Formula 1 will return to Austria next year, with the Red Bull Ring – formerly known as the A1 Ring – securing a deal to return to the F1 calendar after a ten-year absence.
The surprise announcement was made by the drinks giant in a short statement issued to the Austrian media, which confirmed that a date of July 6 had been agreed to.
“[Red Bull owner] Dietrich Mateschitz and Bernie Ecclestone have reached agreement to the effect that Formula 1 will come back to Styria next year,” the statement reads.
First known as the Österreichring, the formidable high-speed circuit – located in the Styrian mountains, where The Sound of Music was filmed – was a fixture on the F1 calendar brtween 1970-1987, after which it was dropped following two start-line pile-ups in the 1987 race:
After a substantial – and sadly, emasculating – rebuild, the circuit was renamed the A1-Ring and it returned to the F1 calendar in 1997, staging seven further Grands Prix over the subsequent years.
Its final appearance on the F1 calendar came in 2003, after which it was again dropped, this time due to financial and infrastructure concerns. The circuit underwent a buyout and renaming by Red Bull, and it was relaunched in 2011 with new spectator and pit facilities, hosting a round of that year’s DTM championship.
There had been rumours that the Zeltweg-based circuit was to make a stand-in return to this year’s calendar after the Grand Prix at New Jersey fell through, but that deal did not proceed after initial discussions stalled.
With Grands Prix at Russia and Thailand also mooted to be joining the 2014 schedule, the latest announcement raises further questions about the health of the Grand Prix of America at New Jersey, of which little has been heard in recent months.
If the street race was indeed to go ahead, it cannot possibly occur in its preferred June slot as a back-to-back event with the Canadian Grand Prix, as the FIA recently decreed that the 24 Hours of Le Mans – which is slated for the weekend of 14-15 June – is a racing-free weekend for all other FIA-sanctioned championships.
While the onsite spectator facilities have improved greatly, amenities nearby – particularly circuit access and accommodation – haven’t improved greatly over the last ten years, but it’s clear that Red Bull has stumped up enough cash to make the deal possible.
The news delighted two of Austria’s greatest living Formula 1 drivers, with three-time champion Niki Lauda and ten-time Grand Prix winner Gerhard Berger both thrilled with the announcement.
“This worldwide publicity is priceless for Austria. I have always hoped that F1 would return here. The fact that this is a reality is down to Mr. Mateschitz. It means a lot to me, as I’ve also won here [in 1984],” Lauda told the Kleine Zeitung newspaper.
“I have always hoped that there would be a race here again,” Berger added.
“It’s a great thing that would not be possible without Red Bull; we have the perfect infrastructure with the ring and with an Austrian team in Red Bull. The fans in Austria have been waiting many years for something like this.”
What is not known is how long the deal has been agreed for, but expect an announcement on those finer details soon.