VIENNA • After a one-two triumph so comprehensive it sparked heated debate about Formula One's future at the French Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes team revisit this weekend the scene of last season's darkest hour.
Team chief Toto Wolff, a native Austrian who knows the Spielberg circuit well, described the double DNF (did not finish) at the Austrian Grand Prix as their lowest point in an otherwise hugely successful season.
"That race was a cruel reminder of how quickly things can go wrong in our sport, and that reliability and performance go hand in hand in F1," he said.
"This year, our race finishing record has been good, but it would be complacent to ignore the fact that for two weekends in a row now, our mechanics had to perform the equivalent of 'open-heart surgery' on our cars.
"We've faced a number of different issues on different components, each of which could have easily caused us to retire, so we need to get on top of those challenges as quickly as possible."
Despite those "emergencies" in Canada and France, Mercedes proved they have the resources and staff to cope and respond - demonstrating why they are an exceptional champion team and not solely reliant on Hamilton's extraordinary talent.
Furthermore, despite their clear supremacy and record run of eight successive wins and six one-twos, Wolff has been at pains to suggest recent criticism of the sport has been misjudged and, some observers believe, may indicate a lack of understanding or other factors.
In particular, he pointed out that Hamilton is under-appreciated, notably in his native Britain, and should be recognised as "maybe the best driver that has ever existed".
He also warned that Spielberg's short lap, the altitude in the Styrian Alps, and forecasts of another weekend of searing heat, could make cooling a problem for everyone and throw up a race packed with unexpected twists.
Rivals Ferrari, still stinging from setbacks in the past two races, plan to introduce upgrades that would reduce outright straight-line speed in favour of adding downforce to improve cornering, team boss Mattia Binotto revealed.
F1 AUSTRIAN GP
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