Austrian GP: Lewis Hamilton hails tough track after practice crashes
"You shouldn't be able to run wide and come back on easy peasy," insists Hamilton; Are Ferrari a threat to Mercedes' winning run?
By James Galloway and Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 29/06/19 10:43am
Lewis Hamilton hailed the punishing nature of the Red Bull Ring after a Friday characterised by driver errors and incidents which has left the battle at the Austrian GP tough to call heading into the weekend.
On an unusually dramatic opening day in sweltering Austria, teams racked up car damage likely to total hundreds of thousands of pounds as driver mistakes were punished by the fast but narrow track.
Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen crashed, while Sebastian Vettel only narrowly avoided a similar fate after a spin. Meanwhile, Hamilton was one of numerous other drivers to run wide and damage his car on the circuit's unforgiving kerbs amid hot but gusty conditions.
And the world champion, fourth-fastest in the disrupted P2 session as only two leading drivers completed full qualifying simulations, welcomed the challenge.
"I'm not a big fan of tracks like Paul Ricard where you do have those run-off areas, because I would say the older drivers who have been here a longer time, you make less errors, but when you are a youngster it makes it a lot easier," said Hamilton.
"I remember back in the day driving through Spa and there was gravel, and it was so scary. The smallest mistake and you can really damage the car. Going back to a track like this where you do have gravel, you're definitely nervous about it.
"You go into Turn Four and you know if you go to deep, too heavy and quick you go in the gravel and same with Seven. But, also, they've done it with quite serious kerbs on the exits. That's a positive really, you shouldn't be able to run wide and come back on easy peasy."
Red Bull Ring kerbs spark debate
Although Red Bull's Christian Horner and Mercedes' Toto Wolff both spoke out against the severe kerbing, particularly the yellow 'sausage kerbs' placed on the exits of the final corners, the Sky F1 pundits believe it represents a good test of driver skill to avoid them - and sets up an exciting weekend.
"For me, it's a differentiator," said Sky F1's Martin Brundle. "It's the difference between the great and the very, very good."
Karun Chandhok added: "Qualifying looks like it's going to be a case of he who doesn't make a mistake."
Brundle added: "Everybody loves this track. There's not many corners, and some of them don't really count as corners because they are just effectively straight lines, so therefore it makes those apexes that you really have to get right even more important for a hot lap.
"We see the drivers pushing the limits - that's what practice and testing is all about really - but I'm sure they didn't want to test their cars quite that much in the barriers."
Looking ahead to Saturday, Brundle added: "They have somehow got to keep lit up, choose the right apex speed and trust the car will stay. Clearly the wind is gusting a little bit, so it's pretty variable out there."
Can Ferrari challenge Mercedes?
As Leclerc and Red Bull's Pierre Gasly were the only two leading drivers who posted a flying lap on the soft tyre in second practice, the Ferrari driver's comfortable advantage at the top of the timesheets - 0.331s - wasn't necessarily representative.
But Ferrari did nonetheless enjoy a very positive Friday after both showing their qualy pace, and escaping the dramatic session unscathed.
Hamilton, winner of the last four races, even claimed: "I think today showed [Ferrari] are either with us or slightly ahead of us."
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He added: "It's one of those circuits where it's very, very close. It's the small tenths that make the difference. I love it when it's close so that means we have our work cut out."
But Ferrari, while certainly more confident than they were in France, are understandably still wary of Mercedes, who topped Practice One and are the runaway F1 2019 leaders.
"Today the car felt good on our side, so on that I am pretty happy," Leclerc told Sky F1. "The wind and conditions in general were quite difficult, but we made the best out of it and hopefully we can do the same [on Saturday].
"I still believe Mercedes [are the target] and I still believe we are a little bit behind. I think they still are very, very quick so it's going to be very difficult when they put everything together."
Vettel added: "In practice it always looks a bit stronger for us than qualifying and race, so we need to be a bit cautious."
The German also appeared content with the tests Ferrari completed in the morning session, as the team looked to re-evaluate the parts - including an upgraded floor - they trailed without success at Paul Ricard.
"We didn't try upgrades, we tried to understand a little bit more what happened last weekend with the bits that we tried," stated Vettel. "And I think it was successful - at least we were able to learn, and now we need to take some time to understand what to address next."
So who are favourites?
"You can't really say too much at the moment about who is going to be quickest," said Sky F1's Paul Di Resta. "It's going to be a mixed-up qualifying."
The whole Austrian GP weekend is live only on Sky Sports F1. Sunday's race begins at 2.10pm with build-up from 12.30pm. Find out more about Formula 1 on Sky Sports