AUSTRIAN GP PREVIEW By Bob Constanduros
We’re getting close to the halfway point in this year’s World Championship and certainly there seems no chance of the competition abating – thank heavens. The post-Baku fall-out continues, although I do tend to listen to other racing drivers who all say ‘OK, the boy done wrong, but now let’s move on.’
Racing drivers have crashes and incidents on a regular basis and have done since they started in Cadet karts or whatever. They’ve probably even had incidents more silly than Sebastian Vettel’s nudge into Lewis Hamilton – although probably not at that low speed. So if anyone’s entitled to say ‘let’s move on’, it is those people who have had that experience, and I’m happy to listen to them.
The one thing that hadn’t be explained was why Sebastian chose to drive into Lewis. After the race, he seemed completely in denial of that part of the incident, choosing instead to focus on hitting Lewis because he brake tested him. Now, of course, he’s had a chance to review what’s happened and both drivers chose to move on.
Every fan, however, clearly has an opinion as to what should have happened; as Martin Brundle has said, everyone’s got a nose, and every fan has an opinion. It’s an unfortunate fact that these days people seem to be looking for a very rapid (which means possibly knee-jerk) decision and someone to blame, who will be sanctioned in a big way.
Out of motor sport, this could mean prison. You only have to look at our Grenfell Tower disaster in the UK and it’s quite obvious that according to some, not enough was done quickly enough and no one has been charged yet with criminal negligence – or hung, drawn and quartered. I could go on but I’m getting OT here.
So the love affair may be over between Sebastian and Lewis, but they will no doubt maintain their respect for one another. Vettel was obviously in the wrong and will be on best behaviour; Hamilton, it has to be said, doesn’t often transgress and the Baku clash is no reason for revenge. What cost Lewis, of course, was the loose headrest; let’s remember that. It wasn’t the clash with Sebastian. So it’s move on to scenic Austria.
This is one of the shorter circuits on the calendar at 4.326kms. Brazil and Mexico are just shorter, Canada and Hungary are just longer but Monaco, of course, is shorter than them all. Having said that, however, the Red Bull Ring is quite a quick circuit and the lap time is expected to be very short, possibly the shortest lap time anywhere for some time. But all that depends on the weather.
The Red Bull Ring is perched on the side of a flat valley, surrounded by gorgeous fir-covered Styrian mountains. The first time I went there, for a Formula Three race in the seventies, the track was dry but the grass at the side was covered by snow. When one guy went off briefly – and I don’t know who – and showered snow onto the track at the first chicane, the next twenty or so cars slid off into the snow, mud, grass and each other. What a mess! Amazingly, no one was injured but there was a lot of tidying up to be done.
So the weather can be a bit iffy, and that’s what’s expected this weekend – OK, maybe not snow. While the temperatures remain high – well, roughly the same as we’re getting here in the UK – showers and thunder showers are expected. In a way, teams are going to have to keep their eyes on Sunday and what it’s going to be like then. As Vettel always reminds us, that’s when points are won. At the moment a forecast says 28 degrees and thunder – but all that could change right up to Sunday morning with clouds gathering over the mountains
Since my first visit, of course, the track has gone through various iterations but it’s still in the same place and some of the features are still quite recognisable. In spite of only nine corners – now ten with the inclusion of the little curve going up the hill – there are some real challenges here. Braking uphill from 318kph to 137kph in 52m for turn one is going to see plenty of drivers going wide here throughout the weekend, although the run-off is extensive.
During the race, the braking area at what is now turn three should see plenty of overtaking; it is the hardest braking from 307 kph to 76kph in 66 meters and this has been the scene of several incidents. And yet the trickiest part of the lap is at the end, turns nine and ten, which sees drivers go wide throughout the weekend, whether in practice, qualifying or race. There’s good run-off here but it can all go a bit pear-shaped for some.
As I mentioned, it is a short lap, so fractions of a second are going to make all the difference. We have seen a different hierarchy here in the past – remember when Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas in the Williams were suddenly on the front row here in 2014 – six years after Felipe’s last pole! They finished behind the two Mercedes – who have dominated here but Massa was third again in 2015 and Verstappen second in 2016 for the home team.
Penalties for new mechanical elements are already making a difference to grid positions for McLaren – principally – but that’s going to affect more and more teams throughout the second half of the season. And remember, too, that this is the first half of a double-header which will see the pit straight crammed with transporters on Sunday night as everyone packs up as quickly as possible ready for the 15hr 30m drive to Silverstone. I did it a few years ago on my own in my VW Camper; I wouldn’t want to – couldn’t – do it again!
It’s an expensive trip for F2, GP3, Porsche and F1 teams, plus the motorhome people – maybe 300 trucks plus – as they need back-up drivers. Some teams have a sleeper coach following the trucks with relief drivers in it. It’s a massive logistical challenge – and remember, a triple header beginning with France is planned for next year.
The Austrian Grand Prix is always a well-promoted, well-planned, enjoyable event. It’s actually one to visit if you can – bit late now, I know, but just as worthwhile as Spa, for instance. There are loads of track displays – Red Bull have a huge cast of supported sportsmen and women to draw on – and it’s going to be an action-packed weekend. My sofa awaits; hope yours does too!