Having gone to America for a brief foray, F1 heads back to Europe for the Austrian Grand Prix. This time the big Circus lands in Styria’s mountains, in the now named Red Bull ring, the former Österreichring and later A1-Ring in Spielberg, Austria. Last 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 doesn’t seem that things are going to change for them but… let the round eight begin!
A little bit of history
The first Austrian Grand Prix was a non-championship race. It took place in 1963 at the Zeltweg Airfield and was won by Jack Brabham. The following year, it became part of the championship, but the track was too dangerous and it was withdrawn from the calendar. Later, in 1969, the Österreichring was built, and the first race there took place in 1970. It was a spectacular, scenic and unique circuit. 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, now named the A1 Ring. The old layout was too dangerous because of its very fast and long corners, not 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. Eleven of the 28 races have been won by less than five seconds, 16 by under 10 seconds. In the contrary, the biggest winning margin in Austria came in 1986 when Alain Prost won by a full lap.
Niki Lauda is the only Austrian driver who claimed a victory in his home GP, wining 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. Jochen Rindt, the other Austrian hero, eyed the victory in the first GP held in Österreichring in 1970 but he couldn’t make it. Days later he was killed in the race in Monza so he was not able to try it for a second time.
In another hand, Nico Rosberg became last year the only German winner in Austria , also bringing the first Silver Arrows victory at the venue.
The viewing should be fantastic with hills and forests surrounding the track. There is a 60 meters difference 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.
Drivers will race 71 laps for a total of 307km. 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 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 there 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
Given the narrowness of the asphalt, we will have to cross our fingers to witness a lot of action on the track. 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, 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 and supersofts for this event. Considering the short lap and the absence of heavy braking points, drivers can have difficulties to bring the front tyres up to temperature. 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.
One thing is sure, Mercedes 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 Williams in Canada, it will be interesting to see if they can keep it up.
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