11 years since the last Austrian GP, Formula 1 has transformed

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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.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Remaining part-time drivers

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MotorSportsTalk wraps up its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with the remaining part-time drivers, after the 23 drivers who ran anywhere from six events to the full season.

There were 15 drivers who made four or fewer starts this season. Some overly impressed or drew major headlines in their limited opportunities.

They were, by start count:

  • Sebastian Saavedra (No. 17 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 4)
  • Gabby Chaves (No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet, 3)
  • Oriol Servia (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 3)
  • Jack Harvey (No. 50 MSR w/Andretti Autosport Honda, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 3)
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, 2)
  • Zach Veach (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, No. 40 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, 2)
  • Fernando Alonso (No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti Honda, 1)
  • Pippa Mann (No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Jay Howard (No. 77 Team One Cure/SPM Honda, 1)
  • Sage Karam (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, 1)
  • James Davison (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Tristan Vautier (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Buddy Lazier (No. 44 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, 1)
  • Zachary Claman DeMelo (No. 13 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 1)
  • Robert Wickens (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Practice Only)

Going through them, in terms of impact, Alonso’s one-off at the Indianapolis 500 easily resonated loudest. It was incredible to witness the amount of buzz, worldwide support and media attention that Alonso generated, and fueled a running joke that he was the only driver in this year’s race. It was capped off when he beat Ed Jones to race rookie-of-the-year honors, despite losing a Honda engine late while Jones dragged a broken Dale Coyne Racing car to third place.

Elsewhere, Chaves and Harding Racing’s debut was the most unexpected pleasant surprise from a driver and team standpoint. A solid ninth at Indianapolis was followed by an even more impressive fifth at Texas. Their three oval races laid the groundwork for a step-up to a full-time entry in 2018.

Montoya proved he still had it with a pair of top-10s in a fifth Team Penske car. He’ll be in Penske’s Acura prototype sports car program next year and the hope is that we haven’t seen the last of him in IndyCar.

Saavedra re-established himself on the scene after a year-plus hiatus. The likable Colombian overachieved given low expectations with two different teams. Whether it was enough to see him and longtime backer AFS Racing for further races in 2018 is unknown.

Harvey and Veach each came up to IndyCar for a cup of coffee, both rookies in the Indianapolis 500 alongside Alonso and Jones while also getting additional road course starts. Neither of them looked a world-beater in their road course outings owing to tough circumstances, but they logged key laps and miles to build for a brighter future from 2018 and beyond in recently announced multi-year programs (Harvey with Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and Veach with Andretti Autosport).

Of the rest, Servia’s results left a bit to be desired, a potential top-five fading in Indy when he and Davison collided to trigger a multi-car pileup. Davison and Vautier impressed in their lone starts of the year with their pace and aggression but were unable to parlay them into results.

Mann made her usual Indy 500 one-off entry and secured her best finish in six starts, but pressed through a challenging month that she’ll be keen to improve upon in 2018. Her day was significantly better than Howard’s and Lazier’s, who both ended their ‘500 bows in the wall, and with Howard having contributed to Scott Dixon’s savage accident when he crashed in Turn 1 and then came into Dixon’s path.

“ZCD” made his debut at Sonoma in a second RLL Racing entry and did rather well, competitive on lap times as the weekend progressed on a track that’s notoriously low-grip. Wickens never got that far. Despite a preseason ride swap with his close friend James Hinchcliffe that reignited his passion for open-wheel after several years, and with Mercedes announcing it would pull the plug on its DTM program after 2018, Wickens got only a practice day at Road America before Mikhail Aleshin sorted his visa issues. The circumstances evolved in Wickens’ favor at season’s end to see him get the second seat for 2018 at SPM after all.