This weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix is the first since 2003, with the event’s return being brokered by track owner Dietrich Mateschitz (a.k.a Mr. Red Bull). The addition of another central European grand prix to the calendar has been welcomed by most in Formula 1, and it certainly looks set to become a mainstay on the calendar once again.
Of the current drivers in Formula 1, just three raced in the last grand prix here: Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button. Felipe Massa is the only other veteran of the track, racing in 2002. He worked as a test driver for Ferrari in 2003.
Therefore, surely their experience will put them at an advantage when racing in Spielberg this weekend?
“I don’t think so,” explained Massa when asked that very question. “It’s better to know the track, but I think now most of the drivers, they learn the track in the simulator as well, so for sure it’s better to learn. It’s also a long time ago.
“I think it will also be learning for us as well. We see tomorrow. I hope everything starts in a good way in free practice one, learning the track and then it shouldn’t be a problem any more.”
Fernando Alonso was equally as dismissive about experience giving him an edge in Austria, saying: “To be honest, I don’t remember anything. We raced in 2001 and 2003 and I have no memories. Too long!”
Instead, it might be the younger generation that actually has the edge. They may not have raced here in Formula 1, but they have in their junior racing series.
Last year, Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat took part in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship round at the Red Bull Ring as a guest driver. He scored pole position for all three races, and came home in second place on each occasion. He’ll have the memories of those races in his mind.
Of course, F3 and F1 are hardly comparable, but it still must count for as much of an advantage as racing a V10 F1 car around here over ten years ago.
A new circuit to contend with is hardly anything new in Formula 1, though. The drivers have had to contend with new, green circuits in recent years such as the Circuit of the Americas, Yas Marina, and Buddh International Circuit, and with the Russian Grand Prix coming up, only getting a first taste of a track in the simulator is not a problem.
Takuma Sato cast a big shadow on the world of IndyCar racing last May when he became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500.
But there was another shadow of sorts cast along with Sato’s Indy 500 win: he and the prestigious Borg-Warner Trophy, given to each year’s winner of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, are virtually identical in size.
The Trophy is the same height as Sato, 5 feet, 5 ¾ inches tall. And the respective weight of both the Trophy and Sato are the same: approximately 113 pounds.
Try putting that on a mantle in your house.
That’s why Sato was so happy to receive the Baby Borg Trophy — a miniature version of the Borg-Warner Trophy — Wednesday night in Detroit. It’s much more manageable for the mantle in his house: 18 inches tall and five pounds.
“It’s such an honor to win the Baby Borg finally, eight months after the race, it’s been an unbelievable journey,” Sato told NBC Sports. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to win the 500 and it has just gone on and on. It’s just a significant moment in my life. It’s been fantastic.
“Right now, I haven’t really decided yet (where he’ll put the coveted Baby Borg). It’s going to my home in Indiana right now. But of course, everybody wants to see it. After that, I haven’t decided, but I’m sure it’ll get a special place.”
Even though the Baby Borg is a pint-sized version of the real trophy that was presented to Sato in victory lane in Indianapolis last May, it also has the same meaning as the big trophy and served to get Sato’s excitement pumping to where he’s already counting down the days to the 2018 Indy 500.
And even more important, it will be the first time he returns to Indianapolis as the defending champion.
“(Winning the 500) has changed my life,” Sato told NBC Sports. “But what I do is exactly the same, to try and be as fast as possible when racing.
“But all the environment, the people, all the cheering and being called an Indy 500 champion, I never imagined how deep and how far it goes, just the power and energy that the Indy 500 had.
“I just never realized how much the tradition and the prestigiousness of it. It’s been fantastic and I’m sure when I go back there to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in four months as the defending champion, it’ll be a whole other dimension. I’m sure it’s going to be a whole lot of pressure, but I’m sure to enjoy the moment.”
Sato, who turns 41 on January 28, will return to the 500 this year, but with a new team. He left Andretti Autosport after last season and returned to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, for whom he previously raced for in 2012.
Now that he’s won one Indy 500, Sato wants to make it two in a row.
“It’s a huge, another task and a new dream,” he said. “I’m excited for the new season and to go for another 500 (win), it’s another completely new dimension. Like Michael (Andretti, who he drove for last season) said, obviously, we’ll be competing against each other in the new season, but tonight we celebrated together. I think it’s going to be a real good season for me. I’d love to get another win there, of course.”
But not if Andretti has anything to say about it.
“He’s not allowed to win again,” Andretti laughed while also speaking to NBC Sports.
Sato enjoyed a victory lap of another sort last month when he accompanied the Borg-Warner Trophy to his native Japan for a two-plus week tour of the nation.
It marked the first time in the Trophy’s 82-year existence that it has ever been outside the U.S.
Everywhere Sato and the Trophy went drew large crowds, from Honda Racing “Thanks Day” at the Twin Rings track at Motegi to a visit to Mount Fuji, a meeting with 850 members of Sato’s fan club, and also included a two-day run in the atrium of Honda’s World Headquarters in Tokyo that had fans lined up for hours to see the Trophy and take photos of it and Sato.
“The reaction was just massive,” Sato said. “For myself, it was a dream come true, but at the same time, for a country with that history, it was an unbelievable moment, particularly the first time when Hiro Matsushita did it (drove in the Indy 500 in the 1990s) so many years ago.
“So many Japanese drivers have tried to win such a historic race, I was just so proud to be part of it. The people were really excited. The passion, I’m really particularly happy to bring it to Japan.
“To go to Japan was a massive commitment by from Borg Warner and Honda. So many Japanese fans were able to see it physically and now they’re really looking forward to this year’s Indy 500 again. It was a great moment to us.”