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Verstappen set for emotinal win? What to expect at the Austrian GP

RacingNews365.com takes a look at the biggest stories ahead of the race weekend at the Red Bull Ring.

F1 returns to the Red Bull Ring for round nine and the second Sprint weekend of the campaign. Max Verstappen holds a commanding lead over Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez after yet another victory at the Canadian Grand Prix, where the Mexican could finish only sixth. The battle behind Red Bull looks to be ramping up, but with less practice time this weekend, can any surprises be sprung? RacingNews365.com takes a look at what we can expect at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen can provide emotional Red Bull win

Verstappen's sublime streak of form has taken him to a seemingly unassailable 69-point lead over Red Bull teammate Perez. With the title battle likely already over, focus can turn to individual milestones across the season, with his record of 15 wins in a single campaign last year likely in danger having taken six of the first eight this term. Red Bull returns to the circuit bearing its name for the first time since the death of co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz this weekend - the Austrian having passed away during the United States Grand Prix weekend last year. A victory would therefore be an emotional occasion for the entire team back on home asphalt, with the feverish Verstappen support adding to the ceremonies. In current nick, it would be hard to bet against the Dutchman.

Second-place battle up in the air

Whilst the form guide from Canada shows Fernando Alonso ahead of Lewis Hamilton and the two Ferraris, an argument can be made to suggest the Scuderia had the strongest race pace ahead of Aston Martin and Mercedes. That would be a major switch in form, given Ferrari has struggled with tyre wear since the start of the season despite impressing in qualifying. Mercedes has taken a step forward with its upgrade package added at Monaco, whilst Aston Martin has an update of its own that it hopes will push the team towards Red Bull. What the improvements provide us is the prospect of a tantalising battle for second in the Constructors' standings for both this weekend and the rest of the season.

Albon to continue Williams crusade

Driver of the Day in Canada Alex Albon put Williams' upgrades to full use to finish seventh and gain valuable points. The Grove-based team is on the back foot given its lack of infrastructure at its factory, which Team Principal James Vowles suggested was 20 years out of date recently. But Albon has consistently outperformed his machinery since rejoining the F1 grid last season and now that steps have been taken with the latest package, positivity is beginning to spread. The Austrian Grand Prix presents another golden opportunity for points with the long straights, low number of corners and short track likely to suit the Williams, as it has in previous seasons. Any further points on top of the seventh-place finish last time out would be seen as a bonus as the team continues to build towards establishing itself as a midfield runner.

De Vries' last resort?

If Nyck de Vries wasn't under enough pressure already after a difficult start to his rookie year in F1, public criticism from his own stable will not be helpful. But Red Bull Motorsport Advisor Helmut Marko has remarkably suggested that Christian Horner didn't want the Dutchman at AlphaTauri, and that the Red Bull Team Principal was being proven right. In a separate interview completed ahead of this weekend's race, Marko suggested that the hierarchy would be looking at alternatives for 2024. De Vries is one of only two drivers not to have scored this year alongside fellow newcomer Logan Sargeant and whilst teammate Yuki Tsunoda has only scored twice, the Japanese driver's form has been much stronger, adding further pressure to the former Formula E World Champion. There is no doubt de Vries needs a strong race at Red Bull's home event would be a huge help.

Sprint surprises?

The second Sprint weekend of the season arrives at a circuit that tasted the alternative format last term and threw up quite the spectacle. With only one practice session before qualifying on Friday, then a separate qualifying for the Sprint on Saturday, there is plenty of scope for some surprises to be thrown into the mix. In Azerbaijan, Charles Leclerc halted Red Bull's qualifying dominance to take pole, with Verstappen coming under attack from George Russell in the Sprint and Perez taking wins on both days. If those results and the spectacle of last year's event in Styria can be merged, given some battles saw cars five wide last term, then we could be in for some weekend.

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