Monday, June 24, 2024

Three Talking Points from Saturday’s Sprint Shootout in Austria

The Sprint Shootout in Austria, where Max Verstappen took pole position, offered plenty of excitement with shock exits and changing track conditions throughout the session. With only one hour of free practice before qualifying on Friday, we learnt a lot more as the teams prepare for the Sprint race later today and the traditional Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon.

Here are three talking points from Saturday’s Sprint Shootout action.

McLaren’s Upgrades Working Wonders for Norris

The weekend so far and especially the Saturday Sprint Shootout has seen Lando Norris showing exceptional pace around the Red Bull Ring, and it’s left many wondering how good the new McLaren F1 Team upgrades are.

The recent upgrades introduced by McLaren, including the floor, sidepod inlets, and bodywork, have promptly yielded positive results. However, it is important to note that the team’s success cannot be solely attributed to these modifications.

The McLaren team has historically fared well at this particular circuit, benefiting both the team and Norris. The presence of three DRS zones along the straights allows for a strategic compromise in terms of wing levels, which aligns with McLaren’s preferred type of circuit.

This year, the 2023 McLaren has shown a tendency towards higher drag and has been acknowledged by Norris as one of the slower cars on the straights. The recent upgrade plays a significant role in addressing this concern, as it enhances aerodynamic efficiency, a goal the team has pursued since the beginning of the season. This improvement translates to increased downforce and reduced drag, which proves crucial at the Red Bull Ring, characterized by lengthy straights and a high-speed second half of the track.

McLaren have had some good one-lap pace this year, so his performances in both qualifying sessions could be down to that but it’s clear he has much more pace than the un-upgraded McLaren being driven by Oscar Piastri.

The sprint race this afternoon will certainly give us more of an idea of where Norris and McLaren are in terms of performance and if this upgrade has had as big of an impact as some are suggesting.

Mercedes Disaster Session

The Spirit Showdown saw Lewis Hamilton encounter a setback as he was eliminated in the first session, resulting in an eighteenth-place start on the grid.

Initially, the British driver had set a lap time that would have secured him sixth position. However, his time was invalidated due to track limit violations, ultimately placing him in the bottom five positions at the end of the session. Carlos Sainz Jr. seemed likely to face elimination as well, but he remarkably managed to secure the fastest lap of the session with his sole attempt.

Credit: LAT Images

The troubles for Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team continued in the second qualifying session when George Russell’s W14 car experienced a hydraulics issue. The problem was reported by the 25-year-old driver at the conclusion of SQ1, and unfortunately, the Mercedes mechanics were unable to resolve it in such a short space of time. As a result, Russell is forced to begin the sprint from the 15th position on the grid.

Considering the shortened race format of the sprint, it is unlikely that Mercedes will be able to secure significant points. However, Hamilton managed to secure a place in the top five for the race scheduled on Sunday. While, Russell has had a challenging weekend overall, with the young Briton also missing out on qualifying for the Q3 session during Friday’s usual Grand Prix qualifying session.

Will Haas Be Able to Convert Qualifying Masterclass into the Race?

Haas F1 Team is one of several teams facing the challenge of performing strongly in qualifying but struggling to maintain race pace on Sundays. This issue was evident in their recent performance at the Canadian Grand Prix. In Montreal, Nico Hülkenberg managed to secure second place in qualifying, although he started fifth on the grid due to a penalty. However, once the race commenced, Hulkenberg faced a rapid decline in his position and finished well down the order.

Once again at the Red Bull Ring, Haas have secured good qualifying positions across both sessions. In the traditional qualifying on Friday, Hülkenberg secured eighth on the grid with Kevin Magnussen being knocked out in Q1. Moving forward to the Sprint Shootout, Hülkenberg and Magnussen both made it to SQ3 and will start fourth and tenth respectively.

While qualifying well is certainly important, it holds little value if a team cannot capitalize on Sundays and convert their performance into race success. Guenther Steiner, the team principal, has emphasized the need to address this matter and improve their overall performance. The upcoming race’s in Austria will reveal whether Haas has made any progress in resolving this issue.