JUNE 21, 2014
Mercedes battle rages on Red Bull turf
Since buying the defunct A1-Ring in 2004, Red Bull's Dietrich Mateschitz has ploughed a quarter of a billion euros into the Austrian grand prix, the local Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper claims.
"Millions more of his personal fortune," read the report, "he invested in local infrastructure, such as hotels."
While most have hailed the success of the impressive new 'Red Bull Ring', many say the traffic chaos so far this weekend has been a palpable downer.
But FIA president Jean Todt insists: "You have to acknowledge what Dietrich Mateschitz has done (for the sport): two teams, a great track.
"Because he's a perfectionist, the Austrian grand prix will also be perfect," he added.
Even so, not everyone is magnanimous. Mercedes, whose bookings at a newly Mateschitz-owned local hotel were reportedly cancelled just a few weeks ago, is not exactly playing ball.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have steadfastly refused to call the circuit in Spielberg by its official energy drink-sounding name.
And Mercedes-Benz advertising hoardings near the Red Bull Ring feature the sole word 'Heimspielberg', meaning 'Home-game Spielberg' -- undoubtedly a cheeky fly-in-the-ointment of Red Bull's PR masterstroke.
"That's Mercedes' style," said a sardonic Dr Helmut Marko.
Still, no amount of Red Bull-flavoured irritation looks enough to topple the apparent absolute dominance of the silver cars this weekend.
Even Marko had to admit that the gap to Mercedes on Friday was "a shock".
He is hoping the warring Hamilton and Rosberg come to Red Bull's aid. "Hamilton needs to attack," said Marko, referring to the Briton's 22-point championship deficit, "but Rosberg cannot ease back too much.
"There is a certain urgency in the air," Marko sensed. "At some point something will happen, and we need to be on the spot."
Until now, German Rosberg has appeared the cooler of the silver-clad pair, but - clearly the slower Mercedes on Friday - he appeared to briefly lose his calm on the radio on Friday.
"I was cool as a cucumber -- no tension," he smiled.
Hamilton, however, hopes his teammate and rival is in fact feeling the pinch -- and the Briton is keen to add to the pressure if he can.
"For sure hunting definitely brings out the better side (of me)," he told British television after dominating Friday practice in Austria.
"When you're in front you feel vulnerable and you're open, any mistake you make you're going to be caught up. So hopefully I can continue to apply that pressure," he added.
Hamilton said his aim is not only to end Rosberg's new run of good form, but to utterly dominate the German -- as per MotoGP's new sensation, Marc Marquez.
"I've just watched Marquez win seven in a row," he said. "That's inspired me. I thought, 'Jesus, I've got to do that'. That's my goal now."
Rosberg's goal, of course, is exactly the opposite -- and he is also not adverse to adding some psychological pepper to the battle.
Asked about Hamilton's reaction to losing, Rosberg told the Spanish newspaper AS on Friday: "Well, I don't mind if he gets angry when I win.
"It's not pretty, honestly, but I'm very happy when I win, whether he is or not. (I mind) a little bit, but not much."