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Motorsport | Formula 1

Daniel Ricciardo © Gallo Images

Red Bull looking at home advantage in Austria



Red Bull will be looking to extend their winning form and set the stage for a real title challenge to dominant Mercedes when the Grand Prix returns to Austria on Sunday after 11 years.

Fresh from Daniel Ricciardo's maiden win in Canada two weeks ago, the Austrian team will have home advantage at the Red Bull Ring amid the rolling hills of southern Styria.

But the 24-year-old Australian still has a large gap to close if he is to catch up with current championship leader Nico Rosberg and his teammate Lewis Hamilton, who stand respectively at 140 and 118 points, to his 79.

After taking all first six races of the season – putting it firmly in the lead in the constructors' standings – Mercedes encountered power problems in Montreal, helping Ricciardo to victory.

This will not happen again, Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff vowed ahead of F1's return to the historic track at Spielberg: "We will be pushing harder than ever to ensure that we do not give away any more valuable points to our rivals."

"We know we cannot afford to slip up as our rivals are always there to take advantage," added Rosberg.

For Red Bull, the 1-3 finish in Montreal was a perfect set-up for this weekend's race.

After four back-to-back championship titles thanks to German star Sebastian Vettel, the team struggled this season before traveling to Montreal.

But Vettel, third in Canada and fifth in overall standings, was confident that racing on home ground on Sunday "will energise us."

"I have been looking forward (to this race) since the start of the season. A Grand Prix on the Red Bull Ring is a very special motivation for our team."

"We will fight with all we've got to stand on top of the podium," he promised.

Another team to be claiming home advantage will be Toro Rosso – also owned by the Austrian energy drink maker.

"It's going to be a big weekend for the Red Bull family," Russia's Daniil Kvyat already predicted.

Lotus, Caterham and Marussia, on the other hand, will just be hoping to redeem themselves after seeing all their drivers retire in a crash- and accident-packed race two weeks ago.

"Canada was a kick where it hurts for everyone at the team but we took stock, identified the issues and have taken action to avoid any repeats," said Lotus deputy team chief Federico Gastaldi.

Caterham driver Kamui Kobayashi added his team could "benefit a lot from a good weekend" after Montreal's wash-out.

Force India's Sergio Perez will meanwhile start with a five-place grid penalty after causing a near 300kph crash in Montreal with Felipe Massa of Williams, which both drivers escaped uninjured.

Many drivers will be racing Sunday on a track they hardly know.

Only Massa and former champions Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen have taken part in an Austrian Grand Prix here and the track has undergone a few changes since its takeover by Red Bull.

A lot will therefore hang on the free practice sessions on Friday and Saturday and on the racers' ability to quickly master the 4.3-kilometre track and its tricky uphill and downhill sections.

But the drivers were already relishing the challenge.

"It's a circuit where you never really get to rest in the cockpit because the track is always going somewhere," said McLaren's Kevin Magnussen, who will be able to draw on his experience in non-F1 races on the Red Bull Ring.

"But that's what makes it so enjoyable – every lap is a real adrenaline rush because the corners never stop coming."

One name that will hover over proceedings this weekend is that of German seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, who emerged from a coma this week following a ski accident.

Winner of the last Austrian Grand Prix here in 2003, he also holds the record for the fastest lap on this track.

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