Austrian Grand Prix – Preview

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Servus & Grüß Gott! Following the coronavirus-induced achingly long standstill, Formula 1 returns to race action this weekend as the field descends at Spielberg for the Austrian Grand Prix.

It is almost unbelievable, but Formula One will finally go back to racing this weekend. The 20-driver field will test the limits of the 2020 cars for the first time in Spielberg, Austria. The sport could have hardly found a better location for the season to get underway as the Red Bull Ring, located in the Styrian Mountains, is one of the most picturesque circuits on the calendar, providing a spectacular backdrop for the delayed start of the season.

Tricky to get it right

The current layout of the Red Bull Ring is just 4.318km long, but it far from easy to perform a perfect lap. The track packs a lot into a short lap with plenty of elevation change punctuated by fast sweeping turns and a number of heavy braking zones. The biggest difficulty is usually presented by the fact that lap time differences are quite tiny and drivers have to find the last drop of performance of their cars as tenths of a second can decide over multiple places.

After resting a bit on the long start-finish straight, drivers climb up the hill to arrive at the first corner. The Niki Lauda turn is a tricky one as drivers have to get the best possible exit as the longest full-throttle section awaits them, albeit the high exit kerbs invite the too ambitious drivers to mistakes.

The following section is a bit bumpy and curvy, but taken easily at full throttle. After posting top-speeds over 310kph, drivers need to act perfectly as they brake down to Turn 3.

The second sector begins with another full-speed section before drivers brake to take Turn 4. The exit of that corner is always tricky as drivers usually suffer understeer from the mid-point of Turn 4. The next section presents drivers with a different challenge as Turn 6, 7 and 8 are taken at high speeds. A perfect balance is the recipe in those three corners – a weak front-end of the car see drivers lose everything they need for a good lap time.

Sector 3 starts with an uphill section before drivers suddenly start to descend for the last two corners of the track. Turn 9, named after Jochen Rindt, is a brutally fast corner with a tricky exit where drivers have to demonstrate that their trust in the rear-end downforce of their cars. The last corner invites drivers to use the exit kerbs as much as they can without leaving the track.

The extremely high downforce levels produced by current Formula One cars means that drivers are at full throttle for more than two-thirds of the lap. The short nature of the Red Bull Ring means that the DRS is open for more than a third of the lap – the highest percentage of the entire season.

When it comes to the tyres, things have changed for this weekend due to the coronavirus situation. As per the Sporting Regulations, teams are allocated with 13 sets of dry weather tyres that are divided into three different compounds. Drivers have to pick up at least one set of all compounds while they are allowed to define the compound of the rest of their sets.

However, due to the short lead time to the delayed start of the 2020 F1 season, Pirelli will allocate every driver with the same tyre selection: two sets of hard, three sets of medium and eight sets of soft will be made available to every driver.


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 featured 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 number 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 which was renamed A1-Ring. The whole layout was redesigned by German architect Hermann Tilke and the track partly lost its original nature. However, it 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.

A new norm

Formula One has established a draconic protocol to get the season up and running. The sport has dramatically reduced the number of people to ensure safety and social distancing in order to create a safe atmosphere when the sport revives at Spielberg.

The usually vivid paddock will be almost empty. Zero guests will be present in the paddock to the usual 3,000. While top teams usually travel to races with 130 members, they are now restricted to 80 personnel. 60 broadcast personnel will work at the scene compared to the usual 250 which has been made possible due to F1’s plans to operate a remote broadcast operation.

Moreover, teams will isolate from each other and in non-race critical areas, 2m social distance will be implemented. Teams usually work closely together with Formula One’s tyre supplier, Pirelli and their fuel and lubricant suppliers. That will not be the case this time. Pick-up and drop-off points will be established where team members and the suppliers can place the tyres and the oil containers, avoiding close contacts.

Team members will need to wear face covering (FFP2) in the garages. Drivers will also wear masks when they climb out of their cars.

At Spielberg, the organisers have set-up more than six coronavirus test stations. While every crew member and team member needs to arrive at the track with a negative test result, they will also be tested at the scene. They are expected to get tested twice during the race weekend. A test laboratory has been established at Ebersberg, located near Munich, that will operate 24 hours a day. The capacity is enough to perform 15,000 tests.