, the two Ferraris enjoyed strong recoveries from 10th and 11th on the grid.

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Not only did Ferrari show impressive race pace, easily keeping Sergio Perez at bay, even on worn tyres when they stayed out under the Safety Car, they remained in touch with the leading trio.

Ferrari’s pace was so strong that Red Bull’s Helmut Marko reckoned the Italian team had the fastest car in Montreal.

After the race, he proclaimed: “I have to say, thank God Ferrari had to start so far back, because they were actually the fastest on both compounds.”

Maybe it was a false dawn…

It was very difficult to get tyres up to temperature in Montreal given the long straights and lack of high-load corners.

One strength of the Ferrari this year, evidenced by their qualifying pace relative to race pace, is how quick they can get their tyres up to temperature.

This was a key element to their turnaround in Montreal and perhaps was a missed opportunity given their underperformance in qualifying.

Two factors that could play into their hands this weekend is that it’s the venue Ferrari last won at, with Charles Leclerc taking his most recent win.

Austria also sees the return of the sprint format. 

Ferrari enjoyed their best weekend of the year when the sprint format was last used in Azerbaijan as Leclerc took pole for both races before securing the team’s only podium of the year so far.

Who knows, maybe Ferrari will finally piece the whole weekend together and take the fight to Red Bull?

Perez among drivers under the most pressure

The second Red Bull of Perez has endured a torrid run of the races, failing to reach Q3 in the last three consecutive qualifying sessions.

He’s not finished on the podium since the Miami Grand Prix at the beginning of March - it’s nearly July. 

His shocking run of form, in an incredibly dominant car, has seen him slip to 69 points behind teammate Verstappen.

More worryingly, Perez is just nine points ahead of Alonso in the battle for second.

The problem for Perez was that during his first two years with Red Bull, his form suffered during the European leg of the season in both campaigns before picking up again.

F1 has a run of six European races, and during his time with Red Bull, Perez has finished on the podium just once (2022 Belgium) at any of the six upcoming venues.

Combined with the prospect of wet weather this weekend, it could be another difficult one for the Mexican.

There is mounting pressure on Nyck de Vries amid speculation that Daniel Ricciardo would be keen to make a return with AlphaTauri.

Logan Sargeant’s form has been on a downward curve since showing glimpses of pace early on in Bahrain and Azerbaijan.

One of Hamilton’s worst tracks?

It’s hard to criticise someone who has enjoyed the plethora of success Hamilton has had over the years.

Even at the Red Bull Ring, he’s won twice before, and took one of the best pole positions of his F1 career in treacherous conditions by 1.2s in 2020.

But it’s probably fair to say that Austria is one of Hamilton’s weaker tracks.

In qualifying (against Nico Rosberg, Valtteri Bottas and George Russell), Hamilton is 7-4 down in the head-to-head in Austria.

Two of his qualifying wins, over Rosberg in 2016 and Bottas in 2020, came in either changeable conditions or the wet. 

In the races, he’s 6-4 down in the head-to-head compared to his respective teammates. 

As previously mentioned, he won in 2016 and then the 2020 Styrian Grand Prix, while he finished third - ahead of Russell, who had an incident with Perez - at last year’s event. 

Given we have Silverstone and Budpaest coming up - two of Hamilton’s favourites, on balance, it’s fair to say Austria isn’t one of his best.

Sprints are back

F1’s sprint format makes its second appearance of 2023 in Austria this weekend.

The revised format will appear six times this year as organisers attempt to spice up the show.

As per the original sprint schedule which was introduced in 2021, qualifying will take place directly after Friday practice.

However, a major change for this year was the addition of a second qualifying session which would decide the grid for the sprint race on Saturday.

On paper this was a good move as it means drivers wouldn’t have to worry about affecting their Sunday chances by taking unnecessary risk and potentially ruining their grid position.

But, the new format means there’s a real disconnect during the weekend with Saturday’s action simply being less relevant or important, reducing the crescendo of a conventional grand prix weekend.

Qualifying on a Friday is a big positive, but if F1 want to continue with this format, there surely needs to be further tweaks. 

Let’s see how it goes this weekend.