Will Gray

Gray Matter: What we learned in Austria

Will Gray

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MERCEDES TEAMS SHAPING UP FOR A FIGHT

Williams proved that they could be the team to tug at the heels of the works Mercedes squad for the rest of the season in Austria – but they may have to fight off Force India in future.

The Mercedes engines were dominant around the Red Bull Ring, sitting permanently at the top of the speed trap numbers and setting seven of the eight fastest laps in the race.

Meanwhile, the other engine camps were far from happy as, with the designs now in lockdown and the optimum software settings fast being reached, there is little left to play with in terms of improving engine performance.

That, and another Renault failure, left Red Bull boss Christian Horner cursing the French company’s “unacceptable performance” in an out-of-character outburst after the race, while Ferrari seemed simply resigned to the fact there is little more they can do until 2015.

So, if tracks continue to suit the Mercedes engine just as well, that leaves Williams, Force India and McLaren as the main contenders.

It was Williams who took the initiative in Austria, capitalising on Mercedes’ mistakes to take a front row lockout then pushing them as hard as they dare when the championship leaders suffered in the race.

Rather than compromise their own finishing chances, however, Williams decided to grab the chance to score more points in a race than they have since the introduction of the modern points structure in 2010.

But Force India claims that had driver Sergio Perez not been forced to use a compromised strategy after starting with a penalty, he could have been in a similar position.

Indeed, he set the fastest lap of the race and Silverstone, just across the road from their factory, could be the place for them to shine.

McLaren, meanwhile, currently sit as the fourth Mercedes powered team as new upgrades failed to deliver a pace anywhere near that required for the podium.

DRIVERS SET TO ATTACK AGAIN

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Drivers have been let off the leash after rules that restricted their freedom to fight aggressively were reviewed - so we can expect more aggressive racing again in future.

The new penalty system, which involves drivers wracking up points for bad driving or unfair behaviour that count towards a ban, saw plenty of punishments handed out in the early races as the stewards got a little trigger happy.

Drivers claimed they were being drawn to take a more cautious approach, but they have been promised a more lenient hand from now on.

Vettel showed what you can get away with when he hit the rear of Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber during the race in an incident that could well have previously got him a penalty.

Now, only accidents where clear blame can be laid on one driver will be given penalties - and that can only be good news for the fans.

SMALL TEAMS FACING A FIGHT

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Talk in Austria was of a sport “in decline” after momentum began to build following Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo’s frank words to the Wall Street Journal that the sport “isn’t working”.

The most urgent element of a much wider issue is the deadline for regulation changes for 2015, which ends at the World Motorsport Council meeting this week.

This could have been an opportunity for some simple cost cutting solutions to be introduced - but the big teams and small teams are still at loggerheads.

Sauber boss Monisha Kaltenborn didn’t hold back in the press conference when she declared the savings initiatives suggested so far as “clearly not where we should be and where we wanted to be.”

She went as far as to claim no measurable cost cutting ideas had been created at all – and added: “I really wonder what the FIA is now going to do and how Formula One is going to be governed in this respect.”

There was a clear air of animosity as in contrast the ‘big boys’ including Red Bull’s Christian Horner and Mercedes’ Toto Wolff implied they were happy with the progress.

Exactly what is agreed should be revealed this week – but although there was a clear effort to put a positive spin on the situation there is no hiding the fact that the costs need to reduce for the smaller teams to survive.

The alternatives are simply to replace them with third cars – which Ferrari virtually admitted they would be delighted to do – or to offer a customer car solution. Neither, however, is the right route for Formula One.

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