Unlike many of the grand prix nations that Bernie drags F1 to, Austria has a history of motorsport and a legion of fans. There have been Austrian World Champions and an epic race at the old Osterreichring. When the 2014 GP was announced, all 180,000 tickets were sold within 36 hours.
The current circuit configuration of the Red Bull Ring is much the same as it was when F1 last came here in 2003. The original Osterreichring was 1.6km longer, but former Williams driver Alex Wurz’s father helped redesign it to be more compact. “My dad – on behalf of the Styrian provincial government – redesigned the old track that was then to become the A1-Ring, and I did the first layout drawings!”
The race has dropped off the calendar at various times. Over the years there have been five red-flag races at the Spielberg. In 1987 it was red-flagged twice and had three starts! Part of the reason for this was the narrowness of the track leading to Turn 1. After the Wurz Senior re-design it was a lot safer.
In Canada, the early Safety Car blunted the need to save a lot of fuel, but with the wide open spaces of Austria, there may be much less chance of that recurring. And Mercedes’ Paddy Lowe thinks it will be a high fuel race. “It’s a short circuit with a lot of braking and high fuel consumption, so it will be another challenging race. The venue is also at high altitude which, owing to the low atmospheric pressure, places a different kind of duty on the Power Unit to what we’ve seen so far. It will be interesting to see how well both we and the competition respond to that.”
Like Canada, there’s often a lot of wildlife about. When he was driving for Mclaren in 1987, Swedish driver Stefan Johansson hit a deer with his McLaren MP4/3 after it wandered onto the circuit during Friday practice. Raikkonen has also had to dodge one before now.
Pirelli are repeating their Canada choice and taking Soft and SuperSoft tyres. “With any new venue, the work done during free practice becomes particularly important,” said Pirelli’s Paul Hembery, “so the teams will be looking to take as much information as possible from the Friday and Saturday sessions. Simulation data suggests that we will see a two-stop race, but this is subject to weather conditions and track evolution, which we will only understand properly after free practice.”
The weather is expected to be warm – around 21C and 22C on Saturday and Sunday, but there’s a chance of thundery showers on all three days. Because of its altitude, the mornings can be quite cool, so expect a significant temperature difference between morning and afternoon practice sessions.
All thoughts will be with the recovering Michael Schumacher this weekend, and will significantly put in proportion his Austrian grands prix of the past, which have been fraught to say the least. In 2000 he was involved in a first corner accident that spun him backwards and out of the race. In 2002 there was the controversial team orders with Rubens Barrichello where he was booed off the podium. Twelve years later he would get a standing ovation just for turning up.
Sebastian Vettel is one of the few drivers who’s lapped the old A1-Ring, now the Red Bull Ring.”I was 13 years old when I first drove around it. I had the chance to test a Formula car from the Auinger family. That is a huge step if you’re coming from a karting background. It was something completely new and it took me a while to get used to it. I’m really happy that we will race there. The circuit is actually very pretty, not only the track, but the whole area. The circuit’s set amid a beautiful natural landscape. There are not many distractions there – it’s just about racing.”
i.e. it’s not Montreal.
Mercedes’ head of motorsport Toto Wolff has fond memories of Austria, too. He used to instruct at the circuit’s famous Walter Lechner Racing School.”I lived on a farm there and every morning I went to the track to give my lectures,” recalled Wolff. “At the time I was dreaming of a big fat racing career. Every time I come close to that place I get very sentimental. I am so happy that F1 is returning to this fantastic track.”