Scottish Daily Mail

Lewis finds pace to leave Nico in a jam

- JONATHAN McEVOY reports from Spielberg

THEY are running the Austrian Grand Prix the way Boris Johnson would if he ever got a Formula One race to run in London. Confused? Well, this alpine site in the Styria mountains, with i ts rolling topography and lush green meadows that represent Utopia for the grazing cows, is not as quiet, nor the air as clean, as usual.

The return of Formula One after 11 years away has turned the picturesqu­e villages into something resembling Hogarth Roundabout at rush hour. The problems of congestion caused by fans arriving here was so extravagan­t that a number of McLaren bigwigs — including team principal Eric Boullier — abandoned their taxi and walked into the track.

Anticipati­ng this problem, to a degree, organisers have 1,000 bikes f or hire — sleeker versions of Boris’s incarnatio­ns — to beat the snarled-up traffic.

The biggest problem was on Thursday when a load of motorhomes arri ved f or t he weekend. Each was stopped on entering a campsite, asked to pay up and fill out a laborious form before being allowed in. All very archetypal­ly Teutonic.

Happy to report that by yesterday the problem seemed to have eased, despite the first action of the weekend on the track.

Lewis Hamilton was fastest of the day, beating his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg by nearly four-tenths of a second.

‘It didn’t feel bad out there today considerin­g this is a new track to me,’ said Hamilton. ‘After the first few laps I was feeling comfortabl­e and always seemed to be finding t i me wi t h new lines and improvemen­ts.

‘To be as quick as I was considerin­g others have already driven this track is a great feeling. It was very windy out there, but we got a lot of running and we feel set for the race on Sunday.

‘The high- speed corners were working the rear tyres hard but they seemed to cope well.

‘The feeling was good for both sets of tyres, even in the long runs, so if the car is like this for the race, I’m in a good place.’ But he added, warily: ‘I think Nico might have something extra in his pocket.’

The championsh­ip contenders — Rosberg l eads Hamilton by 22 points — had both foreseen the travel problems. So Rosberg is staying in a motorhome at the track and Hamilton is staying in Landhotel Schonbergh­of, just above Turn Three.

However, Mercedes cry skuldugger­y: Red Bull, they claim, have moved them out of their team hotel close to the track. Red Bull are brandishin­g a piece of paper that seems to show Mercedes had cancelled their booking before they took over the rooms.

This is Red Bull’s new home race. The headquarte­rs of the drinks company, rather than the F1 team — whcih is in Milton Keynes — is based in Salzburg and owned by Dietrich Mateschitz, an Austrian billionair­e. He has spent about £60million in revamping this venerable, undulating circuit. Its name has changed from the A1-Ring to the Red Bull Ring.

A casualty of the process is the Niki Lauda turn, which has been renamed the Wurth turn. A legend of Austrian motor racing gives way to a German tools company.

We note that the Rindt turn — named after Jochen Rindt — remains. Is the discrimina­tion based on the fact Lauda is chairman of Mercedes?

Rosberg was hardly concerned by being slower than Hamilton. ‘It was the same in Montreal, but when it came to qualifying I was right where he is,’ he said.

‘It’s so close between us. I’m hoping we still have the edge on everyone else. It seems to be the case today, so it’s going to be between us for pole and it’s very important because race pace is going to be close and to get first into the first corner is a huge advantage.’

Rosberg is exuding confidence, almost imperturba­bly. But was there a sign of the stress in a radio exchange with the team?

‘I was as cool as a cucumber — no tension,’ he said. ‘There were a few things that weren’t ideal so we’re just pushing on to sort everything out.’

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