Sebastian Vettel celebrated his 30th birthday this week but it can be safely assumed that Lewis Hamilton will not be bringing any gifts for him to the Austrian Grand Prix this weekend.
After the ‘road rage’ of Azerbaijan two weeks ago, the Formula One title rivals head to the bucolic surroundings of the scenic Red Bull Ring, and its backdrop of hills and forests, with controversy still simmering.
Vettel, Ferrari’s championship leader, had risked a heavy penalty for his moment of madness in driving into Hamilton’s Mercedes behind the safety car in Baku but instead the German arrives in Austria with no further sanction and the matter officially closed.
Vettel has had to accept full responsibility, and apologise to Hamilton, and will have to stay on best behaviour with a race ban looming if he collects any more penalty points on his licence this weekend.
But the incident, the sport’s major talking point post-Baku, is unlikely to die down immediately even if Mercedes say they have moved on.
Hamilton, for one, has said little about the incident, but he has kept social media buzzing with news he had ‘liked’ a fan’s supportive post on Instagram that said the Paris decision had sent the message that “you can do whatever you want on track, smash into each other but if you suck up and just apologise and you get away with it”.
Hamilton is now 14 points behind Vettel after eight of 20 races, with a loose headrest costing the Briton victory in Azerbaijan. Vettel, despite a stop-and-go penalty, finished fourth and one place ahead of his rival.
Austria, the birthplace of Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff and non-executive chairman Niki Lauda, offers Hamilton the chance to take some of those lost points back.
Mercedes have won every year since the race returned to the calendar in 2014 and Hamilton is the only driver on this season’s grid to have won in Austria — doing so last year after a last lap collision with his now-retired team mate Nico Rosberg.
“Every great Formula One season is marked by a great rivalry. Last year it was our internal battle between Lewis and Nico and this year it seems that the fight is on between Ferrari and Mercedes and Lewis and Sebastian,” said Wolff.
“As calm as it started, it was only a matter of time until the rivalry would eventually become more fierce and controversial. That moment happened in Baku and we saw the results of that tension on track.
“We have moved passed that moment now and it is a closed chapter.”
Aside from the Mercedes-Ferrari battle, Red Bull will also fancy their chances in front of a home crowd after Australian Daniel Ricciardo won in Baku for his fourth successive podium finish.
This time, Dutch teenager Max Verstappen will be hoping it is his turn.
“Luck evens itself out. Daniel has had four podiums and a race win but I’m sure a big race is around the corner for Max,” team principal Christian Horner said after Baku.
Reuters Facts & Stats:
- Lap distance: 4.326km. Total distance: 307.020km (71 laps)
- 2016 pole: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes. One minute 07.922 seconds.
- 2016 winner: Hamilton
- Race lap record: Michael Schumacher (Germany) Ferrari, 2003. 1:08.337.
- Start time: 1200 GMT (1400 local)
- Champions Mercedes have won 55 of 67 races since the introduction of the 1.6 litre V6 turbo hybrid power units in 2014, and four of eight this season.
- Triple world champion Hamilton has 56 career victories and is second in the all-time list behind Michael Schumacher (91). Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has 45.
- Ferrari have won 227 races, McLaren 182, Williams 114, Mercedes 68 and Red Bull 53. Former champions McLaren and Williams have not won since 2012.
- There have been four different winners this season so far — Hamilton, Vettel, Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) and Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull).
- Mercedes have been on pole in 62 of the last 67 races.
- Hamilton has had 66 career poles and needs two more to equal Schumacher’s all-time record of 68.
- Four drivers have started on pole this season — Hamilton (five times), Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen.
- Hamilton has 109 podiums to date and is second on the all-time list behind Schumacher (155). Vettel has 92, Raikkonen 86.
- Ricciardo, winner in Azerbaijan, has finished on the podium in his last four races.
- After a run of six successive races on the podium this season, and seven in total, Vettel has finished off it in his last two — Canada and Azerbaijan.
- Azerbaijan saw Canadian rookie Lance Stroll finish third in his first career podium and also a first of the season for Williams.
- Stroll, 18, is the youngest driver to stand on a Formula One podium in his rookie season and the second youngest ever after Max Verstappen.
- Hamilton is 14 points behind Vettel.
- McLaren scored their first points of the season in Baku, meaning all the teams have now opened their tallies.
- The only drivers yet to score are McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.
- Vettel and Hamilton both have 13 scoring finishes in a row.
Austrian Grand Prix
- Austria returned to the calendar in 2014 after an 11-year break. The circuit is owned by Red Bull and is the second highest altitude of the season after Mexico.
- Mercedes have won all three races since the return. The likelihood of a safety car is generally low.
- Hamilton, winner last year after colliding with team mate Nico Rosberg on the last lap, is the only driver on the current grid to have won in Austria. Rosberg, the now-retired 2016 champion, won in 2014 and 2015.
- Austria first hosted a race at Zeltweg in 1964, with Italian Lorenzo Bandini taking his one and only career win for Ferrari.
- The next race at the renovated Oesterreichring was in 1970, the year that Austrian Jochen Rindt became Formula One’s first and only posthumous champion.
- Triple champion Niki Lauda, now the Mercedes team’s non-executive chairman, won in 1984 and is the only Austrian to have won in Austria.
- In 2002, Austria witnessed a ‘team orders’ commotion when Ferrari instructed race leader Rubens Barrichello to hand victory to team mate Schumacher.
- Vettel celebrated his 30th birthday on Monday, the day that he attended an FIA hearing in Paris that decided to take no further action against him for a ‘road rage’ collision with Hamilton in Azerbaijan.
Big Question: Who will win the Austrian Grand Prix?