It might be after an eleven-year absence, but the hills will once again be alive to the sounds of Formula 1 racing, with the series heading to the Styrian mountains to contest the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring.

The Circuit

FORMULA 1 GROSSER PREIS VON ÖSTERREICH 2014Red Bull Ring Date: 20-22 June 2014
Lap Length: 4.326km
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 15:00-17:00
Lap Record 1:08.337 (2003)

* All session times are quoted in Central European Summer Time (UTC +02:00 hrs)

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 eight-corner layout, which many drivers remarked you could learn in two laps.

The racing was still close and it’s always provided overtaking aplenty, and with the same layout being used now that Red Bull are the circuit’s new owners, it should be much of the same. Quite why the FIA (to echo our thoughts from Canada) feels the needs to have DRS zones here – let alone two of them – is a mystery…

The History Bit

Regardless of whether it’s been the Österreichring or the A1-Ring, the racing here has generally been pretty good and there have been a number of surprise performers over the years. Here’s our shortlist of our favourite races in Austria:

  • 1976: John Watson delivered the Penske team its one and only Grand Prix victory with a sensational drive in mixed conditions. The Ulsterman took the lead on the twelfth lap, and beat home Jacques Laffite’s Ligier and Gunnar Nilsson’s Lotus. Watson subsequently shaved off his beard, electing to use the timing of his breakthrough win to appease his appearance-fussy team boss.
  • 1977: Australia’s future World Champion Alan Jones became the third driver in as many years to claim his maiden Grand Prix win at Austria (following Vittorio Brambilla in 1975 and Watson in 1976). After qualifying his Shadow fourteenth, Jones steadily picked his way through the field on a wet/dry track to climb into second place behind leader James Hunt. When Hunt’s engine blew with ten laps to go, Jones inherited the win. The result was so unexpected that the organisers hadn’t thought to make a recording of the Australian national anthem, and so – as Joned later recalled – a drunk fan played Happy Birthday on his trumpet!
  • 1982: It was expected to be a battle of the turbocharged runners, but retirements to the Renault, Brabham and Ferrari runners left the final laps down to a battle between Elio de Angelis’ Lotus and Keke Rosberg’s Williams, both powered by normally-aspirated Ford Cosworths. Neither man had won a Grand Prix before and both were desperate to do so – Rosberg slashed de Angelis’ lead down to 1.6 seconds at the start of the final lap. The Finn closed up under de Angelis’ rear wing, but some brilliant defensive driving from the Italian ensured he won by a scant 0.05 seconds (pictured below)!
  • 1987: The narrow start/finish straight meant that the Österreichring was famous for its start-line accidents, and the 1987 race was no different. Six cars were taken out at the first start and the restart saw a dozen cars (some repaired from the first start) involved with the track blocked once again! It was an accident-free third start, and this time the two Williams Hondas of Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet finished 1-2, a lap clear of the rest of the field.
  • 1997: Formula 1’s return to Austria saw Williams pick up where it left off, with Jacques Villeneuve claiming victory en route to winning that year’s Drivers’ Championship. However, the Canadian faced a surprise performance from new boy Jarno Trulli – substituting for the injured Olivier Panis – who pushed his Bridgestone-shod Prost Mugen-Honda into the lead. The Italian looked on course to continue the circuit’s tradition of unusual winners, only for his engine to blow, handing Villeneuve the victory.
  • 1999: It was the first Grand Prix following Michael Schumacher’s leg-breaking accident at Silverstone, and the McLarens were expected to dominate. But David Coulthard scored a massive ‘own goal’, tapping teammate Mika Häkkinen into a spin on the opening lap. The Finn rejoined in last place and managed to tiger his way back onto the podium, but McLaren’s woes weren’t done with yet: Ferrari nailed their strategy and managed to get Eddie Irvine out of the pits inches ahead of Coulthard, allowing him to go on and win the race to kickstart his own tilt at the Drivers’ Championship.
  • 2002: It was a race that went down in infamy: Ferrari’s number-two, Rubens Barrichello, had been ‘number one’ all weekend, qualifying on pole and leading until the final corner of the final lap, at which point he put down the anchors and let teammate Michael Schumacher break his Austrian hoodoo. The fans’ reactions were telling: Ferrari was mercilessly booed and pilloried in the press for ‘fixing’ the race.
1982 Austrian Grand Prix

Elio de Angelis pipped Keke Rosberg by just 0.05 seconds to win the 1982 race!

The Form Guide

It’s the first time since 2012 that a ‘new’ circuit has appeared on the Formula 1 calendar, so this weekend presents something of a blank canvas as far as an actual form guide is concerned.

But if past races here are anything to go by, engine power and good brakes will prove to be the decisive factors for success. The works Mercedes team showed itself – as usual – to be supreme on the first factor, but last time out in Canada, they were definitely lacking when it came to stopping power after both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s kinetic energy harvesting units failed. The malfunction places enormous strain on the Silver Arrows’ brakes, and while Mercedes was quick to suggest the problem has been understood and cured, there remains the possibility of it happening again.

Their troubles last time out proved to be the boom for Red Bull Racing, which had Daniel Ricciardo claim the first win of his Grand Prix career, as well as the first of the year for the team and its Renault engines. Considering how both parties had started the year, to move into being a player for victory in less than five months is a staggering achievement. Victory at the team’s home track would go down mighty well, but lightning is unlikely to strike twice in such quick succession…

Our hunch suggests it will probably be a better weekend for Mercedes’ other teams, particularly Force India and Williams, who both showed well in Canada before one driver from each camp – Sergio Pérez and Felipe Massa – collided with the other on the last lap.

Pérez enters the weekend with a five-place grid penalty, but that’s unlikely to prove much of an obstacle here given the circuit’s reputation for overtaking – even with the completely unnecessary advent of two DRS zones. Nico Hülkenberg is very well-placed to break his 2014 podium duck, and he would be a wise bet for anyone caring to wage an each-way bet on a top-three finish.

Williams will have a tougher time here. The FW36 doesn’t like higher-speed corners, and the second half of the Red Bull Ring’s 4.3-kilometre layout – two left-handers and a the final double right-handers  – will prove a test.

With similar aerodynamic characteristics, the Ferrari and McLaren runners will scratch around in the lower reaches of the points; anything inside the top-six would be considered a very good result indeed.

Our tip as this weekend’s ‘dark horses are Scuderia Toro Rosso and Lotus. While both might suffer with a slight power disadvantage, their car designs showed well in race trim last time out and they could spring a surprise.

2002 Austrian Grand Prix

Don’t forget to enter your Austrian Grand Prix Predictions!

Round 8 of the 2014 F1 Predictions Competition is now open for business, and you can enter and edit your predictions for the race right up until five minutes before qualifying!

Entry is open to all of our readers, and it’s so easy to submit your predictions!

All you’ll need to do is predict:

  • which driver will win pole position and the race
  • which two teams will earn the best finishes in the race
  • which eight drivers will finish in the top-eight positions
  • who will post the fastest lap of the race
  • who will gain the most positions relative to their starting position

You can also choose to ‘double up’ your points tally for the Austrian Grand Prix – but be careful, you can only do this twice per season! Click here to see the current points’ standings.

To enter your Austrian Grand Prix Predictions, click here.

Images via F1 GP Tours, LAT, Sutton Images

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.