Two weeks after the new European GP in Baku it’s time to return to the well-known Red Bull Ring, the venue for this year’s Austrian Grand Prix. In 2014 year, the venue hosted its first GP in over a decade, with circuit owners Red Bull performing poorly at their home venue. In 2015, it didn’t change for them but this year could be different, as they have proved to be faster on low-downforce tracks.
The viewing should be fantastic with hills and forests surrounding the track. There is a 60 meters difference (9’3%) between the lowest and the highest point of the track since it is located at the foot of the Austrian Alps. It has undoubtedly one of the most spectacular scenery around an F1 circuit, and since there are no big cities around the venue, this makes it quite different to other modern Formula 1 circuits.
In 1950, a group of racing fans created a circuit with some cones. It held a sportscars race in 1958. Although it was bumpy, next two years it became part of the Formula 2 Championship. The first two F1 Austrian Grands Prix were non-championship races. They took place in 1961 and 1963 at the Zeltweg Airfield and were won by Innes Ireland and Jack Brabham respectively. The following year, it became part of the championship, but the track was too dangerous and it was withdrawn from the calendar. The sportscars race was still held and won by an Austrian driver named Jochen Rindt.
Later, in 1969, the Österreichring was built, and the first race there took place in 1970. It was a spectacular, scenic and unique circuit. Rindt, the local hero, was dominating the season but he wasn’t able to claim his home race win. He couldn’t try the following year since he was killed in Monza. He went on to becamo the only posthumous F1 world champion.
The race was held each year until 1987, when it was cancelled again. After a decade of absence and a redesign of the layout, the circuit returned to the calendar in 1997, then named the A1 Ring. The old layout was too dangerous because of its very fast and long corners, taken in no lower than third or fourth gear. Herman Tilke made those corners slower and shorter, improving safety and also to provide some good overtaking opportunities. The circuit was also drastically shortened, from 5.911km to just 4.326km. So, in terms of lap distance, Spielberg is the third-shortest track of the year after Monaco and Brazil, but in terms of lap time, it's the shortest.
Being so short produces close finishes, like the infamous 2002 event in which we saw Rubens Barrichello hand victory to his team mate Michael Schumacher just some meters before the finishing line. The following year saw the last race as A1 Ring. Pit and grandstands were demolished and during some years there were discussions on whether it should return to the calendar or not until, in 2008, Red Bull started to reconstruct it. F1 came back to the renewed Red Bull Ring in 2014.
Niki Lauda is the only Austrian driver who claimed a victory in his home GP, winning in 1984 with his McLaren. In the same year he was crowned for the last time as F1 World Champion, beating his teammate Alain Prost by only half a point.
Drivers will race 71 laps for a total of 307.146 km. The circuit features only 9 corners, 6 right and 3 left, making it a fairly simple circuit. Of these nine curves, 4 are potential overtaking points. The track also has 4 long straights that will test the Renault engines of the cars which race at 'home'. As usual, there are two DRS zones, which are located on the two long straights. The current lap record is the lowest of all of the current circuits at just 1m 8.337s, and Michael Schumacher completed it in 2003. The record could be broken this year with the ultrasoft compounds.
The circuit starts off with a long straight uphill where the speed will get up to 315 km/h. The start is very important, as the braking point for the first corner to the right is quite heavy: it is taken at third gear and 120 km/h. Then, the track has another long straight where the first DRS detection point is located, before a second tight corner, almost a hairpin, where the sector two starts. Turns 1, 2 and 3 will be very good overtaking spots, as they all have a long straight before them, giving drivers a good opportunity to out-brake their opponents.
A medium length straight is found where DRS use is allowed. Turn 3 is very long and it opens up to turn 4 before heading to the curviest section of the track. Corners 5 and 6 are almost symmetric, one the left and the second to the right. Both are quite smooth and taken at 160 km/h and fourth or fifth gear. Drivers have to be careful not to take too much kerb on the outside, as they could cut across the grass and find themselves in a gravel trap on the opposite side.
Sector three starts and it’s then a battle with understeer coming down the hill into a very fast right-hand corner. The DRS second detection point is located after the corner. It’s important to take the kerbs before the final corner of the circuit. The drivers will then cut down to the apex and take a very wide exit over the kerbs. Start straight is just right away and drivers are allowed to use the DRS.
Tyres and technical requirements
Due to the narrowness of the circuit, we haven’t seen a lot of action on the track in the last two years. The necessary downforce is medium and the tyre wear is medium on the optimum conditions. That could be an advantage for the teams that treat the rubbers in a better way. Good traction is a key in this track, and teams with a power deficit will have a pretty hard time in the Red Bull ring.
Further speaking on the strategies, Pirelli has chosen the softs, supersofts and ultrasofts for this event. We should expect no more than a 0.5 second difference between the different compounds. The nature of the circuit is also particularly harsh on the front left tyre, but the rear tyres will also be under stress from acceleration at low speeds.
Paul Hembery commented: “Austria is one of the most picturesque and individual tracks on the championship, which asks a lot from the tyres in terms of all-round mechanical grip and performance, which is why the ultrasoft has been resoundingly favoured here. As a result, we may have a two-stop race this time, even though last year was a one-stopper. However, this venue is always quite unpredictable: we had a safety-car period right at the beginning of the Grand Prix last year, while rain as well as bright sunshine seems to be an equal possibility. The ultrasoft compound should be well-suited to the Red Bull Ring, which means that we will almost certainly see the fastest laps ever of this current circuit configuration this weekend.”
One thing is sure, Mercedes and Nico Rosberg will want to extend their championship lead. Ferrari will be looking for a strong result too even with their power deficit compared to Mercedes. After seeing the performance of Force India in Canada, it will be interesting to see if they can keep up to it in Austria. At least, they are convinced they can take William’s place in the constructor standings.
Race local times
Practice 1 Fri 10:00 – 11:30
Practice 2 Fri 14:00 – 15:30
Practice 3 Sat 11:00 – 11:00
Qualifying Sat 14:00 – 14:00
Race Sun 14:00 – 16:00
by Cristina DeLarge