After a dramatic Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and its controversial aftermath, the Formula 1 field returns to Europe for this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring.
|Red Bull Ring|
|Location||Spielberg, Austria||Circuit Length||4.318 km / 2.683 mi|
|Opened||1969||First Grand Prix||1970|
|Turns||10||Lap Record||1:08.337 – Michael Schumacher (2003)|
The mid-1960s had seen a young Austrian called Jochen Rindt make quite an impression in motorsport circles, and it proved enough for the country to host its first Grand Prix in 1964. Held on an unimaginative layout on Zeltweg airport’s runways, it wasn’t a great success, but the locals were undeterred and raised enough money for a purposebuilt circuit to be constructed in the foothills of the Styrian mountains.
That was a 5.9-kilometre ‘old school’ circuit known as the Österreichring, which staged its first Grand Prix in 1970. With an average lap speed of over 250km/h, it was one of the quickest on the entire Grand Prix calendar and with next to no run-off, it was also a car-breaker.
While Rindt was tragically killed just two weeks after the inaugural race, Niki Lauda would step in to fill the breach as the country’s favourite son, even though it took him until his penultimate season of Grand Prix racing before he finally won his home race.
The event remained on the F1 calendar until 1987, by which time the increasing focus on driver safety meant that the Österreichring was now well past its use-by date. The track gradually slipped into a state of disrepair until it was bought out by private enterprises who injected enough cash into getting the circuit back up to scratch and on the F1 calendar again in 1997.
The chief financier was the Austrian telco company A1, which had the redesigned circuit renamed in its honour. The A1-Ring was the very first of Hermann Tilke’s creations, and in setting a theme for a number of his subsequent designs, it was a rather bland autodrome. The great high-speed corners from the Österreichring were gone and instead you had a stop-start ten-corner layout, which many drivers remarked you could learn in two laps.
The racing was still close and it’s always provided overtaking aplenty, with the same layout being used with Red Bull as the circuit’s new owners. Quite why the FIA feels the needs to have DRS zones here – let alone two of them – is a mystery…
|Formula 1 Großer Preis von Österreich 2017|
|Event Dates||07-09 July 2017||Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:00-11:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 14:00-15:30||Free Practice Session 3||Sat 11:00-12:00|
|Qualifying||Sat 14:00-15:00||Race (71 laps)||Sun 14:00-16:00|
|Driver Steward||Mika Salo||Pirelli Tyres|
|2016 Pole Winner||Lewis Hamilton||2016 Race Winner||Lewis Hamilton|
Session times quoted in Central European Summer Time (GMT + 02:00)
Rewind to 2016
Last year’s Austrian Grand Prix marked a major flashpoint in the at times ugly battle for championship honours between Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.
Following a poor weekend at the preceding Grand Prix in Azerbaijan, Hamilton headed to the Red Bull Ring with a 24-point deficit to Rosberg and in increasingly desperate need to close the gap to the German.
A five-place gearbox change grid drop for Rosberg and pole position could be a useful launchpad for Hamilton, who started the race from the front row of the grid alongside Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg. McLaren’s Jenson Button would start from third place ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen; Rosberg would start from sixth place thanks to his grid penalty.
While Hamilton would lead the race from the start, a more aggressive Rosberg used a strong getaway and a quicker first visit to the pits to leapfrog Hamilton after the Englishman encountered problems during his own pit stop.
When Sebastian Vettel crashed his Ferrari out of the race after it suffered a tyre failure, the resulting Safety Car brought the field together, with Rosberg leading from Hamilton and the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
With the race resuming, Hamilton unable to find a way past Rosberg despite repeated attempts and opted to pit for the second time on Lap 55, with Rosberg responding a lap later.
Once again, Rosberg kept his lead thanks to a mistake by Hamilton on his out-lap, setting up the race for a titanic scrap to the finish as the pair set about chasing down Verstappen, who was trying to run to the end of the race on a single stop.
Having easily overhauled the Dutchman, the intensity went sky high in the closing laps as a quicker Hamilton sought to find a way past Rosberg. On the last lap, Hamilton made his under braking for Turn 2, trying an optimistic move around the outside of the right-hander.
Holding the inside line, Rosberg left his braking late and delayed his turn-in, all but forcing Hamilton to turn into him. Their cars touched, with Rosberg’s front wing damaged and Hamilton forced off the circuit.
Rosberg hadn’t played his hand well, however, with his front wing proving too damaged for him to stay in front of a recovering Hamilton; he would fall to fourth place behind Verstappen and Räikkönen overtook him before the finish line. The result saw Rosberg’s championship lead cut to 11 points.
It marked the second time in five Grands Prix that Hamilton and Rosberg had collided, leaving a furious Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff to publicly consider whether he should implement team orders in future, or sanction his drivers if they ran afoul with each other again.
The Form Guide
While Rosberg might be out of the picture, Hamilton’s battle for the championship features another German and the situation is certainly no less tense than a year ago.
Hamilton and Vettel have both been championship frontrunners from the outset, and while each professed mutual respect for the other the relationship has certainly seemed frostier since the pair’s incredibly close battle at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Matters turned completely sour a fortnight ago in Azerbaijan where Vettel ran into the back of Hamilton while the pair awaited a restart behind the Safety Car. Adamant that he was brake-tested, Vettel pulled alongside Hamilton and appeared to make deliberate wheel-to-wheel contact with the Mercedes driver.
Vettel was handed a 10-second stop/go penalty for his troubles, but finished ahead of Hamilton after his cockpit head rest worked its way loose and he had to pit for safety reasons.
It was Vettel’s unrepentant attitude after the race that put the FIA offside, with the governing body announcing it would “further examine” the four-time World Champion’s actions in an extraordinary hearing in Paris.
A week of reflection and the threat of further sanctions seemingly brought about a change of position for Vettel, who folded like a house of cards and admitted full responsibility in a successful bid to escape further punishment.
He thus retains a 14-point lead over Hamilton, who is the sole driver in the field to have won at the Red Bull Ring.
Their dispute gave Red Bull Racing and Daniel Ricciardo a shock victory, however the Austrian outfit’s best hopes would be a podium finish at a circuit that places a premium on horsepower.
The midfield scrap should once again be a tight affair, with Force India seeking retribution after its drivers threw away a hefty points haul in Baku when its drivers made contact. The team should once again have a close fight with Williams and Toro Rosso, while Haas and Renault should not be too far behind.
|Austrian Grand Prix Weather Forecast|
|Friday||16°C – 29°C||Saturday||14°C – 29°C||Sunday||16°C – 29°C|
Images via Formula1.com and Red Bull Racing