After a thrilling trip to North America, Formula One returns to Europe this weekend for the first Austrian Grand Prix since 2003, at the newly branded Red Bull Ring. Round eight of the championship might be one of the most unpredictable races of the season as the track is not familiar to the current grid and historic data won’t give teams too much help.
The first Austrian GP was held at Zeltweg back in 1964, when Italian Lorenzo Bandini scored his one and only F1 win in a Ferrari. Despite being a success, FIA removed the race from the calendar because the track was deemed too dangerous and spectators complained of poor viewing areas.
A permanent race track was then built in 1969 with the first championship event taking place in the following year and being dominated by Ferrari. 17 years later Österreichring was also deemed too dangerous by FIA standards because of the amount of high-speed corners and lack of protection from trees and embankments. With the circuit no longer matching safety regulations, the six kilometer high speed track was dropped from the calendar. There were a few attempts to bring the race back but all ended unsuccessfully and so the event disappeared for a decade.
The circuit was rebuilt as the A1-Ring and returned to the F1 calendar in 1997, after being substantially changed. The whole layout was redesigned by Hermann Tilke and the new track, which became shorter and lost all of its long corners, hosted the race up until 2003.
This weekend we’ll witness the first Austrian GP since then, as the event makes another return to the F1 calendar. The circuit has recently been refurbished, although the track layout remains the same since the last race in 2003, but with a brand new pit complex, garages and grandstands.
Despite not having the shortest length on the calendar - 4.326km - Red Bull Ring is likely to produce the shortest lap of the year as it features only nine turns and some long straights. The lap record stands at 1:08.337 and was set by Michael Schumacher in 2003.
F1Zone.net sat down with Susie Wolff to get a virtual track tour of Red Bull Ring in order to understand better the challenges await the drivers this weekend. The Williams development driver has never raced a Formula 1 car here but she knows the tracks very well from DTM.
"You come across the start/finish line and the first corner is quite a fast corner, uphill on entry," she says. "The exit is always a little bit tricky because there’s a green carpet and in DTM we weren’t allowed to run with all four wheels off, so it’s quite a fine line to keep two tyres on the track there. It’s very easy to run wide and then lose momentum for the whole straight. [The] exit of turn one is very important to keep the speed up. The straight is slightly uphill with a slight path to the left which is very good for slipstreaming."
There are four possible overtaking opportunities at this track, but Wolff believes turn two is definitely one of the best places to try this manoeuver. "It’s a tight right hander and its exit is quite easy as there’s some extra run offs so you never really have to worry about your exit. Most important is finding the correct braking point. Exiting turn two is slightly blind, up the hill and then you have a short run down the hill to turn three. Braking into turn three can be a little bit tricky sometimes. If you brake too late or lock the front left, it’s quite easy to run off into the gravel so you need to be quite careful on entry."
For the Williams driver, the best two corners at Red Bull Ring are five and six, for the simple reason that they are very fast. "Turn five - it’s a downhill left hander, slightly blind on entry so you have to make sure not to run too wide. You need to carry the momentum because the speed you carry through five it will then be the speed you carry through six and seven. This combination of corners is one of my favourite. I genuinely like fast corners, anything which is fast and flowing and this section is really nice to drive. You can use all the kerb over turn seven and it’s a nice feeling when you get that right.
"Turn eight is also a fast corner. You have quite a run off road at the exit and don’t need to worry too much about running wide as you can use all the kerb on the inside. This brings you into the last corner which is a downhill right and as you come down here you can be very aggressive. All you need to do is make sure you get in front into the corner and then you just hit the accelerator as hard as you can because obviously you want to carry as much speed as possible so you get a good run onto the start junction.”
Susie Wolff’s mark for this track is an eight, but she admitted she wouldn’t give any track a 10. For different reasons she likes Hockenheim, Spa and Silverstone more. "It’s a fast track, a flowing track, and it’s somehow an easy track to lose tempo. You need to find the rhythm through the fast sections. When we first arrived here in DTM we needed quite some laps to get the sections right, to find the limits of the car, but once you get into the rhythm it can be really enjoyable to drive."
The Austrian GP will be another challenging race for the teams as they will need to set-up the cars using mainly simulations data. Because of high altitude, the circuit places a different kind of pressure on the Power Unit to what we've seen so far. In terms of demands, Red Bull Ring is similar to Bahrain and requires a medium downforce package.
Having a relatively non-abrasive, smooth asphalt, Pirelli’s allocation for this track is their soft and supersoft compounds, simulation data suggesting that we’ll have a two-stop strategy race.
There will be two DRS zones in Austria, with the first detection point before turn two and the activation right after it. The second zone will have the detection point after turn eight and the activation point after turn nine. Nine times Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen will be the driver steward this weekend.
Ferrari was the last team to win a Formula 1 race in Austria but both Mercedes and Red Bull will be challenging them this year. At the previous race in Canada, Daniel Ricciardo picked up Red Bull's first win of the season which gave the Austrian-licensed team lots of confidence for their home race.
Nico Rosberg’s second place in Montreal for Mercedes allowed him to increased gap at the top of the Championship over team-mate Lewis Hamilton to 22 points.
Jochen Rindt is the first Austrian driver to race in Formula 1 back in 1964 and a statue of him now features in the centre of the Red Bull Ring. There were many other Austrian drivers in Formula 1 but Christian Klien is the last one we’ve seen on a starting grid, at the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP. Niki Lauda, in 1984, is the only Austrian who won his home race.
Of the current drivers, only Jenson Button, Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have raced an Austrian GP in the past. Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat also have racing experience at Red Bull Ring. The McLaren driver raced at the circuit last year in Formula Renault 3.5 Series, while Toro Rosso’s driver competed here in 2012 in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps.
McLaren is the most successful team in Austria with six wins, followed by Ferrari with five victories.
The altitude difference at Red Bull Ring is 60m from the lowest to the highest point.
Friday 20 June
- Practice One: 10:00 - 11:30
- Practice Two: 14:00 - 15:30
Saturday 21 June
- Practice Three: 11:00 - 12:00
- Qualifying: 14:00 - 15:00
Sunday 22 June
- Race: 14:00