Formula 1 returns to Austria this weekend after eleven years away, and anticipation is high for the first race at the revamped Red Bull Ring in Spielberg.
The race was last held in 2003 at what was then called the A1 Ring, but it fell off the calendar the following year as the facilities became run down and the money dried up. In 2008, Red Bull came to the rescue with funding, and it has since been transformed into a state-of-the-art racing facility where Formula 1 needs to be.
The home favorites will of course be Red Bull, given that the team is Austrian, although a large German contingency will undoubtedly come out in support of Mercedes. The Silver Arrows will want to hit back this weekend after the catastrophe in Canada, which afforded Daniel Ricciardo the opportunity to win his maiden grand prix.
2014 Austrian Grand Prix – Talking Points
Red Bull comes home on a high
Given that it debuted back in 2005, Red Bull has never raced on home soil, but that will change this weekend. Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo will look to put on a show for the fans, and the team enters the weekend on a high following the cheery Australian’s victory last time out in Canada. Anything less than a podium finish would have to go down as a disappointment.
Mercedes still the team to beat
Hoping to rain on Red Bull’s parade will be Mercedes, who looks to continue its perfect pole position streak and return to the top step of the podium. Nico Rosberg’s championship lead now stands at 22 points over teammate Lewis Hamilton, but neither has raced in F1 on this circuit. It could be another classic tussle between our two title protagonists this weekend.
Back to the future?
In planning for this weekend’s race, all of the teams will have been putting their drivers through their paces on the simulator as usual. However, many of the drivers will have raced in Spielberg in their junior formulae days, giving them something to hark back on. It’s great to be back in a country that loves F1.
Ferrari hopes for better… which won’t be hard
In Canada, just eleven cars finished the race. Out of said eleven, Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen were classified in sixth and tenth place respectively; nothing short of terrible. This weekend, the Italian marque will hope to bounce back at a race it has won on five occasions, including the last Austrian GP in 2003. Good points for both drivers must be the target this weekend.
It’s good to be back
Austria’s return to the F1 calendar was funded and brokered by Red Bull’s billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz, and it has bucked the trend of the sport’s recent global expansion. Another European race may mean another early start on Sunday for American fans, but boy-oh-boy is this race a special one. It’s a true ‘old style’ circuit, and with new style cars, it could be a thrilling event on all counts.
Austria – Facts and Figures
Track: Red Bull Ring
Laps: 71 Corners: 8 Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:08.337 (2003) Tyre Compounds: Super-Soft (Option); Soft (Prime) Last Held: 2003 2003 Winner: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 2003 Pole Position: Michael Schumacher 1:09.150 2013 Fastest Lap: Michael Schumacher 1:08.337 DRS Zone: Main straight (T8 to T1); T2 to T3
After two days, with both featuring a lot of rain, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is finally in the books for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
With Mother Nature intervening with rain and fury over both days, it’s understandable if there’s a sense of relief that the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park is behind us.
Still, as is usually the case, Barber produced plenty of thrills, and a few spills, across the weekend of racing.
A recap of big stories to emerge from the weekend is below.
Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head…
Rain races can be very fun and entertaining…if they’re able to run. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case on Sunday.
The undulating and picturesque Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most striking road courses in the country, and often produces some of the best racing anywhere. But, the nature of the track and its dramatic elevation changes can make it susceptible to standing water in heavy rains.
And that’s the exact scenario that played out on Sunday, with heavy and persistent rain hitting the track late in the morning, and hanging around the entire day.
While INDYCAR officials and Barber track crews worked tirelessly on Sunday to disperse the standing water, the rainfall was simply too heavy for them to make any impact.
“It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us,” said eventual race winner Josef Newgarden following the Sunday postponement. “We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much.”
Graham Rahal echoed Newgarden’s sentiments, also emphasizing poor visibility as a big factor in making the conditions too treacherous.
“It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue (on Sunday), no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in (on Sunday), but that’s life,” he explained.
Rest assured, Firestone makes a strong rain tire, and IndyCar teams, drivers, and track crews are more than equipped to handle a rain shower from Mother Nature. But, Sunday’s weather was simply too extreme.
Newgarden Shines in the Rain and the Sun
About the only thing as powerful as Mother Nature during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.
Last year’s IndyCar champion was quickest at the end of Friday’s practices, scored the pole on Saturday, and led all but nine laps across Sunday and Monday.
And his leads were always decisive. He quickly gapped the field when racing started on Sunday, holding down a gap of as much seven seconds over teammate Will Power in the early laps. And on Monday, he gapped the field by as much as 27 seconds during the second half of the race.
Only outside circumstances could have prevented Newgarden from getting to Victory Lane…and that nearly happened. A late rain shower in the final minutes created split strategies across the field, with Newgarden among those opting for rain tires, while Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais gambled by staying out on slicks.
Hunter-Reay, however, jumped into the pits soon after for rain tires, a move that helped him eventually finish second, while Coyne and Bourdais gambled that the track would not get wet enough to force them to pit.
Alas, with only a few minutes remaining and the rain getting heavier, conditions became too slick and Bourdais was forced to pit, handing the lead back to Newgarden and dropping Bourdais to fifth.
“More hectic than you would want at the end,” Newgarden quipped when asked about conditions at the end of the race. “It seemed like it was pretty straightforward all day. We weren’t having yellows. It was dry. Then that rain made it very nerve-racking.
Newgarden added that pitting for rain tires, and doing so early, was their best option, even though it opened the door for others to jump ahead.
“I think for us we did the only thing we could,” he said of their strategy. “We went to rains as soon as it intensified. We had to. I think it was the right thing to do, just because we’re in the lead, we have the most to lose by not putting on rains early.”
The victory, Newgarden’s second of 2018, moves him back into the championship lead with 158 points, 13 ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.
Ryan Hunter-Reay enjoyed a solid weekend following a troublesome day at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Andretti Autosport driver ranked in the Top 10 through practice, qualified a strong fourth, and ran a very clean race to finish second, his best finish of 2018, and he now sits only three points out of third place in the championship – he is currently sixth, with 113 points.
While teammate Robert Wickens has made more headlines, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is having one of the best early-season efforts of his IndyCar career. With finishes of fourth, sixth, ninth, and second to his name through four races, Hinch sits fifth in the standings on 118 points, and is keeping himself well within reach of the championship lead. A race win would do wonders for his championship standing, but the consistent start puts him in a good position heading into the month of May.
Conversely, four-time champion Scott Dixon has yet to finish on the podium in 2018 – his best finish is fourth at ISM Raceway. Still, at seventh in the standings with 107 points, Dixon is within striking distance despite the quiet start.
Elsewhere, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have had comparatively disastrous starts to their seasons. Power has hit the wall in three of the first four races, while Pagenaud only has a best finish of ninth, coincidentally at Barber this weekend, through four races. Power sits tenth in the championship on 81 points, while Pagenaud languishes down in 15th on 66.
He made not have made many friends out there, but Zachary Claman De Melo gave viewers some thrills after the Monday restart, pushing his way through the field despite being two laps down. It also created one of the highlights of the race, with he and Spencer Pigot going for a slide through Turns 7 and 8 (video below). For his efforts, Claman De Melo recorded the fastest lap of the race on his way to finishing 19th.
The Verizon IndyCar Series now has two weeks before their next race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11-12. However, the series will be plenty busy, with testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicking off next week.