Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Catman
Moving on from the banks of the St Lawrence river we now find ourselves in the Styrian mountains as the Austrian Grand Prix welcomes the F1 circus back to Europe at the Spielberg Red Bull Ring. The applause may be a bit more muted than normal after poor ticket sales mean that you may see a few empty grandstand seats this year.
Last year was the first time the Ring had been used for F1 since 2003 and gave hope to those wishing to see an end to Mercedes’ dominance of the 2014 season. After being beaten by Ricciardo at the previous race, it was Williams’ turn to upset the form book by locking out the front row of the grid, coincidentally something they had been unable to do since the 2003 season.
Normal service was resumed in the race, with the Silver duo recovering from their poor Saturday to breeze back to the front. Hamilton, after two slow pit stops hampered his progress, eventually closed in on Rosberg at the start of the final lap but was unable to make a move for the win.
The Austrian Grand Prix was first held at the Zeltweg Airfield circuit in 1963 as a non-championship event, then as a fully fledged round of the championship the following year where Italian driver Lorenzo Bandini won his one and only race for Ferrari. As was so often the case in the early decades of Formula One, the track was determined to be too narrow and dangerous for the increasing speeds and the race was cancelled until the Osterreichring was built.
The original Osterreichring was a magnificent circuit popular with the drivers for providing the challenge of high speed flowing corners that really tested the talents of car and driver alike. An unfortunate accident that claimed the life of American driver Mark Donohue in 1975 necessitated some changes to the circuit that slowed speeds through some of the most dangerous corners. The track kept the race until 1987, when the FIA determined that the facilities and safety measures were once again inadequate. The last race on this layout had to be restarted twice due to two pit-straight accidents, which proved to be the final nail for the Osterreichring.
It took until 1995 to find an investor to upgrade the circuit and facilities to bring a race back to Austria, who employed Herman Tilke to modernise the track layout. Two years later the fast sweeping corners had been replaced by three short straights and tight corners in an to attempt to create overtaking opportunities. Unlike most Tilke-dromes however they managed to retain some of the undulations and hills that provide some interest to what would be an otherwise uninspiring track.
The 2002 race saw a public backlash after Rubens Barrichello, who was well on course to a well earned victory, was instructed to hand the victory to his team-mate Michael Schumacher. This caused outrage as he slowed out of the final corner and allowed the German to breeze past over the line. Whether this contributed to the downfall of the circuit the following year or not, it was not a good day for the sport.
The circuit had fallen into disrepair until Red Bull took ownership in a bid to bring F1 back to their homeland. Reconstruction of the pit buildings and improvement of the facilities convinced Bernie Ecclestone to include them on the calendar after the New York Grand Prix bid failed. Sebastian Vettel (who was on the Red Bull payroll at the time) said “The circuit is nice and it’s located in the middle of a beautiful landscape. It’s a short track with just a few turns but it’s very challenging. The inclines too add to the circuit and the fans will have a great view no matter where they are seated.” Unfortunately for most viewers it is not a patch on the old circuit and has not provided many interesting races in it’s chequered history.
One of the shortest circuits with the quickest laptime on the calendar, the Red Bull Ring combines short straights and tight corners draped on the side of a valley in the Austrian mountains. 2014 laptimes were similar to the 2003 era, with Massa’s pole time being only half a second off Schumacher’s lap record, which could be beaten this year.
It had been a long time since the teams had been to the Ring but now they will have a lot of data from the 2014 race that can be analysed that will help to maximise performance. The circuit will favour those with a decent power unit as the thinner mountain air will restrict horsepower, which will be especially punishing on the steep uphill drag towards turn two, possibly providing a good overtaking opportunity.
The design of middle section attempted to mirror the old Osterreichring circuit, with the mid-speed turns four, five and six providing a reasonable flow. The final two turns have hard run-off areas on the outside, which encourage drivers to take liberties with the track limits. This provided a slightly farcical showing during qualifying last year with many times disallowed, but not always in a consistent fashion.
The short lap means that fuel consumption should not be a problem, using around 1.4 kg per lap compared to the 2014 average of 1.69 kg per lap. The effect of carrying more fuel is also less than average around here, being around 0.3 seconds per 10 kg (average 0.34 seconds). Hopefully these two factors will reduce the need for the depressing lift and coast tactics of Canada, but teams will always push the limits and carry as little fuel as possible.
BRAKING WITH BREMBO
The Spielberg circuit is a very hilly track, characterized by sharp bends with 7 significant deceleration braking sections. The circuit is also quite short with little space for the system to cool between one braking section and another. Being a circuit that has been reinstated in the championship after several years, all teams will have to pay close attention to the temperature of brake discs and calipers.
Turns one, two and three are the heaviest braking zones, all providing enough retardation to provide an overtaking opportunity.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI: SOFT AND SUPERSOFT
For the third race in succession, the P Zero Yellow soft and P Zero Red supersoft tyres have been nominated. The demands on the tyres are relatively low, with two straights and reasonably slow corners. The Austrian Grand Prix reappeared on the Formula One calendar for the first time in 11 seasons last year, meaning that the teams will now be able to use the data from 2014 when it comes to formulating the optimal strategy. After the Austrian Grand Prix, the final two day in-season test of the year will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “Austria ends the run of soft and supersoft nominations that we see towards the middle of the season, on quite a diverse variety of tracks. The tyre strategy will depend on some extent to the weather: if it is warm we are more likely to see two stops, whereas if it’s cool the balance might shift towards a one-stopper. Rain is also a distinct possibility in Styria at this time of year, as we saw during free practice last season, so the teams will basically have to be prepared for everything. This year, the drivers head to the Red Bull Ring with real data about the track for the first time, which will help them find the most efficient way to use the tyres. Obviously our aim is always to have between two and three stops at every race, so this is something that we will monitor carefully in future when it comes to nominations: we do have the possibility to make some minor changes if required. We’re only expecting a small time gap between the two compounds in Austria, so this opens up a number of different possibilities as to how to run the race strategy.”
The biggest challenges for the tyres: The surface at the Red Bull Ring is low grip and low abrasion, with the track getting progressively quicker as the weekend goes on. Even though the asphalt is new, the track is quite bumpy in places, which makes it difficult to find consistent grip. Gaining traction out of the corners is a particularly important aspect of the Red Bull Ring, as there are a number of slow corners leading onto faster straights. A neat approach to finding the apex, in order to get onto the power afterwards as quickly as possible without spinning the wheels, is vital to maximise tyre life.
The supersoft tyre is a low working range compound, capable of achieving optimal performance even at low temperatures. The soft tyre is a high working range compound, suitable for higher temperatures and more strenuous track conditions. Both warm and cool conditions are possible in Austria. The Spielberg circuit runs in a clockwise direction, but there are two very significant corners (turns 5 and 6) that place considerable stress on the tyres on the right-hand side of the car.
Last year’s strategy and how the race was won: Most drivers did a two-stopper last year, although three managed a one-stop. Race winner Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) started on the supersoft, changed to the soft on lap 11, then to the soft again on lap 40. His strategy allowed him to win even though he started from third on the grid.
Expected performance gap between the two compounds: 0.7 – 0.9 seconds per lap.
5 MEMORABLE MOMENTS
1975 – Vittorio Brambilla won the rain-shortened race by crossing the line backwards while spinning out of control. This comedic moment was unfortunately overshadowed by the death of Mark Donohue during the race.
1982 – Qualifying was dominated by the turbocharged cars, but they proved to be fragile in the race with four of the five cars retiring with mechanical gremlins. Alain Prost was the last of these to retire from the lead with a few laps to go, leaving a sprint finish between Elio de Angelis and Keke Rosberg. The two crossed the line with only 0.05 seconds separating them, with de Angelis taking his first of two wins.
1984 – Niki Lauda became the only Austrian to have won his home Grand Prix in his Mclaren, ahead of Nelson Piquet.
2002 – Rubens Barrichello outperformed his teammate Michael Schumacher, right up until the last corner where he slowed under orders from the pitwall to let the German through. The ensuing podium was not a jolly one, with a sheepish Schumacher handing the trophy to Barrichello. The race also saw a massive crash between as Nick Heidfeld lost control under braking due to suspension failure and speared across the track into the side of Takuma Sato’s Jordan. Sato did not suffer serious injuries, but had to be cut from the wreckage.
2014 – Williams took their first front row lockout since 2003, but their domination did not last very long. Lewis Hamilton, recovering from a mistake-prone qualifying, pressured Nico Rosberg right up until the flag but was unable to pass and Nico took a critical win in his (eventually unsuccessful) pursuit of the drivers title.
Mercedes looked vulnerable in Canada with questions over their braking systems and reliability issues, but there was nobody anywhere near them to capitalise on their problems. After the relatively dull race last time out, we’re hoping for some more on track action. Unfortunately, history is not on our side.
Vettel clearly has the upper hand over his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who is under real pressure to perform in order to retain his seat for next year. There are plenty of promising young talents I the Ferrari stable that would jump at the opportunity if his services were not retained.
One such man is Nico Hulkenberg who performed admirably through the Le Mans 24 hour weekend driving for the Porsche factory LMP1 team. He was driving for the marque’s third entry with fellow rookie Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber, but they perfomed sensationally and secured victory. His final stint in the car in slippery conditions as particularly impressive. Even if he never wins a Formula One race, he now has an amazing achievement on his CV.
A man who will desperately want to find his form again is Daniel Ricciardo, who has been uncharacteristically off colour recently, being comprehensively beaten by Kvyat in Canada. His frustration started to boil over when he said “I don’t think we really know what we need right now or where to find it”. The new nosecone and front wing regulations have reduced the aerodynamic effectiveness of the Red Bull car in slow corners compared to previous years, which will not be welcome news to the team coming into their home race.
The usual European support races return to hold the hand of the big boys this weekend, with GP2, GP3 and the Porsche Supercup in action.
The Monaco GP2 sprint race was won by Richie Stanaway, the first win for both him and his team in the series. He took the lead at the first corner from Ferrari junior Raffaele Marciello and held onto the lead despite the pressure of a virtual safety car period. The feature race was won once again by Stoffel Vandoorne, who was able to make a bold tyre strategy pay dividends. He put on the supersoft tyre on relatively early in the race but was able to make it last until the end.
The reasonably large frame of the Porsche 911 is not best suited to the tight twisty Monaco Grand Prix circuit and as such overtaking is even more difficult than normal. As a result we saw a lights to flag victory for Dutchman Japp van Langen under enormous pressure from Phillip Eng. Eng now ties for the championship lead with Ammermuller, who finished fifth.
Known for their love of extreme sports, Red Bull are putting on a treat for the fans with the appearance of the Flying Bulls Aerobatic Team. Sporting many aerobatics champion pilots, the team perform stunts in the propeller powered Extra 300L aircraft, sporting 300 horsepower with a maximum airspeed of 424 kilometers per hour. The most impressive statistic about this plane is ability to easily perform crushing 8g turns and a nauseating roll rate of 400 degrees per second.