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5 drivers who need to deliver a great Austrian Grand Prix

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From the princely vibe of Circuit Paul Ricard at France, the F1 caravan has arrived at the jaw-dropping beauty of Spielberg for the Austrian Grand Prix 2018.
Round nine of the 2018 season brings us to the cavernous beauty of a racing track nestled between sprawling mountains and green hilltops as Formula 1 goes racing again on Sunday.
A perfect blend of adrenaline and speed, the Spielberg may be the home Grand Prix of Red Bull Racing. The track with the shortest lap time on the roster, Spielberg excites fans as much as it pushes drivers to deliver scintillating lap-times. That said, expecting the fastest lap-time around a 1:06:00 to 1:06:50 may not be unreal ask on Sunday with faster F1 cars raring to put together ballsy laps.
But fans desperately await a Red Bull driver take the top step of the podium to pop open the champagne, amid splendorous atmospherics that only a country as beautiful as Austria can produce.
While figuratively speaking, the Austrian Grand Prix may seem an easy race to clinch on paper- the 4.3 km track plucked by only 10 corners- in reality, it’s a daunting circuit to ace. Challenging drivers with the huge downforce and demanding apex corners, Turn Two, that runs on to the crest with a heavy deacceleration requires drivers to produce top speed despite the climb uphill.
But it is here at Turn Three that drivers have evidenced their worst stings and what’ve been near carnages, most remarkably seeing McLaren’s Alonso ending on the top of Raikkonen’s Ferrari.
If you were to go by the recent statistics here at Spielberg, then the Austrian Grand Prix seems to clearly side with the Mercedes, with both Bottas and Hamilton winning a race each in 2017 and 2016, respectively. That clearly leaves fans and pundits speculating whether the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix can have something special in store for the Ferrari and Red Bull drivers?
Given that Hamilton kept his WO9 sharply in place, maintaining stunning overall balance as well as in good pace on the opening practice run on Friday, it seems rather unlikely if the Briton would budge under pressure for the vital final session on Saturday.
But what amazes one about the recent French Grand Prix winner is just how consistent he’s been at Austria. Finishing fourth, but qualifying on third for the 2017 Austrian Grand Prix, Hamilton was scintillating in 2016- where he clinched a famous troika- that of being on pole, setting the fastest lap and, winning the eventual Grand Prix.
This leaves us pondering about the drivers who need to put a strong weekend together.
So who are the 5 drivers that need to deliver a strong Austrian Grand Prix?

Romain Grosjean

Austrian Grand Prix 2018
Starting in the 3rd row, can he surprise everyone with a podium finish? (Image: Autoweek)

The French driver we are seeing today is hardly a shadow of his former self in 2017. The Haas driver’s endured what could be called, for the lack of a better expression- a nightmare start to his 2018 season, nearly half of it done already.
It was here at the 2017 Austrian Grand Prix that Grosjean clinched a P6, his best performance in the year.
Compare this to Grosjean in 2018- where he’s yet to open his account despite running in 8 Grands Prix- can the Frenchman pull up his socks to produce a memorable race on Sunday? Although, he came mightily close to opening his account at Paul Ricard an eventual eleventh would devoid him of that solitary point.
If not for anything, Grosjean’s results could fetch something useful for his embattled racing team that is only being served well by Kevin Magnussen.

Nico Hulkenberg

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Austrian Grand Prix 2018
Finishing 10th in Qualifying, he would look to maximize his points by finishing strong (Image: Autosport)

Among the most liked drivers on the grid, Hulkenberg continues to enjoy the appreciation of its critics as well as fans, despite having the dubious distinction of not securing a podium since his inaugural season in 2010.
But the Hulkenberg of 2018 is a resurgent and improved force in that visibly improving Renault. Despite two mechanical DNFs, the Hulk has already clinched two consecutive P6′- at Bahrain, followed by China.
At Austria however, his recent form has been dismal.
Back in 2016, wherein Hulkenberg qualified in the second grid, securing his best-ever start at Austria- P3- he would slip back and finish no higher than the nineteenth. In 2017, however, his woes would only exacerbate. Qualifying on P11, Hulkenberg finished outside the points again, securing a lowly P13. All of this should play on his mind and we should expect something better than usual from the German driver.

Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo
Daniel Ricciardo will start in the 4th row of the starting grid (Image: Speedcafe.com)

Ever since Formula 1 returned to Austria, the last in these consecutive runs held in 2003, the team the track is named for have failed to win a race here.
Also, it’s been two Grands Prix that Daniel Ricciardo finished on the podium; his most famous triumph this year coming at Monaco, a drive rated arguably better than his feisty run to the top at Shanghai.
But what can the “race-burglar” do at Austria, where he’s yet to win a race?
Ricciardo, therefore, arrives at Spielberg amid a volley of questions regarding his team’s form at the mountainous beauty of Austria. His form guide reveals that he hasn’t looked that out of touch, finishing on third in 2017, while he managed a 5th in the 2016 run at Spielberg.

Sebastian Vettel

Sebastien Vettel
Vettel will start sixth after being handled penalty (Image: Autoweek)

The Ferrari driver, the arch-rival to Lewis Hamilton hasn’t won a Grand Prix at Austria ever since racing in red since 2015. The best that Vettel has garnered at Austria has been a second, in 2017, which thankfully indicates his ability to challenge for the top-step of the podium at Spielberg.
Ferrari fans would obviously want nothing more than a win by Vettel. But why the German multiple world champion should win is also important to redraft the current narrative of the 2018 season- a year, again seeming to fall in Hamilton’s lap. Importantly, should Ferrari lose out to Mercedes at Austria, it would mean, they would be heading for a crushing defeat in the first triple-header in F1.
Moreover, Vettel would remember the events at the French Grand Prix, where despite a valiant fight to fifth, he finished outside the podium.
A Hamilton or Bottas win at the Red Bull Ring would be considered a definite blow by Ferrari.

Kimi Raikkonen

Kimi Raikkonen
Where will Kimi race in the next season? (Image: Motorsport.com)

The Iceman might as well be contending in his final Austrian Grand Prix- where the undecided fate of the Finnish driver amid speculations regarding his 2019 future stand.
Having told the reporters, albeit with a very Raikkonen-like wry style that they could put whatever they wished to (about his F1 future), Kimi’s unwilling to reflect on what lies ahead.
But if you were to dwell on what’s happened in the past,  you’d find that Raikkonen- one among the only two drivers to have raced at Austria, alongside Fernando Alonso- hasn’t done that bad at Spielberg.
In clinching a third in the 2016 Grand Prix of Austria, Raikkonen finished ahead of Vettel, who’d endured a mechanical DNF. But as we are seeing these days, a lot about what the Iceman can manage in a race rests on how he fares in the qualifying runs. And by that measure, it doesn’t look too exciting whatsoever for Kimi at Austria, unless he surprises everyone and puts a belter of a performance on a Saturday where it all matters.

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