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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.

Perez: Sponsors yet to make decision on F1 future

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27:  Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India walks in the Paddock before final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Sergio Perez has confirmed that his sponsors are yet to make a decision about his Formula 1 future as speculation about a move away from Force India persists.

Force India team owner Vijay Mallya said over the British Grand Prix weekend that both Perez and teammate Nico Hulkenberg were under contract for 2017.

However, Perez revealed that although this was correct, his Mexican sponsors were yet to decide whether or not to continue with Force India, the understanding being that his contract has an escape clause.

Perez previously said his sponsors would make a decision on his future over the summer break, but explained in Spa on Thursday that nothing has been firmed up.

“They’ve decided nothing yet. I hope in the next couple of months, we can announce where I’m heading or what I’m doing with my future,” Perez told NBCSN.

“I’m not stressed about it. I know whatever happens, that will be the best for my future. I will give my best. Right now I want to focus on Spa, enjoy the present and try to close up the gap to Williams and beat Williams.”

Perez stressed that he is happy at Force India despite being linked with moves to Renault and Williams.

“I’ve always said that I’m very happy here in the team. I’ve had a tremendous three years here, a lot of enjoyment,” Perez said.

“I think it’s a very key part of the decision that wherever you are that you enjoy what you’re doing, you have fun and you like the people, and here I enjoy it a lot.

“We’ll see what happens obviously. The decision is not fully on my side but we’ll see.”

Raikkonen quickest, Mercedes struggles in final Belgian GP practice

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Four-time Belgian Grand Prix winner Kimi Raikkonen offered a glimpse of his affinty for the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps by leading the final Formula 1 practice session on Saturday morning ahead of qualifying.

After seeing Nico Rosberg and Max Verstappen share the practice spoils on Friday, Raikkonen hit back with a fastest lap of 1:47.974 to finish two-tenths of a second clear of Daniel Ricciardo.

Red Bull driver Ricciardo led for much of the session after completing his super-soft run early on, but still finishing ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari.

Valtteri Bottas finished the session fourth for Williams ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who could only go P5 with a late lap in FP3 after a mistake at the final chicane. Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg could only finish P7 as Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg split the pair. Felipe Massa was eighth for Williams ahead of Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean.

Verstappen completed just two laps for Red Bull before being forced to sit out the remainder of the session due to a gearbox sensor issue. Marcus Ericsson could only manage five laps before a problem on his Sauber curtailed his running.

FP3 also saw a couple of near-misses between drivers on-track. Pascal Wehrlein was left fuming after being blocked by Esteban Gutierrez on the Kemmel Straight, while Vettel was less than impressed after a close run with Kevin Magnussen, saying over the radio: “It’s free practice, who gives a s**t?”

Qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix is live on the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

Hamilton’s Spa grid drop up to 55 places after third new power unit

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 26: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton’s grid drop for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix is now up to 55 places after Mercedes elected to take another complete new power unit on Saturday morning.

Formula 1 drivers’ championship leader Hamilton confirmed on Thursday that he would be taking a grid drop for exceeding the number of power unit components during the season.

Hamilton was forced to use up more of his five permitted components for the year than planned earlier in the year after issues arose.

Mercedes took a complete new power unit on Friday ahead of both FP1 and FP2, resulting in a 30-place grid drop.

Ahead of the final practice session on Saturday morning in Spa, the team confirmed that it had taken a third new power unit for Hamilton, raising his grid penalty to 55 places.

The move ensures that Hamilton has enough engine components to make it to the end of the season without taking another penalty, barring unforeseen issues.

The additional penalty is largely academic, given that Hamilton was due to start the race last on the grid, but the team may opt to put the Briton in the pit lane for the beginning of the race.

Hamilton is also unlikely to complete his usual qualifying program on Saturday afternoon, given he only has a limited number of tires to use through the weekend.

IMSA: Landy, Boehm score first career CTSC poles at VIR

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Landy/Ecklin. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Sebastian Landy (GS) and Kevin Boehm (ST) won their first career poles for the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Oak Tree Grand Prix at VIRginia International Raceway; the latest two-hour, 30-minute race takes place on Saturday.

Landy, a veteran of IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama and Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup action, makes his GS class debut and promptly stuck the No. 99 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage he’ll share with Rob Ecklin on the GS pole, with a best time of 1:56.929 on the 3.27-mile road course.

“[Track experience] helped a little bit but I have to thank everyone at Automatic Racing,” the local driver out of Great Falls, Va. told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam. “I’ve always wanted to race in GS. It’s a great day to start on pole for your first race. If I wasn’t as sloppy as I was, there could have been more!”

Danny Burkett starts the No. 33 CJ Wilson Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport he shares with Marc Miller in second, with the pair of Ford Shelby GT350R-Cs from Multimatic Motorsports and Compass360 Racing (the latter repaired after its Road America accident) on Row 2.

Honda has a 1-3 start in the ST class with Columbus, Ohio’s Boehm taking the No. 92 HART Honda Civic Si to the top spot at 2:04.660. He’ll share that car with Cameron Lawrence while the team’s No. 93 car, qualified by Chad Gilsinger who shares with Ryan Eversley, will start from third.

The No. 84 Bimmerworld BMW 328i (James Clay, Tyler Cooke) slots in-between the pair.

Qualifying results are linked here.

The second IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice of the day at a hot VIR was less eventful than the morning session when the roof popped off the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM of Dirk Werner.

Corvette Racing came to the fore in second practice with the No. 3 Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen top of the charts in GT Le Mans and overall. In GT Daytona, the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers) was quickest one.

Practice results from the day are linked below.

Practice 1
Practice 2