Eight potential winners: will 2024 Austrian GP deliver the best F1 sprint race yet?


Will we finally see a good sprint race? Can Leclerc and Sainz recover from Spanish scramble? Will AI help reduce track limit violations? And will Ferrari and RB upgrades come true on the Red Bull Ring? Here's what to watch out for at the 2024 Austrian GP

2024 Austrian GP

Red Bull? Ferrari? McLaren? Mercedes? Who will come out on top at the Red Bull Ring?

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Since the big regulation reset of 2022, Red Bull and Max Verstappen have rarely been in need of a home advantage. But in 2024, with McLaren, Ferrari and even Mercedes looking capable of snatching a race victory, the Dutchman may need the tumultuous support of his ‘orange army’ more than ever.

The comparable pace of the front-runners, as well as the continued closeness of the midfield, holds the promise of a sprint race weekend to remember on the Red Bull Ring — a short, fast circuit with a history of delivering a twist or two as well as great racing.

But will it all be overshadowed by another avalanche of investigations into drivers breaching track limits, as we saw last year, or will the introduction of a new AI system help officials to get a handle on offenders in real time?


Will we finally have a good sprint race?

2023 Austrian GP

Rain caused a hectic start to the 2023 Austrian GP sprint

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The Red Bull Ring should be the perfect F1 sprint race venue. At only 2.3 miles long and with plenty of opportunities to overtake, it embodies everything that the shortened races were introduced for — more so than other sprint hosts such as Spa-Francorchamps, Miami or Qatar.

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Up to now, however, the Red Bull Ring has failed to deliver. The past two years have seen Max Verstappen dominating the Austrian sprints, which were run to an older format that discouraged drivers from being bold and daring.

The picture could be very different in 2024. With drivers competing in two separate qualifying sessions – one setting the grid for the sprint the other for the grand prix — and neither race having an impact on the other, drivers should be more willing to take risks in the sprint.

A convergence in performance between Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes also means that as many as eight drivers could be duking it out for victory on Saturday morning before battle resumes in Sunday’s Grand Prix. It’s a prospect F1 officials dreamt of when sprint racing was first introduced in 2021, and there’s reason to hope that it will achieve its potential in Austria.


Will a brewing civil war at Ferrari prevent a title challenge? 

Ferrari Carlos Sainz Charles Leclerc

Are tempers beginning to flare at Ferrari?

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It doesn’t take much to sour the relationship between two duelling F1 team-mates, and the friction was evident after an on-track tussle between Ferrari’s drivers in Barcelona.

In the early stages of the race, they made contact as they fought over fifth place. Sainz attempted to pass his team-mate around the outside of Turn 1, but was pushed wide and onto an exit road. In their post-race interviews, both drivers made no secret of their feelings about the incident.

“He did the corner like I was not there,” Leclerc said“I understand it’s his home race and a very important moment of his career and he wanted to do something spectacular, and I probably wasn’t the right person to do that with.”

“I think too many times he complains after a race about something,” Sainz replied. “Obviously hot, he might think that. I passed Charles because I don’t know if he did a mistake or he was managing a bit too much.”

The pair have form: Tifosi had to look away during the final laps of the 2023 Italian Grand Prix, as a battle for second almost ended in contact, and they battled ruthlessly once again at the 2024 season opener in Bahrain and the 2024 Chinese GP sprint. But Sainz now has less to lose as his Ferrari contract runs down, amid uncertainty over when he’ll next have a competitive car. The team can ill afford the distraction of an intra-team battle now that Red Bull looks vulnerable.

Leclerc won the 2022 Austrian GP, and followed that with a podium finish in 2023. He will be keen to recover the second place in the drivers’ championship that he’s lost to Lando Norris with a similar performance this weekend, while Sainz also be looking to get the maximum out of the race. The result of two warring drivers could prove disastrous.


A new way to police track limits

AlphaTauri F1 car drives over blue line between kerb and track edge at 2024 Spanish Grand Prix

Blue line between kerb and track edge helps AI to detect track limit infringements

Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty via Red Bull

The result of the 2023 Austrian Grand Prix took hours to confirm due to the sheer number of track limit violations which occurred over the race weekend. More than 1200 cases were reported and many had to be investigated after the race, resulting in several penalties being applied after the chequered flag. Of the 20 drivers on the grid, only George Russell and Fernando Alonso escaped the Red Bull Ring without a warning or a penalty.

The circuit is notorious for the issue. Its undulating layout makes it difficult for drivers to judge the apexes and exits of corners, while there are time gains available for running as wide as possible.

Officials are aiming to avoid a repeat of last year’s confusion with new AI software, that will analyse trackside footage to detect and flag track limit breaches faster, so that officials can act on them in real-time. As well as making the situation clearer to viewers, drivers should also have advance warning that they are in danger of a penalty unless they stick to the track limits.

The introduction of a blue line (as seen in the picture above) in Turns 9 and 10 makes it easier for the software to detect the fine margin between a car that’s skirting the track limits and one that’s officially off the asphalt. There will also be more gravel traps — notably at the final two corners — aiming to punish those who stray a little to wide.

Read more on the plans to use AI to enforce F1 track limits.


Can Ferrari and RB get their upgrades working? 

2024 Spanish Grand Prix Daniel Ricciardo Carlos Sainz

Both RB and Ferrari respectively struggled with new upgrades in Spain

Red Bull

Several teams including Red Bull, Ferrari, Aston Martin and RB introduced substantial upgrades at the Spanish Grand Prix — but not all of them resulted in a desired performance boost.

Ferrari had hoped that its new floor, diffuser and rear wing would help put it in contention for victory but from qualifying to the chequered flag, neither Leclerc or Sainz could make any sort of impression on the leading cars and ultimately took up fifth and sixth place.

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RB returned to the rear of the field just four races after Daniel Ricciardo secured fourth in the Miami GP sprint and two races after Yuki Tsunoda secured a brilliant eighth-place finish in Monte Carlo — despite applying upgrades to the sidepod inlets, floor, rear wing and engine cover. The VCARB-01’s performance was so poor, that the team may even abandon the new parts altogether.

“I think that temptation probably only exists in maybe in 72 hours,” Ricciardo told media after the race. “If we’re still unsure or there’s no clear answer then maybe we say: ‘OK, do we just, for the time being, go back?’

“I didn’t have a bad feeling in qualifying. In the debrief, Yuki and I both [felt] we did good laps – we felt like the balance wasn’t bad. I think we simply lacked the load and we probably don’t really get everything out of the new package. But, today, in the race, I definitely felt a few more limitations so these are the notes I give back to the team and see what we come back with.”

Such poor performances could have sent alarm bells ringing in both Italian headquarters, as a lack of pace in Barcelona — a circuit which is often cited as the perfect proving ground for a race car due to the variations of challenges it provides — can sometimes spell trouble for the rest of the season.