Formula One // Austrian GP Preview

Austrian GP

After a swift jaunt over the Atlantic, F1 returns to a sunnier Europe and the picturesque hills of Spielberg for the Austrian Grand Prix. This will be the second race here since the circuit was re-instated to the calendar for last year after a decade. Re-named, or re-branded as “the Red Bull Ring”, this popular track has been brought back from the wilderness and the facilities have been revamped thanks to Red Bull funding as well as others. Thankfully this circuit retains it’s semi-traditional layout with fast straights, steep climbs with sharp and twisty corners. I say semi because this track is a far cry from its old form… the old Osterreichring from 30 years ago and more but as exciting as it was, it was terribly unsafe.

Race Stats

Track: Red Bull Ring. Permanent circuit.

Laps: 71.

Track length: 4.326 km.

Tyre allocation: Soft (yellow) and Supersoft (red).

DRS Zones: Two with separate detection spots (Between turns two and three and Pit Straight).

Lap record: Michael Schumacher – 1:08.337 (Ferrari, 2003).

2014 pole: Felipe Massa – 1:08.759 (Williams).

What should we expect?

The Red Bull Ring is a fairly high speed circuit with a few twists and some very sharp corners. It would be sensible to suggest that we should expect the same kind of form that most teams showed in Canada as the circuits are fairly similar.

As ever, Mercedes should claim the front row of the grid on Saturday and one of their drivers should be expected to go on to win the race. The upgrades that they took to Canada worked…well it kept them over 30 seconds away from third place so they continue to go from strength to strength.

Ferrari will be interesting. Their car looked good in Montreal but the unfortunate penalty and poor qualifying for Vettel seriously prevented us from seeing the newly developed Ferrari’s true pace and Kimi Raikonens spin also prevented us from seeing a good result for them. This weekend should see Ferrari mount a serious challenge the Mercedes cars. If only either Vettel or Kimi could qualify ahead of one of the Mercedes then we will certainly have a race on our hands.

The weather up in the hills of Spielberg can be as unpredictable as the weather in Spa, Belgium due to the height above sea level and the surrounding trees coupled with rolling countryside. Much of Europe is currently enjoying a bout of high pressure but don’t be fooled…The weather can turn quickly there.

Williams enjoyed a front row lock out here last year but unfortunately they couldn’t overcome Mercedes during race day. At the time the media claimed that they were too conservative on race day and were too cautious with their tyres and pit stops but it soon became apparent that they just weren’t a match for the pace of the Mercedes. Valteri Bott’s’ third place and first podium of the season at the last race will be extremely encouraging so hopefully, if Mercedes carry on with business as usual at the front then we could see an exciting battle between the Ferrari and Williams cars just behind them.

Red Bull will want this weekend to pass as quickly as possible. Montreal was a disaster and highlighted their significant lack of progress compared to the other teams. They are now a fully inducted midfield team. The one bug bear that Christain Horner and co will have this weekend is that The Red Bull Ring…the self financed shrine to their own phenomenal success was supposed to be their very own thunderdrome in which they would trounce their opponents in front of their home crowd and more importantly, business associates and rich golfing buddies. It’s now going to be very painful for them to watch their cars  pottering around the track having blue flags waved at them. To further add to their indignity it is likely that both cars will need to use yet more engines this weekend which will force a penalty which will undoubtedly force them both to the back of the grid….there’s always Toro Rosso to cheer on if you’re a Red Bull fan this weekend I suppose!

Lotus did very well last time out in Montreal and indeed it was a points finish for both drivers. Both Grosjean and Maldonado drove very well. The developments on their cars worked and I would expect them to both finish in the points again this weekend. My fear is that Maldonado may not handle the combination of fast straights, steep hills and sharp corners and particularly the first sector of  the track from the start/finish line through turns one, two and three….am I being too pessimistic? He needs consistency if he wants to retain his seat for next year.

McLaren are a team best forgotten at the moment. Canada was a disaster, the boss of Honda faced the media, Fernando Alonso exclaimed that McLaren looked like amateurs, Jenson Button only drove for a fraction of the weekend due to poor reliability and Ron Dennis and Eric Boullier have refused to speak to the press whilst they sort themselves out. Alonso declared earlier this week that McLaren should or maybe have already written this year off in order to focus on next years car. I think that’s reasonable. Honda are behind everybody else but the McLaren car has a good chassis. They just need time and there is no better time than track time. McLaren need to keep putting the laps in and learning from it but Honda have to start making inroads towards better reliability for this to work.

The rookies in the Sauber’s and Toro Rosso’s should stimulate some excitement this weekend, after all, the Canadian Grand Prix was an uncharacteristically dull affair so the DRS zones here coupled with the fast straights and tight corners should lead to some good overtaking opportunities.

Famous Moments

The Austrian Grand Prix has a long and colourful history. Here are some of the stand out moments from yesteryear:

  • Michael Schumacher’s controversial win 2002 

After a dominant display from the Ferrari’s that weekend, Rubens Barrichello was cruising towards his second ever victory in Formula One when in the final laps he started to slow with no problem reported. On the very last lap he slowed to a crawl at the finish line and Schumacher crawled up alongside him and won the race in the closest finish in F1 history. The crowd were appalled and subsequently booed them on the podium. Schumacher made Barrichello stand on the winners rostrum and an awkward ceremony took place where the din of the jeers coupled with bemused faces and a Brazilian standing on the number one spot being played the German national anthem was too uncomfortable to bear. The drivers and team later claimed that they were trying to get a dead heat finish but the reality was that Schumacher was number one and the team wanted him to win. The drivers and the team were fined $1 million dollars and subsequently, after other similar circumstances in the other grands prix that season, team orders that “fixed races” were banned.

  • A bad way to celebrate victory 1975

Vittorio Brambilla won the only race of his career here in a rain soaked affair in 1975. Quite an achievement for those dangerous times but unfortunately, in his jubilation he crashed his March F1 car straight into the wall after taking both hands off the steering wheel in ecstasy once over the finish line.

  • An Austrian finally wins 1984

In 1984, double world champion, Niki Lauda had returned out of retirement to F1 with the McLaren team, partnering up and coming future multiple champion, Alain Prost. Prost retired early and main Rival Nelson Picquet cautiously approached the intelligent Lauda fearing that he was slowing down and playing a tactical game. This wasn’t the case and Lauda had in fact lost a handful of gears. Nevertheless, Lauda went on to win and finally an Austrian won his home event. Lauda went on to win his third world title by half a point that same year, the closest margin in history.

Current News

Michelin have declared interest in bidding to become the sport’s tyre supplier in 2017. F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone is keen to support Pirelli and doesn’t want to return to a “tyre war” that we saw last decade between Michelin and Bridgestone. That being said the contract has been put out to tender and Michelin released a statement where they suggested that the teams want other options to what Pirelli offer and that they are taking the teams requests seriously. They claim that as Formula One is going through a time of drastic change and that another overhaul to liven up the show is in motion, then they have good ideas in which to help improve that show and should be heard.

Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have both targeted significant improvements in their qualifying. Rosberg felt that he had lost the race on Saturday due to qualifying only second and wants to rediscover his qualifying supremacy that he enjoyed last year of Hamilton. Hamilton is always seeking to make improvements and this shows that they are both keeping each other honest.

Monza’s current contract with F1 is up next year and they are struggling to find money to pay for its right to host F1. This is a tragedy for Ferrari, F1 and Italy and the legendary circuit that has been on the calendar since 1922 would be sorely missed. There is new hope this week that a solution can be raised and it sounds very exciting. Organisers involved with the Imola track at San Marino have apparently confirmed that they have finances available from private investors and have suggested that Imola and Monza alternate each year as the venue of the Italian grand prix. Imola will forever be associated with the tragic deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna in 1994 but it was an exceptional track that traditionally opened the European season for many years. It’s a tragedy for Monza to be in danger of falling off the calendar but the alternation with Imola is a sound and exciting proposition that will preserve one great circuit and re-instate another… watch this space.

…and finally, enjoy the race this weekend,