F1 returns to the popular Red Bull Ring circuit in the Styrian hills this weekend for the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix.
This is a track that championship leader Max Verstappen is all too comfortable with, having won three of the previous four Grand Prix on Austrian soil. The Dutchman will be hoping to make it four from five after a turbulent British Grand Prix weekend.
RealSport101's Harry Smith is on hand to preview this weekend's Formula 1 action ahead of the return of F1 Sprint.
Last Time Out: British Grand Prix
Silverstone played host to the most exciting race of the 2022 season so far last weekend as Carlos Sainz claimed his maiden F1 victory. Sergio Perez recovered from plum last to snatch P2, while the legendary Lewis Hamilton settled for a place on the podium after fighting for the race win.
The drama started at turn one as contact between Pierre Gasly and George Russell resulted in the Mercedes flipping the Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu. The Chinese driver was launched into the catch-fencing after a trip through the Abbey gravel but was thankfully unscathed from the incident.
Sainz, who had lost P1 to Verstappen on the initial race start, defended well on the restart while Leclerc and Perez came together on the opening lap, giving both cars damage.
The Spaniard's lead didn't last long though. He ran wide heading onto the Hanger Straight on Lap 10, allowing Verstappen to squeeze through on the outside. Verstappen had the pace to run away with the race, but the Dutchman suffered considerable underbody damage after running over some debris off the AlphaTauri, costing him a shot at victory and releasing both Ferraris.
The Scuderia were their own enemy for the next 30 or so laps, squabbling over track position while Lewis Hamilton grew into the mix on the alternate strategy.
A mechanical issue for Esteban Ocon brought out the safety car on Lap 39, allowing the frontrunners to box for fresh rubber, but Ferrari left Leclerc out on his worn hard compound tires, much to the Monegasque driver's dismay. Perez, who was running last after lap one, had recovered to P4.
The closing ten laps produced some incredible wheel-to-wheel action as Sainz jumped his teammate to take the lead, leaving Leclerc in the clutches of Perez and Hamilton. The Spaniard took the chequered flag to earn his first-ever F1 victory, but all is not well with the Scuderia.
The Championship Lowdown
The Driver's Standings look that little bit more competitive following the British Grand Prix with Sergio Perez, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz all closing the gap to the championship leader.
Verstappen's lead now stands at 34 points over his Red Bull teammate, while Leclerc is now 43 points back from the Dutchman. Sainz's impressive displays in Canada and Silverstone have moved him within 11 points of his Ferrari teammate.
Red Bull remain well clear at the top of the Constructor's Championship, but the gap to Ferrari has closed since the Canadian Grand Prix weekend. The Scuderia now trail Red Bull by 63 points as the teams head to the Styrian mountains.
Alpine are closing the gap on McLaren in the battle for P4. Otmar Szafnauer's outfit now trails the papaya team by six points. A double-points finish for Haas has seen them leapfrog Aston Martin into P8.
Storylines and Predictions
The second Sprint Race of the 2022 F1 season will take place on Saturday with Qualifying pushed back to Friday evening. With more points on offer this weekend, Ferrari has an invaluable chance to close the gap to Red Bull in both championships.
All is not well with the Scuderia though. Carlos Sainz may have claimed his maiden F1 victory at Silverstone last time around, but Driver's Championship contender Charles Leclerc was left fuming after Ferrari opted not to pit him from the race lead under safety car conditions.
Austria will likely be a make-or-break race for the Leclerc's championship hopes with the Monegasque driver needing to make a dent into Verstappen's driver's standings lead across the two races.
Plenty of eyes will be on Mercedes' progress heading in to the Austrian Grand Prix weekend too. The Silver Arrows have plenty of performance around tracks with lots of high-speed corners, and Austria fits that bill. Lewis Hamilton could've won his home Grand Prix last time around, and could be in the mix here come Sunday.
RealSport101's Austria Grand Prix predictions
Pole Position: Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
Podium: P1: Max Verstappen (Red Bull), P2: Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), P3: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
The schedule for this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix is listed below:
FP1: Friday, July 8th (12.30pm BST)
Qualifying: Friday, July 8th (4pm BST)
FP2: Saturday, July 9th (11.30am BST)
Sprint Race: Saturday, July 9th (3.30pm BST)
Race: Sunday, July 10th (2pm BST)
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