Red Bull start party early as Austria awaits
Formula One will return to Austria for the first time in 11 years this month but hosts Red Bull got the party rolling early when Daniel Ricciardo claimed the team's first win of the season in Canada on Sunday.
Until Montreal it had seemed almost inevitable that dominant Mercedes and their title-chasing duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton would turn up as party-poopers at the Red Bull Ring on June 22.
But with perfect timing the Austrian-owned team halted Mercedes' run of six consecutive victories with Australian Ricciardo celebrating the first victory of his career at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
With the race at the renovated circuit already a sellout there was no need to give Austrian fans even more of an incentive to make the trip to Spielberg but Sunday's result, and a third place finish for quadruple world championSebastian Vettel, gives them plenty to talk about.
Mercedes may still be one step ahead but, with Hamilton halted by brake problems and Rosberg slowed by overheating systems on Sunday, there is a little less certainty in the air.
"We've taken 40 points today - it's the first time we've outscored Mercedes - and that is great news in view of Red Bull's home race the Austrian Grand Prix in two weeks," said team principal Christian Horner on Sunday night.
"We're going to have a lot of home support. There's still a gap to Mercedes, we are working on closing that down.
"But when you consider where we were three months ago in pre-season testing to where we are now, it is quite incredible. We'll keep fighting, keep pushing and hopefully we can continue to close that gap."
Mercedes are 119 points clear of champions Red Bull in the constructors' standings after seven races, with Rosberg 22 points ahead of Hamilton in the drivers' table.
"To have a race at the Red Bull Ring as Red Bull Racing - with that comes a bit of pressure but it will be fantastic to perform in front of effectively a home crowd," said Horner.
"They sold out within a matter of hours a colossal amount of tickets and I think it is going to be a huge spectacle. For us as a team it will be trying to get the most out of that weekend as we can."
Fans will also be looking forward to a return to the circuit for the first time since 2003 when Michael Schumacherwas the last to stand on top of the winner's podium.
"Lots of campsites and lots of very merry Austrians," said McLaren's Jenson Button, who made his Formula One debut in 2000 and is now the most experienced racer on the starting grid, when asked for his memories.
"It's one of those races they really embrace the sort of party scene and the camping scene which is really cool. It reminds me very much of Spa, the British Grand Prix and those sort of races. It's a true racing fan's Grand Prix.
"I've enjoyed racing there in the past. I don't know what it's going to be like with these cars," added the 2009 world champion.
While Red Bull have their name on the circuit, Mercedes can also count on support of their own with retired Austrian triple champion Niki Lauda now the team's non-executive chairman and compatriot Toto Wolff in charge of the German carmaker's motorsport activities.
"It is a fantastic place with so much history and heritage and I think what (Red Bull owner Dietrich) Mateschitz's done there has just revived the region," said Wolff.
"I hope on the Sunday night we are going to spoil the party but I think he has a bigger picture than just a racing team."