F1’s return to Austria bucks the trend of global expansion

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For the first time in over ten years, Austria will play host to a Formula 1 grand prix next weekend as the Red Bull Ring gets set to welcome the sport back to Europe after a weekend away in Canada.

The Austrian Grand Prix has enjoyed a sporadic history within F1. Next weekend’s race will be the 28th running of the event, having first been held in 1963 at Zeltweg Airfield. It moved to the Osterreichring in 1970, and remained on the calendar until 1987. The race returned at the same circuit in 1997, now called the A1 Ring, but was cancelled once again for 2004.

The A1 Ring had become run down and fallen into disrepair, and stopped hosting motorsport altogether in 2004. Four years later, though, a buyer was found in the form of Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz. As part of the brand’s penchant for not only F1 but also other forms of motor racing, to have its own circuit was a big coup.

Renamed the Red Bull Ring, it welcomed a number of top racing series including Formula 2 and the DTM (German touring car championship). However, F1 coming back to Austria was rarely considered by those outside of Red Bull, making the announcement last July something of a surprise.

The surprise wasn’t that a new grand prix was being held, but instead that it was a European race. F1’s expansion has focused on taking the sport to the four corners of the globe, primarily away from Europe.

In recent years, the new arrivals in F1 have mainly been in Asia. Bahrain, China, Abu Dhabi, Korea, India and Singapore have all joined the fray since Austria’s last grand prix. It is a very different sport to the one we had in 2003.

Of course, under normal circumstances, the Austrian Grand Prix would not be returning this year. Ordinarily, races are brokered in two ways: via private investment, or through government backing. Very few of the new races have been a true success. Korea and India both dropped off the calendar for 2014, while Bahrain has struggled with attendances and civil unrest. However, Singapore has been a huge hit and a tourist hub, with the government happy to pick up the bill.

Austria’s return has been brokered by the track owner: Red Bull. Dietrich Mateschitz has seen all of this success on track for his team, but is yet to see them race at a home grand prix. Much like the team, this is a project that he has the money to make happen. F1 is happy, he’s happy, the fans are happy.

There has been a lot of talk about Formula 1 returning to Magny-Cours in France in the next few years, but without significant investment, it is unlikely to happen. There is more money to be made further afield.

It will be interesting to see just how long the Austrian Grand Prix remains on the calendar, but so long as Red Bull can assure Mr. Ecclestone that a race will go ahead and they will pay up, it could yet become a mainstay in the sport once again.

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

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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.