Hills to climb in Austria

Hills to climb in Austria

The modern A1-Ring near Spielberg has hosted the Austrian Grand Prix since 1997 but many fans mourn the loss of the original circuit, the Osterreichring. The high speed, huge 5.9 mile circuit fell out of favour in the late eighties due to safety...

The modern A1-Ring near Spielberg has hosted the Austrian Grand Prix since 1997 but many fans mourn the loss of the original circuit, the Osterreichring. The high speed, huge 5.9 mile circuit fell out of favour in the late eighties due to safety concerns and was in a state of disrepair until the revision and updating took place in the nineties.

Beautiful Spielberg scenery.
Photo by DaimlerChrysler.
Racing in Zeltweg began in the 1950s on the runways of a military base but it was not hugely successful due to the bumpy track and rather dull layout. The circuit hosted two non-championship F1 races in 1961 and '63 but it wasn't until Austrian Jochen Rindt began to make an impression in international racing that Austria was promoted to championship status.

In August 1964 the first Austrian GP was won by Lorenzo Bandini in a Ferrari, a race in which half the field dropped out. However, F1 decided not to return and in 1965 the circuit was used for sportscars, the biggest event being won by Rindt, also in a Ferrari.

Due to Rindt's success, a purpose built circuit was constructed in the hills north of the River Muir and the first GP hosted by the new Osterreichring was in 1970. Rindt was on pole but Ferrari's Jacky Ickx took victory -- tragically, Rindt was killed not long after at Monza. That year, Rindt became the first and only driver to have been awarded the championship posthumously.

Austria's next hope was Niki Lauda but he had no luck at the Osterreichring until 1984 when he finally took his home race victory. Lauda had previously retired but in his comeback he took the Austrian win for McLaren. Gerhard Berger was Austria's next champion but he failed to win at the track. Increasing concerns about safety at the circuit finally saw F1 call it a day at the Osterreichring after a series of accidents on the start line in 1987.

The track continued to host other racing events but gradually fell into disrepair. Come the nineties the renovation began and by 1997, re-named the A1-Ring, the circuit was back on the calendar. Gone was the length and the fast sweeping corners, replaced by a modern, 4.32km/2.68m layout. Jacques Villeneuve won in 1997, Mika Hakkinen won there twice and Michael Schumacher took victory last year.

The A1-Ring layout is not a particularly challenging one for drivers but there are one or two places where overtaking is possible. Like the Brazilian GP, the altitude is high which means engine performance drops slightly. Electronic systems compensate and this is essential, as the long straights need flat-out, sixth gear speed.

The circuit requires medium to high downforce and is hard on the brakes with the combination of high-speed straights and slow corners. Usually a one-stop race, the A1-Ring could see heavy fuel loads in qualifying but some will opt for a different strategy in order to achieve a better grid position in qualifying.

The track surface is quite smooth and slippery and can produce a lot of understeer so teams sometimes opt for scrubbed tyres. Compounds are likely to be the soft side of medium and while dry weather tyres are the norm, both Michelin and Bridgestone are also bringing extreme weather rubber as conditions can be very changeable.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Takuma Sato, seconds before the Sato/Heidfeld accident.
Photo by BMW PressClub.
In 2002, the Austrian GP was overshadowed by two ugly incidents. Sauber's Nick Heidfeld slid off the track going into a corner, went sideways across the grass then back onto the track on the other side. The car narrowly missed the Williams of Juan Pablo Montoya but collected the Jordan of Takuma Sato in a huge impact.

Sato was trapped in his car and when eventually extracted, both he and Heidfeld were taken to hospital. Incredibly, as both cars were heavily damaged, neither driver suffered injury beyond bruising.

The other event was Ferrari calling team orders into play that denied Rubens Barrichello a rightful victory. The Brazilian had claimed pole position in qualifying and led the whole race, only to have to move over on the final lap to let Michael Schumacher take the chequered flag. The crowd were outraged, the drivers booed on the podium and the whole thing was an appalling lack of judgement on Ferrari's behalf.

Presumably the Scuderia has learned its lesson, and, not forgetting the FIA ruling on team orders, we won't see the same blatant team orders again should the situation arise. Ferrari is fighting back after its uncertain start to 2003, the F2003-GA claiming victory on its debut at Spain with Schumacher and the team is obviously aiming to consolidate matters further.

McLaren still heads the Constructors' championship, and Kimi Raikkonen the Driver's standings, but it's a closer battle since the Woking squad's disastrous double DNF at Barcelona. Renault isn't slacking either although Williams is still lacklustre. Renault may struggle at the A1-Ring with its slightly underpowered engine, whereas Williams should benefit.

The midfield is still very much a mixed bunch. Jaguar is showing flashes of brilliance but is hampered by unreliability with various electronic gadgets. BAR, or at least Jacques Villeneuve, is plagued by engine failures but is improving and Toyota made a noticeable step forward in Spain in qualifying.

Sauber and Jordan are struggling, disappointingly, while Minardi…well, it's just being Minardi. However, both Jos Verstappen and Justin Wilson -- who is a devil at getting off the line -- got home in Spain so that was an encouragement for the team.

The A1-Ring has never been favourable for Michael Schumacher while McLaren usually fair well. Williams' BMW engine should give the team an edge but the aerodynamics are still dubious. The R23 chassis should compensate for the Renault engine's lack of grunt and over all, it should be a very competitive race.

Austrian GP: Thursday press conference

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Minardi , Jordan