Lewis Hamilton is ready to take an unfamiliar bull by the horns this weekend as Austria’s revamped Red Bull Ring returns to the Formula One calendar after an 11-year absence.
The Mercedes driver, a teenager when Austria last hosted a grand prix in 2003, needs to win at Spielberg to rein in championship-leading team mate Nico Rosberg after the blow of retirement in Canada 10 days ago.
“I’ve never driven the circuit but I’ve been working on it in the simulator and I’m sure I’ll learn it pretty quickly when we get out on track,” the 2008 world champion said in a team preview.
“It’s always exciting to go to a new venue, so it should be an interesting weekend. I’m feeling good in the car right now and I’ll be pushing flat out to come away with maximum points this time around.”
With Rosberg finishing first or second in every race so far this season, while Hamilton has retired twice, the German now has a 22-point lead as the championship arrives at Red Bull’s home track for the eighth race of 19 this year.
Hamilton may have to win another four races in a row, as he did earlier in the year, just to regain the upper hand if Rosberg remains consistent. “There is a long, long way to go. I caught up before and I’ll catch up again,” said the Briton, who started the season with a retirement in Australia that left him 25 points adrift. “It’s going to take another four wins to make the difference so I’m going to do my best to get those results.”
Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff was not discounting that possibility.
“Obviously, Nico now holds an increased gap at the top of the championship but Lewis is a fighter and I have no doubt that he will come back stronger than ever,” he said.
Mercedes have been dominant this season but Austrian-owned Red Bull broke their winning streak in Canada when Australian Daniel Ricciardo took his first F1 victory ahead of what amounts to a home race for the team.
The short but scenic track, in the southern Styrian mountains, remains largely the same as the old A1 Ring and is set to be a big celebration of motorsport in Austria with every living Austrian F1 driver taking part in a legends parade.
How much of a celebration it will be for Red Bull remains to be seen.
“We’re going to have a lot of home support. There’s still a gap to Mercedes, we are working on closing that down,” team principal Christian Horner said after Montreal.
“To have a race at the Red Bull Ring as Red Bull Racing – with that comes a bit of pressure but it will be fantastic to perform in front of effectively a home crowd.”
Quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel has driven the circuit on a number of occasions but only four current drivers – Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen – have raced there in Formula One. None have won and only Raikkonen has stood on the podium.
The last winner at the track was Michael Schumacher, the seven times world champion who is now in hospital in Switzerland after recently emerging from a coma following a ski accident at the end of last year.
Schumacher also had one of the most controversial wins of his career at the circuit in 2002 when Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello was ordered to let him pass despite dominating the race.
Of the newcomers, McLaren’s Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen and Toro Rosso’s Russian newcomer Daniil Kvyat are those with the freshest experience having raced there last year in the Renault 3.5 World Series and Formula Three respectively.
“It’s a very cool place – it’s a circuit where you never really get to rest in the cockpit because the track is always going somewhere,” said Magnussen. “Every lap is a real adrenaline rush because the corners never stop coming.”