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

2 Comments

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.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

Getty Images
1 Comment

There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.