Red Bull looking for home-track edge

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IOL mot pic jun19 F1 Vettel REUTERS Sebastian Vettel will be counting on home-track advantage at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. However, the last driver to win a Grand Prix at this circuit was Michael Schumacher, in a Ferrari.

Spielberg, Austria - Red Bull will be looking to extend its winning form and set the stage for a real title challenge to dominant Mercedes when Grand Prix returns to Austria on Sunday after 11 years.

Fresh from Daniel Ricciardo's maiden win in Canada two weeks ago, the Austrian team will have home advantage at the Red Bull Ring amid the rolling hills of southern Styria.

But the 24-year-old Australian still has a large gap to close if he is to catch up with current championship leader Nico Rosberg and his team-mate Lewis Hamilton, with 140 and 118 points respectively to his 79.

After taking the first six races of the season on the trot - putting it firmly in the lead in the Constructors' standings - Mercedes encountered power problems in Montreal, helping Ricciardo to victory.

“This will not happen again.”

Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff vowed ahead of F1's return to the historic track at Spielberg: “We will be pushing harder than ever to ensure that we do not give away any more valuable points to our rivals.”

Rosberg added: “We know we cannot afford to slip up as our rivals are always there to take advantage.”

For Red Bull, the 1-3 finish in Montreal was a perfect set-up for this weekend's race.

After four back-to-back championship titles thanks to German star Sebastian Vettel, the team struggled this season before traveling to Montreal.

But Vettel, third in Canada and fifth in overall standings, was confident that racing on home ground on Sunday “will energise us”.

“I have been looking forward to this race since the start of the season. A Grand Prix on the Red Bull Ring is a very special motivation for our team.”

“We will fight with all we've got to stand on top of the podium.”

Another team to be claiming home advantage will be Toro Rosso - also owned by the Austrian energy drink maker.

Russian driver Daniil Kvyat predicted: “It's going to be a big weekend for the Red Bull family.”

Lotus, Caterham and Marussia, on the other hand, will just be hoping to redeem themselves after seeing all their drivers retire in a incident-packed race two weeks ago.

Lotus deputy team chief Federico Gastaldi said: “Canada was a kick where it hurts for everybody at the team but we took stock, identified the issues and have taken action to avoid any repeats.”

Caterham driver Kamui Kobayashi added his team could “benefit a lot from a good weekend” after Montreal's wash-out.

Force India's Sergio Perez will meanwhile start with a five-place grid penalty after causing a near-300km/h crash in Montreal with Felipe Massa of Williams, which both drivers escaped uninjured.

Many drivers will be racing on Sunday on a circuit they hardly know.

Only Massa and former champions Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen have taken part in an Austrian Grand Prix here and the track has undergone a few changes since its takeover by Red Bull.

A lot will therefore hang on the free practice sessions on Friday and Saturday and on the racers' ability to quickly master the 4.3km circuit and its tricky uphill and downhill sections.

But the drivers were already relishing the challenge.

McLaren's Kevin Magnussen, who will be able to draw on his experience in non-F1 races at the Red Bull Ring, said: “It's a circuit where you never really get to rest in the cockpit because the track is always going somewhere.

“But that's what makes it so enjoyable -every lap is a real adrenalin rush because the corners never stop coming.”

One name that will hover over proceedings this weekend is that of seven-times champion Michael Schumacher, who emerged from a coma this week following a ski accident.

Winner of the last Austrian Grand Prix here in 2003, he also holds the record for the fastest lap of this circuit.

AFP



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