Austrian Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes out to avoid false-dawn feeling ahead of Red Bull charge

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Austrian Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes out to avoid false-dawn feeling ahead of Red Bull charge
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Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have experienced false dawns before.

Their first upgrade of the season at the Spanish Grand Prix created comfortably their best weekend and talk of closing the gap on Ferrari and Red Bull, only for two dire weekends to follow.

The latest upgrade for Silverstone last weekend resulted in a podium finish for Hamilton in a race where he could genuinely have won had it not been for the late intervention of the safety car.

In Mercedes’ defence, post-Barcelona they were only tentatively optimistic about the future. After the British Grand Prix, talk from their garage has generally been much more bullish, to the extent grands prix victories are finally being discussed as a reality.

At this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix, such an outcome looks unlikely at a track expected to be dominated by the team which bears its name: the Red Bull Ring.

Best images of the F1 Austrian Grand Prix

But Hamilton said: “It’s encouraged us that we are moving in the right direction. With a bit more hard work, hopefully we can get closer to having a chance of winning. I truly believe we can get a win this year. There really is potential in the car. At Silverstone, there was definitely potential to win the race.

“Earlier this year, I definitely wasn’t sure we would ever get a win in this car, but that is not the way we like to think. It felt there was a long way to catch everyone up, knowing the progress everyone makes.

“It’s hugely encouraging. For a long time, we would make changes and not see it [on the track]. It was a good step in Barcelona, but then we had several difficult races following it.”

For all Mercedes’ dominance in recent years, Austria is a race that Hamilton has won only once, back in 2016, and it has not habitually been a track suited to the team. That said, this year’s car is an altogether different prospect. And Hamilton suggested a podium place might prove too much to wish for.

“With our current performance, we are not at the same level as the teams ahead of us,” he said. “We need everything to align. The weather is up and down. I am hopeful we will be pleasantly surprised, but I might be wrong. I am staying hopeful.”

Lewis Hamilton at Red Bull Ring on Thursday (AP)
Lewis Hamilton at Red Bull Ring on Thursday (AP)

Verstappen is bidding for a record fourth win at the Red Bull Ring, and is the overwhelming favourite to do so and bounce back from a difficult race in the UK, where he could only muster seventh, as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz took a maiden victory.

But the Dutchman was boosted by the fact that Charles Leclerc had his own difficulties, a pit-stop strategy error by his Ferrari team during the safety car costing him a shot at the win.

There was talk of fractiousness within the team in the aftermath and there were notably TV shots of team principal Mattia Binotto wagging his finger at Leclerc in heated discussions straight afterwards. Binotto travelled to Leclerc’s home in Monaco this week to ensure there were no ill feelings and try to get the team’s championship ambitions back on track after a mixed weekend at Silverstone.

Leclerc said: “[Binotto] was first quite angry with me after Silverstone because he saw me extremely down, which obviously he understood but he just wanted to make sure that I was okay.

“And I realised that, okay, I had done an amazing job considering the situation that I had found myself in after the safety car.”

We know where we made mistakes and I hope we can grow from that.

Leclerc lies 43 points adrift of Verstappen in the drivers’ standings after 10 races with two wins to his title rivals’ six. And in the constructors’ championship, Red Bull boast 328 points to Ferrari’s 265.

As a result, they cannot afford further slip-ups in the ensuing races, starting this weekend. But Leclerc said he was confident the team would improve.

“There are things we could have done better,” he said. “But we know where we did the mistakes and I hope we can grow from that. As a team, we have changed a few things already, just in the way of communication throughout the race to be ready in that particular moment.

“Once a safety car is out, you need to take a decision there and, if you are not ready for that, it’s tricky. But we are extremely united. There’s not any kind of division in the team.”

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