The team heads to the Austrian hills for the first of two rounds in Spielberg. Executive Director Marcin Budkowski reflects on a bittersweet French Grand Prix and looks ahead to the challenges of racing in Austria.
What are the main takeaways from last weekend's French Grand Prix?
Marcin Budkowski: We left France a bit disappointed with Fernando in eighth place and Esteban outside the points as we felt we had the pace to score bigger points. The race was all about tyre management and it impacted teams and even drivers within the same teams in a very different way. Esteban's race was more or less over after heavy graining compromised his first stint, while Fernando tip-toed on his starting set of Mediums and managed to keep his Hards alive to regain positions and put on a great fight for sixth place. He's definitely gained a lot of confidence in the car and is back at a very high level of competitiveness.
What are the main challenges of Spielberg?
MB: Austria is a short track with only nine corners, which means that gaps in qualifying are very small and every hundredth of a second can make a difference. A lot of the lap is spent at full throttle with most of the sectors medium to high-speed. The kerbs are big there and can be punishing for the bodywork and suspension. On top of all this, it's a bit harder on tyres than France so that is something to be wary of after last weekend.
We've seen in the past that the weather in Austria at this time of the year can be tricky to predict as well. It's usually one of the warmest races on the calendar but storms are frequent as well. Last year in Austria we had a wet qualifying, so we'll keep a close eye on the weather radar for the whole weekend.
What are the team's expectations for this weekend?
MB: In the past it's not been the team's strongest circuit, but we have addressed a lot of our previous issues last year and this is not a circuit we fear anymore. We are determined to build on the promising pace we showed in France last week and return to having both cars in Q3 and both cars well inside the points.
After a long and challenging race in France, Esteban Ocon heads to the hills of Austria for this weekend's Styrian Grand Prix. The Frenchman is motivated to work his way back into the points at the picturesque Spielberg circuit.
What do you like about Spielberg?
Esteban Ocon: Austria is quite a unique circuit especially with its location in the hills. I really like that, though, as it's not where you'd expect to have a racetrack! It's a really beautiful location, so to spend two weeks there is always nice. I have some good memories at this track as it's where I had one of my first podiums back in Formula Renault in 2012. Last year too, I had my best qualifying with the team in the wet, which was a lot of fun. Hopefully there are some more nice memories for us to make there.
How challenging is a lap?
While it's a short lap, just over one-minute, it places a focus on extracting everything from the car and getting every corner right. There are nine corners, which might sound easy as it's less to learn, but actually everything has to be maximised. Small details are crucial to doing well in Austria. My favourite part of the lap is the double left-hander at Turns 6 and 7. They're pretty quick and very enjoyable when you get them right.
What do you remember from last year's event when racing returned?
EO: Last year's double header in Austria was very memorable as it marked the time I returned to racing in Formula 1 and also the first race in 2020 after the delay with Covid. One thing that will be different this time around is that we'll have fans in Austria and that's exciting. Having fans in the grandstands, like in France, brings a whole new level of atmosphere and a real buzz. I really enjoy that, and I look forward to seeing the fans again this weekend.
How do you reflect on the French Grand Prix?
EO: I was disappointed with the race in France. We just couldn't get into a rhythm in the race, especially on the first stint with the Hard tyres. It was very difficult to manage and it gives us some thinking to do to make sure we're not in a similar situation this weekend. Tyres have been a key area in Austria in the past years, so we have some preparation to do this weekend to make sure we're back in the points. I'm certainly motivated and ready for the challenge.
Fernando Alonso heads to Austria for the second race of Formula 1's first triple header this year, following an eighth-place finish at the French Grand Prix last weekend.
It is your eighth visit to Austria in Formula 1, what are your thoughts heading into the weekend?
Fernando Alonso: It's an exciting track to race on with lots of big elevation changes and high-speed corners. I raced here in the 2000s and again when it returned from 2014 so I have quite a bit of experience of the circuit and it hasn't changed much. There are some good overtaking opportunities into turn three and four, so it makes the weekend quite exciting as you can fight for positions on the Sunday. I like that it's back to back with another race as you can try keep the momentum going from the previous round.
What will be the most important factor of the weekend?
FA: Austria is a bit more of a traditional circuit like last weekend, so we don't expect the performance levels to differ hugely. However, we need to prepare for all scenarios because you never know and as we saw in France the tyres degraded much faster than anyone expected. Also, the weather can be unpredictable in Austria and the races are often quite open, so we need to prepare the right way and see what we can do.
You managed a second points finish in a row at the French Grand Prix, how do you reflect on a busy home Grand Prix for the team?
FA: Well it was a good weekend for us and we showed that our performance on Saturday and Sunday was more consistent with what we've already seen at circuits like Portugal. What we experienced at Monaco and Baku was a bit unique, so we can look at the rest of the season with confidence. I had a good race and found the Hard tyres performed well. I was quite concerned after the first stint on the Mediums, but I think it was the same for most of the field and we just had to manage that a little and plan our strategy well. I want to carry on the momentum from the last two races, so we'll be aiming for another points finish here in Austria.