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Aussie watch ahead of the F1® Austrian Grand Prix 2024

Matt Clayton
Thursday, 27 June 2024

There’s no rest for the F1® travelling circus – nor the sport’s fans Down Under – with Austria hot on the heels of Spain last weekend, with the picturesque circuit in the Styrian Alps hosting the third Sprint race of the year as part of Round 11.

It’s not the intention of neither McLaren nor Lando Norris, but the British team and its star driver are making Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing look even better – while simultaneously showing how far they’ve come and how far they still have to go. 

The thought of anyone challenging Verstappen for anything meaningful this season looked shot after four rounds – the Dutchman’s DNF in Australia was treated like a black swan event – but McLaren and Norris have come on so strong since that, in one order or another, the pair have finished first and second in five of the past six Grands Prix. 

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Spain last weekend was decided by miniscule margins – a tardy Norris start, a slightly slow McLaren pit stop, a fight that went on a tad too long with Mercedes’ George Russell – which all accumulated to allow Verstappen to escape to a 2.2sec win. It’s those tiny details that Red Bull has mastered and McLaren is becoming aware of, as the Austrian Grand Prix (June 28-30) comes at us this weekend as Round 11 of the Formula 1® season. 

The Red Bull Ring hosts the third of six Sprint weekends this season – the next one isn’t until Austin in October – and while the majority of the crowd will be dressed in orange, this is no McLaren home race … Austria is Verstappen territory – he’s won four times there in the past six years – but Norris and McLaren will be up for the fight, as recent races have shown. 

What’s in store for our Aussies – and elsewhere – in the middle leg of a triple-header with Austria shoehorned between Barcelona and Silverstone? Let’s take a look.

Piastri looks to turn the page 

It’s not often that Oscar Piastri seems unruffled – indeed, his composure over his first 32 Grands Prix weekends has been as notable as his pace – but he was lost for more than the same one-word description of his Spanish Grand Prix, where he finished a largely anonymous seventh as McLaren teammate Norris pushed Verstappen to breaking point. 

“Struggled” was the word that came out of Piastri’s mouth maybe a dozen times over the weekend, where he felt a general lack of confidence to tame the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s sweeping corners, one of the sternest tests of a car’s aerodynamic capabilities of the season. 

It was an anomalous weekend in what has – so far – been a very impressive sophomore season for Piastri, who was 17th in the Sprint and 16th in the Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring a year ago as McLaren’s second-half surge had yet to kick in. He’ll be keen to flush the Spanish frustration with a return to his trio of top-five results in Imola, Monaco and Canada this weekend. 


Ricciardo looking for upgrade upside 

RB may have the smallest name of any team, but the former AlphaTauri squad has been one of the larger surprises of the season, mostly leaving the tail-end of the grid behind. Which made Spain doubly hard to accept for Daniel Ricciardo, after a much-hyped upgrade package saw the team freefall into Q1 obscurity and plod around for zero points, Ricciardo’s 15th place as good as things got. 

Was Spain a start of a downward spiral, or a one-off? By its nature, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is a very particular track that brutally punishes machinery that is even a little bit off, so Austria comes at a good time to increase the sample size for RB to see if the upgrade has sparked a downturn, or was just circuit-specific.

The difficulty for Ricciardo and the team? As race one in a triple-header where not a lot can realistically be done with the cars while everyone is on the road, fixing myriad problems in the field isn’t the work of a moment, and can’t be done without a lot of number-crunching. Ricciardo’s post-race debrief in Spain was long … we’ll get an instant read on the benefits of that in Austria. 

Something worth celebrating in Austria irrespective of Ricciardo’s result? Sunday’s Grand Prix will be his 250th start, fourth of all drivers on the current grid (behind Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez) and 12th all-time, a milestone ahead of his 35th birthday the Monday after the race. 


Things getting fractious at Ferrari? 

F1® teams will have you believe – if you only follow their social media and buy everything they’re selling – that teammates are best buds. Yes, even Alpine … And while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc have had a solid relationship in their four seasons as teammates, Spain saw some fissures come to light – which are to be expected. 

Sainz passed Leclerc with a robust move for fifth early in the Barcelona race, which irked Leclerc as the home hero completed the pass by running across the Turn 1-2 runoff, and because the Monegasque felt the move was contrary to the way the team had discussed how to play out the race beforehand. Sainz’s retort afterwards – “it’s too many times he complains after the race about something” – only ramped up the tension. 

In a way, it all makes sense; Sainz knew he was surplus to needs before 2024 started when Ferrari signed Lewis Hamilton for next year, and the Spaniard knows his only probable options for 2025 are Williams and Sauber, who have combined to score six fewer points all season (two) to the eight Sainz banked last Sunday. Chances to fight at the front regularly won’t happen often for Sainz after 2024, while McLaren has out-scored Ferrari in three of the past four races to narrow the gap for second in the constructors’ championship to 33 points; it was 68 just two races ago. 

With Sainz needing to look out for himself and McLaren (and arguably Mercedes) looking faster than Ferrari of late, that intra-team harmony might be about to get tested more than ever, no matter what the Ferrari socials say …

Austria fast facts
Circuit name/location: Red Bull Ring, Spielberg
Length/laps: 4.318km, 71 laps (Sprint: 24 laps)
Grands Prix held/debut: 17, 1997
Most successful driver: Max Verstappen (four wins)
Most successful team: Mercedes (five wins)
2023 podium: 1st: Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing), 2nd: Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), 3rd: Sergio Pérez (Red Bull Racing)

The Formula 1® Austrian Grand Prix 2024 will be available to watch live on Foxtel and Kayo. See our article What time does the F1® Austrian Grand Prix 2024 start for Australians? for your local timings.