Formula 1 will return to Austria next weekend after eleven years away, but the sport that will go to Spielberg is very different to the one that left it in May 2003.
A deal to bring the sport back to Austria was brokered by Red Bull, who took over control over the old A1 Ring circuit back in 2008 and renamed it the “Red Bull Ring”. However, when the race was last held, the team did not even exist. Instead, Red Bull’s only involvement in Formula 1 was as a sponsor, with the current team being owned by Ford and running under the Jaguar brand.
Of the 22 drivers currently racing in Formula 1, just three raced at the last Austrian Grand Prix: Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso. Raikkonen finished the race in second place behind Michael Schumacher, with Button coming home in fourth place for BAR Honda. Alonso retired from the race for Renault.
The race was reduced from 71 laps to 69 after two restarts thanks to problems on the grid, and an early safety car period meant that the racing did not truly get underway until lap five. When it did, Schumacher pulled away from pole and eased into a sizeable lead. A rain shower did close things up once again, but the German’s charge was halted when a fire in the pits at Ferrari dropped him back.
Thankfully, no-one was harmed, and Schumacher returned in third place behind Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen. Schumacher found his way past Raikkonen, and benefitted from an engine failure for Montoya that gave him the lead with eight laps to go. Raikkonen fended off Rubens Barrichello to hang on to second place and stay in the lead of the championship.
Drivers aside, the sport is a very different animal to what it was back in 2003.
- The screaming V10 engines have been downsized twice, leaving us with V6 turbos.
- The tires are slick once again, and there is no refuelling.
- Only four teams are in the same guise that they were in 2003 – Ferrari, McLaren, Sauber and Williams.
- The names of Ford, Honda, Cosworth, BMW and Toyota are no longer in the sport, although Honda returns in 2015.
- The three remaining drivers – Raikkonen, Alonso and Button – are all world champions now. By Austria 2003, they had just one race win between them.
- KERS and DRS weren’t even considerations. To overtake, you had to spot a gap and go for it.
- Michael Schumacher was ‘only’ a five-time champion, level with Juan Manuel Fangio.
- Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat was just nine years old.
- The calendar was just 16 races long. Only six were outside of Europe.
- The United States Grand Prix was still being held at Indianapolis. Michael Schumacher won the race in 2003.
Time flies when you’re having fun in Formula 1. There will always be the old guard saying how it was better in the ‘good old days’, but the modern sport should still provide a fascinating Austrian Grand Prix next weekend.