Spot­light on Vet­tel in Aus­tria but Hamil­ton must roll up his sleeves

Metro (UK) - - SPORT - by ADAM HAY-NI­CHOLLS

THE moun­tain air has served to clear some heads this week as F1 stays put in Spielberg for sec­ond show­down at the Red Bull Ring – the first time con­sec­u­tive rounds have been held at the same venue.

Se­bas­tian Vet­tel has been on some long soul-search­ing walks as he pon­ders his fu­ture. With Mercedes say­ing they are not look­ing at any other driv­ers, and Re­nault sen­sa­tion­ally an­nounc­ing the re­turn of Fer­nando Alonso for 2021, there are not many op­tions left for the soon-tobe-ex Fer­rari star.

Should he not per­form to the same stan­dard as team-mate Charles Le­clerc this week­end, there are ru­mours Fer­rari, McLaren and Re­nault may force their driver trans­fers as early as this sum­mer.

Per­haps Fer­rari’s up­grades, which have been rushed for­ward, will help iron out the SF1000’s kinks. ‘[To­day] will be an im­por­tant day to see if ev­ery­thing is bring­ing the step we’re ex­pect­ing,’ said the Ger­man ahead of prac­tice. A change in name for this week­end’s race, from the Aus­trian to the Styr­ian Grand Prix, helps give a men­tal re­set for all those who came a crop­per last week­end, Lewis Hamil­ton among them.

Penal­ties in qual­i­fy­ing and the race have put him fourth, be­hind fel­low Bri­ton Lando Norris. Mercedes are ex­pected to dom­i­nate again but Valt­teri Bot­tas put in such a mighty per­for­mance last time out, Lewis is go­ing to have to roll his sleeves up.

Hamil­ton needs to take greater care when bat­tling Alexan­der Al­bon in the fu­ture. But on their col­li­sion last week, the Red Bull driver said: ‘One hun­dred per cent I’d do the same thing, it has to be done. There’s no real re­gret on my side.’ Tem­pers be­tween Mercedes’ Toto Wolff and Red Bull boss Chris­tian Horner, how­ever, are heat­ing up.

Af­ter the race, Horner crit­i­cised Hamil­ton’s driv­ing. That comes in ad­di­tion to Red Bull protest­ing Mercedes’ DAS sys­tem on Fri­day and trig­ger­ing a re­view of Hamil­ton’s yel­low-flag in­fringe­ment on Sun­day morn­ing. A frus­trated Wolff said: ‘The protest on Fri­day was fair play but not on Sun­day. The gloves are off.’

Hamil­ton is un­con­cerned, say­ing: ‘I don’t re­ally think too much of the neg­a­tive bat­tle that goes on in the back­ground. It’s a power bat­tle be­tween a few in­di­vid­u­als.’

The an­nounce­ment Alonso is re­join­ing Re­nault af­ter a two-year ab­sence is a kick in the teeth for young driv­ers in the feeder se­ries but good news for F1’s box of­fice. It is likely the two-time cham­pion will end up re­plac­ing a four-time champ on the grid as, with Re­nault out of the pic­ture, Vet­tel does not have many op­tions for 2021.

Alonso’s ti­tles and 32 wins are an un­der­state­ment of his tal­ent and, at 39, he is still ca­pa­ble of beat­ing the likes of Hamil­ton and Max Ver­stap­pen. How­ever, he does not al­ways get along with his team, and that could prove tricky at Re­nault when the team is to­wards the back of the mid­field. What’s to say it will be any bet­ter than the 2018 McLaren?

Hav­ing won his 2005 and ’06 ti­tles with Re­nault, the En­stone team will feel a flush of nos­tal­gic mo­ti­va­tion, right up to the point he starts slag­ging them off on the ra­dio.

Cau­tion: Fer­rari’s Charles Le­clerc has escaped with a warn­ing af­ter break­ing For­mula One’s strict Covid19 pro­to­col. All F1 per­son­nel are re­quired to re­main within their so­called bub­bles be­tween races. But a pic­ture of Le­clerc (above) pos­ing with a waiter at a Monte Carlo restau­rant this week emerged on so­cial me­dia.

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