In The Pit Lane with David Croft | Austrian Grand Prix race preview

The first of our exclusive Formula 1 race previews with Sky Sports F1 expert David Croft ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix

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Austrian Grand Prix

Formula 1 is roaring back to our screens with a full weekend of action live from Austria.

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To celebrate the return of elite-tier motor racing, RadioTimes.com has launched a brand new series of exclusive race previews with Sky Sports F1 expert David Croft from the pit lane in Spielberg.

We’ll bring you a fresh preview with Crofty ahead of every Grand Prix this season – however long that may be – and first up we’ve got a firecracker starting point with the Austrian Grand Prix.

It’s the first of two races set to the dramatic backdrop of the rolling hills and forests, and Crofty brings you the full lowdown including his drivers to watch, the vibe in the pit lane as teams return to duty, and an insight of the track – with the promise of overtaking galore.

Back to the G-force

DC: All the drivers have found different ways to keep themselves fresh and to cope with lockdown. Some have turned to virtual racing, you see Lando Norris, George Russell and Charles Leclerc get very interested in that. Other drivers have stayed away, Daniel Ricciardo said yesterday he didn’t want to get too competitive because he knew he would be!

But they’re all faced with the same task today in that they’re all going to be a bit rusty. They’re all going to be experiencing the G-forces in a Formula 1 car for the first time in a long while, and while they might be fit, they’re not race weekend sharp.

Formula 1
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They all have to build their way into it, a bit like the footballers with Project Restart. You’d imagine the better, more experienced drivers, it suits them more because they know what’s required having done many, many seasons. There’s no substitute for a confidence-boosting fast runs and that will make all the difference. They’re all going to find practice to be a pain in the neck – literally – because of the G-forces on the track.

You can see a lot of people very happy that we finally have cars on the track. A huge amount of work has gone into getting Formula 1 going again. There’s a relief that Formula 1 is going again and massive excitement that the sport we love – and feel so proud to be a part of – has got going again. When I opened my mouth to say, ‘Hi and welcome from Austria,’ I’ve got hairs standing up on the back of my neck and arms. It’s quite an emotional moment! For something that is our life, it’s a long time to be away from what we love.

Driver to watch – Max Verstappen

DC: Max Verstappen has won this for the last two years. He had a horrible start last year but it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish and he got Charles Leclerc with three laps to go. So I’m looking forward to seeing Verstappen on the track, can he make it a hat-trick?

It’s not a track that Lewis Hamilton has been particularly successful at. He hasn’t been on the podium in the last three years, the only track we can say that about Lewis. I’m interested to see how he starts his championship defence or whether Valtteri Bottas, who got his maiden pole here of course in 2017, can replicate that, and he should be able to in a good car and he’s a very talented man.

Max Verstappen

Alex Albon, how does he settle in his second season at Red Bull. And then Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc. We know how good both drivers are, but how do they work together knowing Vettel is off at the end of the year. Does that mean Sebastian races for himself, not the team? Is there potential for conflict? How good is the car? There’s a lot to watch for. It’s not just about Hamilton going for the title.

Drivers under pressure

DC: We don’t know how long this season is going to be. At the moment we’ve got eight races and we know there’s a few more that may be scheduled. That means every point is precious, every race is crucial because it might be that we just have eight races. I hope it isn’t, I hope we have 15, which is what the organisers are going for.

No one driver is under pressure more than the other because every single race is crucial this year. You can’t afford many bad days in what will be a shortened season compared to the 22 races we were going to get.

Track lowdown – Red Bull Ring

DC: It’s relentless, this track. It’s the shortest timed lap on the calendar, there’s not many corners but they’re tricky corners, they’re fast corners and they come at you thick and fast. There’s overtaking opportunities here. It suits a calm head, a wise old head on a pair of shoulders. It didn’t suit Red Bull for a while but it certainly has in the last couple of years – Verstappen has to be respected and watched out for here.

It’s not Lewis’ favourite track in terms of results, but I don’t think he dislikes this circuit – he’s got pole here before, he’s won here before. It certainly has suited Bottas in the past, I think he likes this one a lot. I’m looking at Leclerc too if that Ferrari is competitive. He was within three laps of getting his maiden win here last year and took pole position as well, but what they’ll all love is the fact we’re at a race circuit where you can overtake, you can challenge, it is down to the driver, and one little mistake can prove crucial.

How to watch the Austrian Grand Prix

The race starts at 2:10pm on Sunday 5th July live on Sky Sports F1.

For full TV details as well as timings of practice, qualifying and the race itself, check out our comprehensive guide to the Austrian Grand Prix.

For the full breakdown of F1 races coming up check out our F1 2020 race calendar guide.

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If you’re looking for something else to watch check out our TV guide.