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.
If you hear Zach Veach humming or even singing The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” this weekend at Road America, there’s a jolly good reason for it, as they say in England.
Much like the way teammate Alexander Rossi has nicknamed his car “Baby Girl,” Veach has nicknamed his road and street course car “Penny Lane,” thanks in part to his girlfriend being a huge Beatles fan who has helped Veach also become a fan.
The Stockdale, Ohio native also has a nickname for his speedway car: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”
Veach has had a tough rookie season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He comes into this weekend’s Kohler Grand Prix in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, ranked 15th in the standings with 147 points, but an already massive 210 points behind series leader Scott Dixon.
He could easily sing The Beatles’ “Help!”, given how the season has gone so far.
The 23-year-old Veach’s best finish – and only top-10 showing thus far in 2018 – has been fourth at Long Beach – in “Penny Lane” of course, a finish he hopes to equal, if not improve upon, Sunday in central Wisconsin.
He’s struggled since Long Beach, though, failing to finish higher than 12th in the following six races: 13th at Birmingham, 23rd in both the Indianapolis Grand Prix and Indy 500, 12th and 13th at Detroit’s Belle Isle and 16th at Texas.
He also finished 16th in each of the season’s first two races at St. Petersburg and Phoenix.
But Veach hopes to be singing another Beatles song on the 4.048-mile road course: “Twist and Shout” in hopes of having a strong finish on the twisting 14-turn kettle moraine course.
Veach has a good reason to be optimistic for success at Road America.
“Road America has actually been pretty good to us in USF 2000 and Indy Lights,” Veach said. “I think we have four or five podiums there. In 2016 (racing for Belard Auto Racing), we set the track record in Lights, won the first race and finished third in the second. I’m hoping that speed continues (in Sunday’s IndyCar race).”
While he acknowledges this season’s struggles thus far, Veach also knows he’s learning and improving.
“I think the biggest thing is the braking capabilities of the Indy car,” he said. “You’re going from steel rotors (in Lights) to carbon pads. Honestly, it feels like you can brake 150 feet deeper going into a corner with an Indy car, but at the same time, you’re also going into that corner 40 to 50 mph faster in an Indy car than in a Lights car.
“Our first year in Indy Lights wasn’t anything spectacular, and then we came back and almost won a championship. I think that’s just the way I go about things. I take inches at a time instead of miles, but I feel like we’re getting to that point where we need to be in IndyCar.”
Veach is no stranger to Andretti Autosport, having raced with the team from 2010 to 2014 and then signed a three-year contract to drive in the Verizon IndyCar Series last fall.
“To have the opportunity to race with Andretti is almost perfect for me as far as growth and development,” Veach said. “With the three teammates I have and the skill and experience they have, it’s allowed my learning curve to accelerate that much quicker.
“That’s the tough thing. It’s a rookie season and when I look back at it and look at numbers, you may say things didn’t look good at certain races. But when I look back at them, I say to myself where that’s when I did my best fuel save, or that’s when I figured out how to fix an issue with braking. There’s so much I’ve picked up.
“But I feel like these last two race weekends have been arguably the most comfortable I’ve felt. Detroit, I was looking so great for 12th and 13th, and Texas, racing from 16th to 3rd and then I made a mistake (finished 16th). I finally feel confident enough to say I can race these guys and can race them hard and the car is finally starting to feel small, if you want to say that, like I’m driving the car instead of being stuck behind somebody else.”
While he’s learned from all of his Andretti Autosport teammates — Rossi, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay — Veach feels he is closest to fellow young driver, Rossi.
“We’re both on the younger side of the spectrum of our teammates,” Veach said of Rossi. “And he’s the newest guy learning IndyCar, so he got that experience a little sooner than the other guys as far as time.
“For me, I’m in much the same position he was in two years ago. He’s been real helpful in helping me get up to speed.”
With eight more races remaining in the season, Veach’s primary goal is to finish his first full IndyCar season in the top-10. He’s currently 66 points behind the 10th-ranked driver, teammate Marco Andretti.
“If we could be top-10 in the championship, that’d be great, that’s what we’re hoping for,” Veach said. “We want to try and be consistently in the top-10 in the second half (of the season) in race results, too. And if we could get some top-fives, that would be fantastic.
“We just have to keep improving on qualifying, which shows how well you understand the car and how you can get the most out of it. I feel our race speed has been good, but when you’re starting at or near the back, it’s hard to move forward.”
Even so, there’s still good reason for optimism for Veach.
“Andretti always gives its drivers some of the best cars, so at the end of the day, it comes down to you learning as much as you can and learning as much as you can get out of a race-winning car,” he said. “I’ve just been lucky. This is my sixth season with Andretti if you count the ladder series, and it always has felt like a family.”
And if he has a strong finish Sunday at Road America, don’t be surprised if Veach hums or sings another Beatles song, “I Feel Fine,” as he leaves the legendary road course.