Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and the rest of Formula One’s elite drivers have descended on Spielberg for the Austria Grand Prix this weekend.
Ahead of Sunday’s race, we look back at five dramatic moments in Austria.
The entire field was caught up in the drama at Osterreichring. Two time world champion Niki Lauda had made a comeback with McLaren and was battling against reigning champion Nelson Piquet. The Austrian lost pace in the closing stages of the race, but Piquet hesitated as he closed in for the lead, thinking Lauda had tactically held back. The problem proved to be temporary though and soon Lauda regained speed and went on to secure his 23rd career victory. At the end of the season, he won the world title by half a point, the narrowest margin in history.
Organisers must have wondered if they’d ever get the race underway at the original Osterreichring. It began with a collision between Stefan Johansson and a deer. Martin Brundle then lost control and hit the barriers, his car ricocheting back on to the track and into the incoming traffic. The race was red-flagged, only for Nigel Mansell to kick start a bigger incident, with more than 10 cars involved. It took nearly two hours for the race to resume after the original start time, with Mansell going on to clinch his third win of the season for Williams.
Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya enjoyed some titanic battles on track during the five seasons they raced against each other. And perhaps one of the best remembered was in 2001. Schumacher attempted to overtake Montoya but the Colombian outbraked himself, resulting in both drivers running off the track. Rubens Barrichello soared into the lead, leaving both Montoya and Schumacher falling further down the field. Schumacher fought his way back to second, while Montoya was forced to retire due to hydraulic failure.
It was another thrilling championship battle between Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen. But it was Barrichello who shone at Spielberg, showing composure to lead until the final lap until he was ordered to allow his Ferrari teammate Schumacher to overtake him and win the race. The Italian outfit wanted their marquee man to win the race and collect maximum points for the Drivers Championship. The Brazilian let Schumacher pass him on the final lap – for the second year in a row. The German went on to win his third successive title that year.
Former world champions Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso were eliminated after the first lap in the 2015 edition of the race. Raikkonen lost control of his Ferrari on turn two and collided with Alonso. The two came against the barrier, with Alonso on top of the Ferrari. Both drivers walked away unharmed from the incident. “I don’t know exactly what happened,” said Raikkonen after the race. “I had some wheelspin in an unusual place. I was at a quite high speed, suddenly went left and end up there…”
Alonso is out of contract at the end of the season and McLaren have put together a contingency plan if they cannot persuade the Spaniard to stay.
Press Association Sport understands that Ferrari’s Raikkonen, who won nine races and twice finished as a runner-up in the championship for the Woking team between 2002 and 2006, is on their shortlist.
Raikkonen, 38, may be surplus to requirements by Ferrari at the end of the year if the Scuderia choose to hire the highly-regarded rookie Charles Leclerc, who again impressed for Sauber at last weekend’s French Grand Prix.
McLaren’s British teenage reserve driver Lando Norris is believed to be edging closer to a full-time seat next year, and the team want him to join Alonso.
But Alonso, 36, is considering his options and may choose to turn his back on the sport. Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull are not interested in signing the Spaniard, which would make a move to another F1 team appear highly unlikely.
If Alonso leaves McLaren, it is understood that the British team would like an experienced, and marketable driver to partner Norris, 18, and after a bold swoop for Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, Raikkonen is an option to fill that void.
McLaren would be able to afford Raikkonen’s £10million-a year wages, and a switch back to his former team might appeal to the veteran Finnish driver, who is effectively Sebastian Vettel‘s number two at Ferrari.
Raikkonen, who has competed in 281 grands prix and clinched the world championship for Ferrari in 2007, has not won a race in more than five years. He is fifth in the championship, 48 points behind Vettel.
A McLaren spokesperson told Press Association Sport: “We don’t discuss driver matters.”
Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who is in his second season at McLaren after he replaced Jenson Button, could be the fall guy. Vandoorne, 26, has been out-qualified by Alonso at every race this season.
Alonso called McLaren’s display in France last week the team’s worst of the year. He retired with a suspension problem on the penultimate lap after qualifying only 16th.
Alonso is in the fourth season of his second stint at McLaren, but despite promises of improvement following their switch from Honda to Renault engines, they are falling back down the grid.
He took aim at McLaren over the radio in last Sunday’s race.
“I have no tyres, no brakes, and I am out of the points,” he said. “I am trying to do whatever. I don’t care too much.”
He added afterwards: “This was by far the worst performance of the year. I really hope it is a one-off and not the normality.”
Alonso will be back in action at Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix, the second installment of F1’s first triple-header, with Silverstone to follow next weekend.
It is not often a young driver comes into the balmy parametres of Formula One and sparks into life so early into their rookie season. Max Verstappen showed signs of his class with Toro Rosso in 2015, but a young Monaco resident named Charles Leclerc has emerged as the real jewel of the sport this season.
The former GP2 and GP3 champion has demonstrated maturity beyond his years in his first three months in F1 and has gone on to score four top-10 finishes in eight races, including a stunning sixth place in Baku.
Although he may struggle at times with a Sauber team who finished last in the drivers’ standings in 2017, the 20-year-old has to start from somewhere and this season is the perfect building block to his future development.
But before the season has reached its midway point, Leclerc is already being tipped to replace Kimi Raikkonen at the Italian marque in 2019 – after just eight races into his maiden campaign.
It would make sense for Ferrari to sign the youngster as he would require a low salary while also offering a long-term plan in the team’s quest to win a first world title since 2008.
Although Raikkonen has been on the podium four times this season, he has not won a race since the Australian Grand Prix in 2013. And for a driver on the third highest annual salary ($40m), the 38-year-old does not justify his position as an elite driver with the second best team in the sport.
And with his inconsistent form not close to the level of Sebastian Vettel, he has only been rewarded with single year contract extensions in each of the last three seasons.
In his 16th season, the Finn’s time may be up as the Prancing Horse lean towards promoting Leclerc to a race seat.
Ferrari have considered replacing Raikkonen with Daniel Ricciardo but the cost of hiring the in-form Australian would be too high when added to Vettel’s wages ($60m), thus leaving the team with a choice of Raikkonen or Leclerc – who currently earns a misely $150,000 per annum – in stark contrast.
Raikkonen is still Ferrari’s most recent world champion, but his dip in his form has coincided with Leclerc’s season sprouting into life, with promising performances in Baku, Barcelona and Canada.
In Baku, Leclerc sealed a career-best sixth place, showing great race-craft and composure to fend off two-time world champion Fernando Alonso towards the end of the race.
But for all the hype about his rise, is it too early to promote a rookie 20-year-old to the second biggest team in the sport? If Raikkonen does stay for another season it would allow Leclerc more time to learn at Sauber. The Swiss outfit may not be as quick as their competitors but the experience, confidence and general driver intelligence he would gain is only going to help his future development.
If a deal does go through for Leclerc in 2019, it would shift away from Ferrari’s policy of recruiting well-known names and swap a driver with 281 grand prix starts and 95 podiums – the third most of any man behind the wheel in history – for a youngster who is preparing for his ninth GP this weekend in Austria. It would also be the first time a Ferrari Academy Driver makes it into an F1 race seat with the Scuderia.
A final decision is far from made, but Leclerc is one of a kind, is fearless and has the full repertoire of skills to see him win multiple races in the future.
With such hope around his ability, he needs to continue to showcase his talents with Sauber and not allow outside talk to affect his overall displays for the rest of the season.
It may be too early to say, but in a red Ferrari, Leclerc would be a potent force.