The Formula One race at the A1-Ring is often decided right at the start: the first corner is critical, and drivers must go into it in prime position Mountain peaks, green meadows, a brilliant blue sky - the Austrian Grand Prix offers a stunning ...
The Formula One race at the A1-Ring is often decided right at the start: the first corner is critical, and drivers must go into it in prime position Mountain peaks, green meadows, a brilliant blue sky - the Austrian Grand Prix offers a stunning visual experience as well as great motor racing. No other race track boasts such a charming setting as the A1-Ring in the Alpine town of Spielberg. It's only a pity that Formula One drivers can't concentrate on the beautiful surroundings as they speed around the hilly circuit dominated by long straight stretches. Their attention is focussed strictly on the track - and especially on the corner at the end of the start-finish straight.
It's often said that the start of a Grand Prix decides its finish, and this is certainly true of the Austrian race. At the A1 Ring, a lot depends on the first bend at the end of the start-finish straight. When the start lights go out, the front-running drivers must battle it out for position over the 400m that leads down to the Castrol bend. The sharp right corner must be negotiated with absolute precision - it is followed by a long straight up to the Remus corner, so to get a good time on the 4.326km circuit it is extremely important to lose as little speed as possible in the Castrol bend and to accelerate out of it as smoothly as possible.
The cars reach nearly 310 km/h after the start before braking. They then decelerate to 115 km/h as they shift down into second gear. The surface of the track is very uneven in the braking zone, which makes it even more difficult to stay on the ideal line. Moreover, the struggle for position after the start means drivers must concentrate fiercely on the cars in front and behind them: the dicing duels can be very exciting, since the first corner can effectively decide the race.
To ensure maximum safety provision at the A1-Ring, the FIA focuses on two factors: driver discipline and circuit safety. Race director Charlie Whiting doesn't mince words at the pre-race briefing... and he can back up his words with actions. Drivers who don't conform to the rules at the start can expect a range of different penalties - including immediate dis-qualification. A mandatory pit stop might be required, or a slow drive through the pit lane which costs a little less time. Since the Brazilian Grand Prix this year, unruly drivers can also be required to start ten places behind their qualifying position at the next Grand Prix.
As for circuit safety features, the A1-Ring is considered one of the safest places in the world to run motor races. The FIA has nevertheless sug-gested further improvements, which have been implemented in recent years. For example, all the corners were given a third row of tyre barriers in 2000, with extra rubber belting to provide even more cushioning. Flexible plastic tubes were also added to the barriers. The bands and the tubes are intended to provide better energy absorption in the event of an impact. In 2001, kerbs were lengthened in all the corners. The run-off zones were extended again last year as well. So the good news for F1's front-runners is that the battle for turn 1 will take place at a circuit that is as safe as it is scenic.
Negotiating bends is not always easy in normal road traffic either, and the right way to take corners is a crucial part of any driving safety course. These courses teach drivers to react appropriately in difficult situations, such as when a car loses grip on a slippery surface. "A suitable reduction in speed before the corner, and then a slight acceleration starting in the middle of the bend," is how Dr. Hartmuth Wolff, from the Allianz Center for Technology (AZT), describes the correct way to take a bend. A good overview of general road conditions is also essential. Drivers should pay special attention to oncoming motorcycle riders, because they often seek to find the ideal line in bends and thus endanger traffic coming from the opposite direction.
To ensure optimum grip everywhere, including fast motorway bends, good shock absorbers are required as well as tyres with the right air pressure and sufficient tread. Additional support can be provided by electronic systems, such as those standard today in midrange family cars. The Electronic Stability Program (ESP) prevents skidding in corners by targeted braking of individual wheels. ESP uses the anti-lock system (ALS), which regulates braking pressure in wheels so as to prevent them from locking.
Another system is electronic traction control, which prevents wheels slipping when they first move, improving traction and therefore grip. These types of electronic support are prohibited in Formula One - but they certainly enhance safety in normal road traffic, even if they don't exert a direct influence on actual driving performance in bends because they only intervene when drivers have essentially lost control over their vehicle.
Whether in Formula One or on standard roads, drivers need to take special care when negotiating corners. After all, not even the sophisticated aero-dynamics that increase grip in F1 or today's cutting edge roadcar electronic driver aids can negate the laws of physics.