Austrian Grand Prix – Preview

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Just a few days after the French Grand Prix, Formula One heads to the beautiful, picturesque Styria in Austria for Round 9 of the 2019 FIA F1 World Championship, the Austrian Grand Prix.

Austria has a long and rich history in F1. The relatively small country hosted races for the pinnacle of the motorsport on two different venues and in different periods with a few interruptions.

The Zeltweg Airfield circuit opened the book of the Austrian GP history. A non-championship event was held in 1963 which was won by Jack Brabham. The first championship race was then held in the following year. As the track proved to be too dangerous, that Zeltweg track did not host any more races.

As Austria did not give up its hopes and will of organizing further GPs, the country built a suitable track also in the Zeltweg area. It was named the Österreichring. It is located in the scenic Styrian mountains with a picturesque background of green lands and big trees.

Races were held between 1970 and 1987. This fast, flowing track features long straights and long corners with only a couple of slower turns. This nature of the track meant the governing body FIA was not happy with the safety conditions. The lack of protection from trees and the amount of high-speed corners meant the FIA refused to give the green light for further races from 1987 on.

Austria disappeared from F1 for a decade, but the Österreichring was renewed in 1995 and 1996 and the Circus returned to the modernised track in the following year whcih was renamed A1-Ring. The whole layout was redesigned by German architect Hermann Tilke and the track partly lost its original nature. However, its is still a fast circuit with its long uphill sections. The A1 Ring hosted the Austrian GP in 2003 for the last time.

Thereafter the Austrian energy drink company Red Bull purchased the former Östreichring and renamed it as Red Bull Ring. The track was also updated with many changes to the pit area, the grandstands and run off zones. Since then the track has been a venue for various events: a series of motorsport races, the Red Bull Air Race and concerts were held there.

In 2014, Austria celebrated its welcome return to action on the highest level of motorsport.

Prost and McLaren as the most successful

Alain Prost holds the record for most wins in the history of the Austrian Grand Prix. The Frenchman was victorious on three occasions. Among the two-time Austrian GP winners are Ronnie Peterson, Michael Schumacher, Mika Häkkinen, Alan Jones and Nico Rosberg. Home hero Niki Lauda could win the race in his country once when he proved to be the fastest with McLaren-TAG in 1984.

McLaren is the most successful team in Austria. The Woking-based outfit has claimed six wins so far. Ferrari is the second most successful with five triumphs. Lotus and Mercedes both have achieved four victories. The Anglo-German squad was four races in a row between 2014 and 2017, showing that the circuit with flowing nature and uphill section perfectly suits their car in the hybrid era. Williams is the only team to have won in Austria three times. The only other repeat winner team is Renault with two triumphs.

Flowing nature and uphill sections

The 4318-metre-long track consists of ten corners of different nature. The start-finish straight ends in an uphill section where drivers try to brake as late as they can, but they need to concentrate on a perfect exit as they are faced with the longest full-throttle section of the entire circuit. Climbing up the hill, they pass Turn 2, a slight curvature which marks the end of the first sector.

Turn 3 is another tricky section: while late braking is important, drivers have to be spot-on as the following straight is another longer full-throttle section. This part is the highest point of the circuit which is very much reminiscent of a roller-coaster. Exiting the next bend, Turn 4, drivers can use a large chunk of the exit kerb to carry the highest speed possible onto the next section. With Turn 6, 7 and 8, drivers arrive to the fastest, never-ending corners where tyres are exposed to high lateral forces. The second sector ends between Turn 7 and 8.

From Turn 8 on, the track descends spectacularly. Turn 9 is usually among the trickiest part of the entire track. Drivers are desperate to brake as late as possible, carry the highest speed into the corner, but they also have to respect the high, unforgiving kerbs at the exit which have showed their ability to cause fatal suspension damage many times. When arriving into the last turn of the circuit, drivers are always eager to apply the thorrle as early as they can, but they have to show respect to the exit kerbs once again.