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.

Azerbaijan GP red flagged after 22 laps following chaotic sequence

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The Azerbaijan Grand Prix has been red flagged for debris following a chaotic sequence of laps that saw three safety cars be deployed following multiple incidents, leaving the track covered in debris.

The first safety car was called after Daniil Kvyat stopped out on-track, with the marshals able to recover it with relative ease, but the bunched field on the restart soon descended into chaos.

Debris from Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari caused a second safety car period to be called within a lap, but the marshals were again able to clear this easily, allowing Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to lead the field away for the second restart.

Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel made contact twice behind the safety car, leaving debris on-track at Turn 15, with both drivers blaming each other for the incident.

The greater clashes came on the first lap of green flag running as Force India teammates Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon clashes at Turn 3, the latter bumping Perez into the wall. Both were required to pit for repairs, and while Ocon could get back out, Perez was less fortunate, retiring from the race.

A third safety car was called, with the stewards then deciding to throw a red flag to allow the debris on the track to be cleared.

More to follow…

Hunter-Reay leads warmup at Road America

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A weekend that has been dominated by Chevrolet and Team Penske so far saw Honda jump to the top during morning warmup. Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest for Andretti Autosport, followed by Max Chilton for Chip Ganassi Racing. Hunter-Reay’s teammate Alexander Rossi ended the session third, making it a Honda 1-2-3 in the morning warmup.

Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud was the quickest of the Chevrolet camp in fourth, followed by A.J. Foyt Racing’s Carlos Munoz in fifth.

Only 19 of the 21 drivers turned laps during the session, with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato failing to put laps in. Dixon’s No. 9 NTT Data Honda was suffering from fuel pressure problems that kept it in the garage, while Sato was feeling under the weather during the morning, and the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda team elected not to go out.

Coverage of the Kohler Grand Prix begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

 

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Nato takes F2 sprint win in Baku after Leclerc penalty

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Norman Nato picked up his first win of the 2017 FIA Formula 2 season on Sunday after a post-race penalty denied Charles Leclerc a weekend double in Baku.

Ferrari junior Leclerc took an emotional victory on Saturday just days after the death of his father, and charged from P8 on the reverse grid to take the lead from Nato late on.

However, the Monegasque driver was denied the first perfect weekend in the category (including GP2) in eight years when he was hit with a 10-second time penalty for failing to slow under yellow flags.

Despite the penalty, Leclerc was still classified second behind Nato, with Nicholas Latifi completing the podium for DAMS.

Jordan King took fourth place for MP Motorsport, while Sergey Sirotkin was fifth on his stand-in weekend at ART Grand Prix ahead of fellow Russian Artem Markelov.

Nobuharu Matsushita took seventh ahead of Luca Ghiotto, while Ralph Boschung and Sergio Sette Camara rounded out the top 10.

With second place, Leclerc extended his F2 championship lead to 42 points after chief title rival Oliver Rowland retired after leading the early part of the race.

The F2 season resumes in two weeks’ time in support of the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg.

Lauda on Hamilton’s Baku pole lap: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it’

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Formula 1 legend and Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda was quick to heap praise on Lewis Hamilton after qualifying in Azerbaijan on Saturday, saying he had “never seen anything like” the Briton’s Q3 pole lap.

Hamilton charged to the 66th pole of his F1 career at the Baku City Circuit on Saturday after a last-ditch effort took his four-tenths of a second clear of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton was overjoyed by the lap, having struggled to tame the Baku circuit during its inaugural race in 2016, and three-time world champion Lauda was equally as impressed.

“We had some problems on Friday, but the team really did a fantastic job to set the car up in the right way. And Lewis with his lap today… I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lauda said, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“It was not plain sailing at all, but a lot of thinking, digging, back to the factory, and in the end the improvement the engineers and mechanics did to the car is outstanding.

“And then Lewis, what he did today, no one else I think can do that.

“He’s fantastic, especially thinking about his lap time here, because the difference he makes to everybody – it’s only Lewis.”

Hamilton will go in search of his fifth win of the season in Baku on Sunday, with coverage of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET.