Although he wasn’t part of the last Austrian Grand Prix in 2003, Felipe Massa does still have one prior start at the circuit – as a then 20-year-old rookie in the 2002 race, driving for Sauber.
As he and the rest of the Williams-Mercedes team head back this weekend, Massa expects a completely different challenge than what he faced as a first-year driver.
“There are very few guys who have driven the circuit which is a little advantage but the track and limit may have changed and the cars have changed so it won’t be the same as 11 years ago,” he said in the team’s advance release.
Still, he admits that the Red Bull Ring should be a fairly simple track to learn, with its point-and-shoot nature of mostly straights and right-hand corners.
“It’s not a difficult track to learn,” he said, plainly.
Teammate Valtteri Bottas doesn’t appear fazed by the prospect of racing at a new circuit.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the simulator to prepare of Austria as I haven’t driven the circuit before,” he said. “I have also spoken with Felipe as he is one of the four drivers who have raced this track in Formula One. Learning a new track has never been a problem for me and I have the practice sessions to get to grips with things. I have heard only good things about the track and the fans, so I am really looking forward to getting there.”
Track temperature and high-brake wear pose the biggest setup challenge this week, according to Williams’ Rob Smedley.
“The layout of the track can pose issues on the tyres, especially as the temperatures can vary to quite hot or very cold, this can also change quickly,” he said. “A hot track would affect the rear tires as there is a large traction requirement, however in the colder conditions we may suffer with front right graining at Turns Five and Six.
“There may also be brake overheating problems as it is a high duty track, which is something we will need to look out for. The track is short and there are 71 laps which will affect the race strategy so we will have to be more dynamic in this area.”
Williams won the first Austrian Grand Prix at the former A1 Ring in 1997 with Jacques Villeneuve driving, and Heinz-Harald Frentzen finished third that year. The team added another podium with Juan Pablo Montoya finishing third in 2002, albeit heavily overlooked given that year’s Ferrari team orders controversy where Rubens Barrichello pulled aside for Michael Schumacher on the last lap.
Williams also won in Austria in 1979 (Alan Jones) and 1987 (Nigel Mansell) at the A1 Ring’s predecessor, the Osterreichring.