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Ranked: Top 10 Austrian Grands Prix

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Co-author: Gary Watkins
Jun 30, 2020, 1:08 PM

The 2020 Formula 1 season finally gets underway in Austria this weekend. From teammates colliding to victory by just 0.050s, Autosport has picked out the 10 best races from the event's rich history

Zeltweg Airfield hosted the first Austrian Grand Prix in 1963 and the event briefly joined the Formula 1 world championship the following year. It then became a sportscar race before returning to the F1 schedule full-time in 1970, at the fast and impressive Osterreichring.

Since then the race has fallen off the calendar on two further occasions, with all the races being held on the same site, albeit with different layouts and a changing circuit name: the Osterreichring was replaced by the A1-Ring, which is now known as the Red Bull Ring.

There have been many famous moments in the 32 world championship Austrian GPs. Here is our top 10, based on the drama, tension and performances of the drivers involved.

10. Schumacher on fire but still wins, 2003

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F2003-GA catching fire during a pitstop

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F2003-GA catching fire during a pitstop

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Where: A1-Ring
Pole: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2003-GA)
Winner: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2003-GA)

This could have been another routine Ferrari/Michael Schumacher victory, but some random elements made the race much more interesting.

At a venue where he wasn't always at his best - teammates had moved aside for him in 1998, 2001 and (most controversially) 2002 - Schumacher took a fine pole. He duly led from the off and started to disappear down the road.

The first curveball was the weather. A brief shower was enough for the Bridgestone-shod cars to struggle a lot more than those on Michelins, helping Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams to reduce the Ferrari's lead from 10.6 seconds to 3.1s in just three laps.

As the track quickly dried, Schumacher started to pull away again, but it was his first pitstop that created the real excitement. A fuel rig problem resulted in the rear of the F2003-GA briefly catching fire. Schumacher stayed put and impressively charged back into the race once given the all-clear, but he had lost around 12sandnot taken on as much fuel as desired. Not only had Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren gone by, Schumacher now did not have the advantage of being able to stay out longer before his second stop and pump in his usual quick laps to regain position. The Ferrari was fast, but could Schumacher do enough?

Sadly, the fight lost Montoya when a water leak caused his BMW engine to fail on lap 32 of 69, just as Schumacher overtook Raikkonen. Schumacher then smashed the lap record repeatedly before making his second pitstop. His pace before and after pitting was enough for him to move back to the front when Raikkonen stopped seven laps later.

It had been a remarkable save, admittedly helped by Montoya's retirement, and the race maintained the tension to the end as Rubens Barrichello failed to usurp Raikkonen for second by just 0.589s.

9. Prost plays it cool, 1983

Alain Prost, Renault RE40

Alain Prost, Renault RE40

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Where: Osterreichring
Pole: Patrick Tambay (Ferrari 126C3)
Winner: Alain Prost (Renault RE40)

Alain Prost took a fourth victory of the 1983 season on a day that he looked every inch a world champion. The Renault driver had lined up only fifth on the grid after being unhappy with the engine in the car in which he'd qualified, but now in what was dubbed his race car, he drove a race that was both measured and decisive to cement his position at the head of the points table.

Up to fourth at the start, he held a watching brief in his Renault RE40 behind the two Ferraris, Patrick Tambay initially ahead of Rene Arnoux, and Nelson Piquet's Brabham. Prost was the first to stop for fuel and tyres, and when the pit cycle was complete, he found himself in a train behind Piquet and Arnoux, Tambay having retired with engine problems.

Piquet reckoned the BMW engine in the back of his BT52 had lost something in the hot air of the Ferraris' slipstream early on and decided to back off on the boost. Both Arnoux and Prost were quickly past.

The Ferrari 126C3 had an edge on the straights, so Prost knew he had to force his adversary into a mistake. It came on lap 48 of 53 in the Hella-Licht S. The Ferrari driver missed a gear and the Renault was through into the lead.

Prost ended up nearly seven seconds to the good at the chequered flag to go 14 points clear in the championship. The problem was the imperious version of Prost was nowhere to be seen over the remainder of the season.

8. A long wait delivers the goods, 1987

Race winner Nigel Mansell, Williams FW11B Honda

Race winner Nigel Mansell, Williams FW11B Honda

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Where: Osterreichring
Pole: Nelson Piquet (Williams FW11B)
Winner: Nigel Mansell (Williams FW11B)

This race is most famous for the three starts it took to get going, due to two multi-car accidents on the narrow start/finish straight. But it was also a fine GP.

Poleman Piquet's Williams led at the third start from the Benetton of Thierry Boutsen, Gerhard Berger's Ferrari and a cautious Nigel Mansell, the cause of the second shunt thanks to clutch issues. A variety of issues meant several cars had started from the pitlane, including Prost's McLaren, Ayrton Senna's Lotus and the Ferrari of Michele Alboreto.

"We then had more than an hour of classic grand prix racing," wrote Autosport's Nigel Roebuck. "The opening laps were stirring, with Boutsen really hustling Piquet, and amazing things happening towards the back as Senna, Alboreto and Prost - three great drivers, each a little angry - hastened to make up for their delayed getaways."

The lead fight lost Berger on lap five to turbo failure, but Boutsen and Mansell remained close to Piquet until the Benetton was forced to pit with gearbox issues. Alboreto's charge was also providing entertainment - after 19 laps he was up to fourth, Senna among his victims.

Once into second, Mansell piled the pressure on teammate Piquet, who almost lost his Williams on lap 20. "Next time round, Mansell was into the lead, having audaciously junked through as they lapped backmarkers before the Bosch Kurve," reported Roebuck. Piquet then triggered the routine tyre stops, during which Mansell extended his lead.

Prost, Senna and Alboreto continued to grab attention. Prost overcame the Lotus and Ferrari to move into third, leaving them to put on their own battle - which lasted until some tough racing resulted in Senna heading to the pits for a new nose.

Mansell and Piquet cruised to a Williams 1-2, but the places behind were not settled until the closing stages. Alboreto's turbo failed and Prost slowed with an electrical problem, allowing Teo Fabi to take third in his Benetton, ahead of Boutsen and Senna, both having put in their own recovery charges.

7. Rosberg goes too far, 2016

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes-Benz F1 W07 Hybrid and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-Benz F1 W07 Hybrid collide on the last lap

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes-Benz F1 W07 Hybrid and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-Benz F1 W07 Hybrid collide on the last lap

Photo by: Sutton Images

Where: Red Bull Ring
Pole: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes W07)
Winners: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes W07)

A botched defensive move wouldn't normally help a race onto a list such as this, but there's no doubting the drama of the 2016 Austrian GP, as the battle between Mercedes protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg once again overstepped the mark.

They were locked in combat for the championship and had already clashed several times, most notably at the Spanish GP. Such a thing seemed unlikely at the Red Bull Ring when Hamilton lined up on pole and Rosberg sixth, thanks to a penalty for replacing the gearbox following a shunt in FP3.

Going onto the final lap, Hamilton was well-placed. Rosberg was struggling with an overheating brake-by-wire system and Hamilton got a run on the leader approaching the Turn 2 right-hander.Hamilton led the field away and all looked well, even after Rosberg - on a two-stop strategy to Hamilton's one - got ahead after the first pitstops. But, following a safety car, Mercedes decided to bring Hamilton in again. That, along with a slow stop, meant that with 15 laps to go Hamilton trailed Rosberg and would have to find a way by on-track.

Rosberg defended the inside, but then declined to turn in, contact forcing Hamilton off the road. He got back on just as Rosberg's front wing failed due to the contact. Hamilton took the lead and went on to win, while Rosberg staggered home fourth, a place he kept despite a 10s penalty for causing the collision.

"I drove as wide as possible within the white lines so I left a larger space - three cars could've come down the inside," said Hamilton of the incident that made Mercedes consider imposing team orders.

Aside from the controversial tangle, there had been some good racing down the field and Jenson Button brought some solace to the beleaguered McLaren-Honda partnership with a fine sixth, as Pascal Wehrlein grabbed the Manor team's final F1 point with 10th.

6. Laffite surprises Renault, 1981

Jacques Laffite, Ligier JS17 Matra

Jacques Laffite, Ligier JS17 Matra

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Where: Osterreichring
Pole: Rene Arnoux (Renault RE30)
Winner: Jacques Laffite (Ligier JS17)

Renault looked to have this one in the bag. Prost and teammate Arnoux, who'd blocked out the front row, were seemingly in control long before the race hit half distance, but they were counting without Jacques Laffite and a cunning plan from the Ligier team.

Laffite had made it into third position as best of the rest behind the flying Renaults as early as lap nine aboard his Ligier-Matra JS17. Not that it looked like he had anything for the two yellow cars ahead of him.

But slowly the tide began to turn. As the laps ticked down, he started to chip away at a pair of Renault RE30s increasingly blighted by oversteer.

Ligier had defied Michelin by starting on a softer compound than it was recommending. But the grippier tyre was less prone to wheelspin and hung on better than the harder rubber on the Renaults.

Prost retired from the lead when his left front suspension collapsed at half distance. A handful of laps later, Laffite was right with Arnoux. The normally-aspirated Ligier might have been the faster of the two cars, but the turbo grunt of the Renault kept it ahead.

That was until Arnoux hesitated when he came up to a gaggle of cars bundled up behind Didier Pironi's Ferrari. Laffite seized his chance and ducked out from under the Renault's rear wing into the second left of the Texaco Schikane.

Arnoux had nothing for his French rival over the remaining 14 laps. Laffite finished five seconds up the road and thrust himself into world title contention.

5. Watson wins a thriller for Penske, 1976

John Watson, Penske PC4 Ford

John Watson, Penske PC4 Ford

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

Where: Osterreichring
Pole: James Hunt (McLaren M23)
Winner: John Watson (Penske PC4)

John Watson took the lead of the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix on the opening lap and ended up claiming a first F1 victory by a clear 10s. But in between times the Penske driver fell down to third during the frantic opening exchanges of a race that started on a damp track.

The Penske-Cosworth PC4 eased past poleman James Hunt's McLaren and into the lead at the first corner. Watson held on at the front through light drizzle until Ronnie Peterson got a better run through the final corner in his March to take the lead at the end of lap three. Four laps later, Jody Scheckter, up from 10th on the grid, nipped past Watson for second.

Scheckter's Tyrrell P34 six-wheeler briefly made it ahead of Peterson in the final corner on lap 10, only to get sideways and lose the lead down the front straight. By the end of the following lap, he was down to fifth behind Gunnar Nilsson's Lotus.

Watson moved back into the lead on lap 12 and quickly put some distance between himself and the battling pack as the track dried. In a couple of laps, he was 2.5s up the road. The excitement wasn't over, however. Nilsson moved past Peterson and briefly began to close on the leader with the March in his tow.

Watson stepped up the pace and was seven seconds up at half distance. The battle for second raged to the end, however. Ligier driver Laffite, followed by Hunt, made it past Peterson and then claimed second from Nilsson nine laps from home. The Laffite-Nilsson-Hunt queue took the chequered flag line separated by less than two seconds.

The battling trio weren't quite in the class of Watson and Penske. Austria 1976 stands as the only F1 victory for the Anglo-American team, but it wasn't quite the flash in the pan it looks today.

The Penske had been on the podium at Paul Ricard and then Brands Hatch after its new PC4 underwent some major developments, new aero at the front and a seven-inch spacer between engine and gearbox at the rear. Watson might have won next time out at Zandvoort — on the same set of Goodyear tyres used in Austria — but for gearbox failure.

4. Coulthard error sets up Hakkinen charge, 1999

Mika Hakkinen, McLaren MP4/14 spins after being hit by team mate David Coulthard, McLaren MP4/14

Mika Hakkinen, McLaren MP4/14 spins after being hit by team mate David Coulthard, McLaren MP4/14

Photo by: Sutton Images

Where: A1-Ring
Pole: Mika Hakkinen (McLaren MP4/14)
Winner: Eddie Irvine (Ferrari F399)

In Michael Schumacher's absence, McLaren should have dominated the 1999 Austrian GP - it locked out the front row, a second quicker than the opposition - but David Coulthard spun teammate and polesitter Mika Hakkinen around at the Remus right-hander on the opening lap. That created two storylines, Coulthard's battle for the lead with Eddie Irvine's Ferrari and Hakkinen's recovery.

Coulthard looked comfortable at the front until pitstop time arrived. After 20 laps he was 13.8s ahead of Barrichello's Stewart, which had passed Irvine when the McLarens tangled.

But Coulthard lost time in traffic just before his stop. Irvine stayed out five laps longer, during which he put in "Schumacher-style" laps, according to Roebuck. Those laps and a swift stop were enough to enable Irvine to retain the lead after his stop.

Coulthard started closing, Irvine not helped by a brake issue. With four laps to go the Scot crossed the line just 0.7s behind the Ferrari. But Irvine knew this campaign was his best chance to win the world championship and he held firm, taking the chequered flag just 0.3s ahead.

Further back, Hakkinen had starred. He was last at the end of lap one, but the Finn soon started slicing through the pack. Up to 10th after 13 laps, Hakkinen took seventh from Jacques Villeneuve's BAR on lap 20. By half distance of the 71-lapper he was up to fourth, having pulled a bold move on Heinz Harald-Frentzen's Jordan into the first corner.

"The McLaren-Mercedes was patently the fastest car out there, and this is a circuit that lends itself to overtaking more readily than most, but still the fact remains his overtaking moves could not have been better achieved," opined Roebuck. "He was driving with sustained and absolute brilliance, lapping at a speed beyond anyone else."

Hakkinen overcame Barrichello after the stops to secure a superb third place - and four points that would prove crucial come the end of the season.

3. Jones gives Shadow its day in the rain, 1977

lan Jones, Shadow DN8 Ford, leads Ronnie Peterson, Tyrrell P34 Ford, Jean-Pierre Jarier, Penske PC4 Ford, and Patrick Depailler, Tyrrell P34 Ford

lan Jones, Shadow DN8 Ford, leads Ronnie Peterson, Tyrrell P34 Ford, Jean-Pierre Jarier, Penske PC4 Ford, and Patrick Depailler, Tyrrell P34 Ford

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

Where: Osterreichring
Pole: Niki Lauda (Ferrari 312T2)
Winner: Alan Jones (Shadow DN8)

There was an element of luck in the victory of Alan Jones and Shadow at the Osterreichring in 1977. The unreliability of the latest-specification Cosworth DFVs used by McLaren and Lotus had something to do with it, but that's to overlook a masterful drive from the Australian.

The Shadow-Cosworth DN8 passed the Tyrrells of Patrick Depailler and Peterson, Carlos Reutemann's Ferrari and Hans Stuck's Brabham, the Theodore Ensign of Tambay and, more to the point, pole winner Niki Lauda and fellow championship frontrunner Scheckter. Jones had the measure of them all on a drying track after qualifying only 14th — and they, like him, were all on slicks.

There were some unconventional lines along the way from gritty Aussie as the unfancied Shadow dinked and dived through the pack. "Letting the car have its nose" is what he calls it today.

Jones came up from the seventh row to second in the space of 16 laps in the latest version of the DN8. He trailed Hunt's McLaren M26 for the next 28 laps before the development Cosworth in the back of the reigning world champion's car went pop - a similar fate that had befallen early leader Mario Andretti's Lotus.

There were 10 laps left, and Jones reeled them off to cross the line 20s up on Lauda's Ferrari 312T2. The Australian had arrived.

Before the season was out he'd put his signature on an option with Ferrari for the following year. When he found out that the Scuderia wouldn't be taking up his services, he was straight on the phone to Frank Williams. Another 11 grand prix victories and a world championship would follow.

2. Battle of F1's rising stars, 2019

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB15, collides with Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF90

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB15, collides with Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF90

Photo by: Lorenzo Bellanca / Motorsport Images

Where: Red Bull Ring
Pole: Charles Leclerc (Ferrari SF90)
Winner: Max Verstappen (Red Bull RB15)

This made our top 10 F1 races of the 2010s and could prove to be a key race in the confrontation between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen we all expect to see in the 2020s.

The Red Bull Ring had thrown up an interesting race the year before, and the 2019 edition provided a brilliant recovery drive from Verstappen after an appalling start. His Red Bull briefly fell to eighth and completed the first lap in seventh.

Poleman Leclerc was more concerned with Valtteri Bottas, whose lap 21 pitstop made Ferrari respond the next time around. That was enough for Leclerc to maintain his lead over the Mercedes, but Verstappen went nine laps longer before stopping, giving himself a tyre life advantage.

A good pitstop got Verstappen ahead of Hamilton, and the Red Bull ace started pumping in new fastest laps. He took third from Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari on lap 50 of 71 and breezed past a struggling Bottas six laps later. With 15 to go, he was 5s off the lead.

Retrospective: The defeat that sharpened Leclerc's teeth

On lap 68 Verstappen squeezed up the inside of Leclerc at the sharp right-hander now known as Turn 3, but the Ferrari got a better exit and outdragged the Red Bull on the outside. The next time around, Verstappen tried again at the same place and this time gave the Ferrari far less room on the exit, Leclerc going off-track as Verstappen charged on to take a dramatic victory.

"It was an incredible race," said Verstappen. "The move [on Leclerc] was close racing and if you can't make moves like that I think it is better to stay at home."

1. The closest finish, 1982

Elio de Angelis, Lotus 91 just beats Keke Rosberg, Williams FW08 to the victory

Elio de Angelis, Lotus 91 just beats Keke Rosberg, Williams FW08 to the victory

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Where: Osterreichring
Pole: Nelson Piquet (Brabham BT50)
Winner: Elio de Angelis (Lotus 91)

As the chequered flag was flung down, a corduroy cap was thrown up. The sight of Lotus boss Colin Chapman's hat in the air provided proof to anyone who couldn't quite be sure that Elio de Angelis had hung on to score the team's first grand prix victory in four years.

The Italian's Lotus-Cosworth 91 crossed the line almost side by side with the Williams of Keke Rosberg. The official margin of victory was just 0.050s, which stands as the fourth closest in F1 history.

The Williams-Cosworth FW08 had been closing on the Lotus over the final laps of the 1982 Austrian GP. On the 51st of the 53 laps he took nine tenths out of the Lotus driver. With two laps to go, he was just 1.6s in arrears.

The Finn edged closer on the penultimate lap, but de Angelis looked to have done enough. A brief and unexplained engine stutter allowed Rosberg to put the nose of his Williams right under the leader's gearbox going into the final corner.

De Angelis defended to the inside. Rosberg was quicker on the exit, but ultimately fell short by less than a car's length.

The race between the top Cosworth-powered cars had become the race for victory after the turbos fell out one by one. The Brabham-BMWs dominated, but both succumbed to engine problems, and then Prost's Renault dropped out of an inherited lead with fuel injection issues only five laps from home.

The Austrian GP was a rare high for Lotus in 1982. Its type 91 was an inconsistent machine, but it had its day in the sun at the Osterreichring.

The five quid's worth of foam used to seal the skirts to the sidepods might have had something to do with it, as perhaps did an Indycar-style set-up with staggered cambers and a lower ride height and softer tyres on the right-hand side.

Whatever the circumstances, Lotus was a winner again, and it turned out to be the last for Chapman. He succumbed to a heart attack just four months later.

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Series Formula 1
Author Kevin Turner