Runaway leader and defending double world champion Max Verstappen bids to become the most successful driver in Austrian Grand Prix history this weekend as Red Bull plan a poignant ‘century’ celebration on home ground.
The 25-year-old Dutchman, who leads this year’s title race by 69 points ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez, shares the record of three Austrian wins with four-time champion Alain Prost.
Another win at the Red Bull Ring circuit would take him to four and be his seventh in nine races this year as well as the team’s 101st as they return to Austria for the first time since the death of owner Dietrich Mateschitz last October.
“It’s going to be a bit special this time,” said team boss Christian Horner amid celebrations of the team’s 100th triumph at the Canadian Grand Prix.
“It’s great to return to Austria with this run of form and results and with Max in such exceptional form.
“There will be a very big sell-out home crowd and a great atmosphere. They always put on a big show and this year will be the biggest of all.”
Verstappen has, in fact, won four times at Spielberg already as he won twice in 2021 when one of the two races staged during the restrictions caused by the Covid pandemic was called the Styrian Grand Prix.
“We always enjoy coming back to our home race in Austria,” said Verstappen. “And I’m excited to try to add another trophy to the collection for the team. It’s the second sprint race weekend too and they are always more hectic and complex.”
A mass of support for the Dutchman is expected again with a vast ‘orange army’ camped at the circuit, but after reports last year of racist, sexist and homophobic abuse among spectators, alcohol has been banned and security tightened.
Rain has also been forecast for much of the weekend, particularly Friday and Saturday, but it is unlikely to worry Verstappen who won the sprint race last year when rival Charles Leclerc fought back to take victory from him for Ferrari in the Grand Prix itself.
That was Ferrari’s last victory and after another disappointment in Montreal they are hoping to deliver a response this weekend and, at least, compete with Aston Martin and Mercedes for a podium finish.
Since that win by Leclerc, who has made clear his dissatisfaction with Ferrari’s form and decision-making, Red Bull have won 18 of the 19 contests held, with Mercedes taking the other.
After recent improved results with their updated car, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton will seek to maintain his momentum while two-time champion Fernando Alonso aims for a seventh podium of the year with Aston Martin.
“I’m hoping that at some stage we can have things a bit more level between us,” said Hamilton, after finishing third behind Verstappen and Alonso in Canada.
“To have all three of us in a super-tight battle would be ‘sick’!”
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