There’s nothing quite like the Red Bull ‘Ring – in all its incarnations. I first came here in the seventies; I fully remember the Osterreichring track being surrounded by snow with only the tarmac showing. It was for a European Formula Three championship round: Piquet, Kennedy, Rothengatter, Bleekemolen, Lammers, that lot. In one race, one guy went off at the Hella Licht chicane at the top of the hill, scattered snow onto the circuit and the next twenty cars or so went off in sympathy. It wasn’t just the damage to the cars that was amazing; they were all covered in mud, snow, everything. Just such a mess. No one was injured.
Later, my wife raised a few blood pressures by arriving in the local hotel restaurant in a very short T-shirt and nothing else to announce that our hotel was on fire. LAT, the well-known photographic agency, had left something on charge which had overheated and set part of the roof on fire. The fire crew were pretty excited by Mrs Constanduros’s (lack of) attire as well. It cost the hotel quite a lot in drinks as the crew wouldn’t go home after they’d done their thing.
The abiding memory, however, was driving from Austria back to the UK in one hit in my old VW Camper. It took about 24 hours – including running out of brakes coming down a long hill into the main valley leading back to Sazlburg. But it’s a trip that around 300 trucks will undertake on the Monday and Tuesday after this Grand Prix, as the whole of Formula One, plus GP2, GP3 and Porsches head for Silverstone after this race.
It is, of course, the first race of the second of the three doubleheaders in eight weeks. Such is the location of the Red Bull Ring at Spielberg near Zeltweg that many of us Brits had to travel out here on Wednesday, so this is written in the superb media centre. It’s such a delight to come to a circuit where there has been massive investment and where we are so well looked after. Not only that but the location is beautiful and when we arrived, our host’s beautifully appointed DC6 was making fly-pasts around the valley and this morning we were treated to the kind of flying display by a Eurofighter typhoon that my friends in the Red Arrows could only dream of. Never realised that Dietrich Mateschitz owned the Austrian airforce as well!
Of course, us Brits are being subjected to loads of jokes such as ‘welcome to Europe’ – from the Swiss! Can’t believe it. But we’re still waiting for Formula One to tell us how Bexit affects the teams. Remember, however, that Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM operates in dollars, not euros or pounds, so that the Europe-based teams won’t be affected and the British-based teams will be better off – until they have to pay for their hotels etc although Bernie helps out with those as well.
After the quasi-street circuit of Montreal and the actual one in Baku, we are at two proper circuits now: Red Bull Ring and Silverstone, although the Austrian one at 4.326kms is the fourth shortest on the calendar behind Brazil, Mexico and Monaco and certainly the shortest in terms of lap time. There are just nine corners and two of those are just fast swerves. Otherwise it’s four straights with quite tight corners at the end of them, down to second gear for turn two, for instance, while the final corner is fourth gear but slightly off camber and a real trap awaiting drivers. Except some action here.
Being a short circuit, we will do 71 laps of this track and some of the braking is quite heavy, particularly for turn two, coming down from 320kph to 85kph. But it’s also a circuit at 700 meters altitude – about the same as Interlagos in Brazil – so there’s a 7% loss of power because of the thin air which is counteracted by increased speed on the straights due to lack of drag.
This is the third of the modern-day Formula One visits to the Red Bull Ring. Both previous races were won by Nico Rosberg, winner in Baku, so he’s on a bit of a roll, especially since he represented Mercedes AMG Petronas at the Goodwood Festival of Speed following a Hamilton no-show and he turned 31 the next day. Actually he’s one of three top drivers to celebrate birthdays in the same week: Daniel Ricciardo turns 27 on Friday and Sebastian Vettel is 29 on raceday. Interestingly, inquiries of top F1 luminaries at Goodwood revealed two endorsements for Vettel as the cream of the current F1 crop, although Alonso also has support. We’re just waiting for Ferrari to deliver the right tactics for Vettel to confirm their threat in this year’s World Championship – but they’re running out of time.
This should be a good Williams circuit as well; remember, they were on the front row a couple of years ago and the car still follows the same philosophy which made them so competitive here. Valterri Bottas was on the podium in Canada and should have been better off than he was but for missing an entire practice session due to the damage caused to his car by a broken drain in FP3 in Baku. Watch out too for Force India and maybe Red Bull, although this is a power circuit and they may suffer from their habitual slight lack of it.
Pirelli have brought their softest compounds here, so soft, supersoft and ultrasoft but the weather is expected to be changeable. Having said that, the current track temperature at 11.38 on Thursday morning is 43 degrees; however, the big problem is warm-up of the tyres due to lack of corners, so that should be solved with softer tyres and a high track temperature – if it is to be maintained. The track has been re-surfaced which could make it slippery due to the oils within the tarmac but even give increased grip. Kerbs have been reinforced around the track in attempt to keep drivers on the prepared surface, as James Hunt used to call it.
The most disappointing aspect of this Grand Prix, however, is that pre-sold tickets are apparently poor. That’s such a shame; admittedly the results of ‘the national team’ of Red Bull haven’t been too good in the past, with Daniel Ricciardo’s best result being an eighth place in 2014. The locals don’t know how lucky they are, however, for this is such a great circuit and so scenic. Let’s hope the race is a big success…