Williams prepares to relearn in Austria this weekend

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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.

Michael Schumacher’s son to make F1 practice debut at Nurburgring

F1 Mick Schumacher
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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MARANELLO, Italy — Mick Schumacher, son of the legednary seven-time champion, will have an official Formula One drive during an F1 race weekend for the first time next week at the Nurburgring, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari said Tuesday.

Schumacher gets the practice drive in an Alfa Romeo on Oct. 9 on his home track in Germany as a member of Ferrari’s young driver program, taking over Antonio Giovinazzi’s car for the first session of the weekend.

“I am overjoyed to get this chance in free practice,” Schumacher said in a statement. “I’m going to prepare myself well, so that I can do the best possible job for the team and gain some valuable data for the weekend.”

The 21-year-old Schumacher leads the Formula 2 standings after winning races in Monza and Sochi. He won the European Formula 3 championship in 2018 and tested a Ferrari F1 car in Bahrain in April 2019. He also has done demonstration runs in his father’s old cars, most recently this month ahead of the Tuscan Grand Prix in a championship-winning 2004 Ferrari.

Michael Schumacher holds the F1 record with 91 victories, which Lewis Hamilton is on the verge of tying.

Ferrari said two other drivers in its academy program will also get practice drives in Formula One.

Callum Ilott, a British driver who is second to Mick Schumacher in F2, will drive an F1 Haas at the Nurburgring on the same day as Schumacher. Russian driver Robert Shwartzman will drive in practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Dec. 11, though Ferrari hasn’t said for which team.

The German round was added to the F1 schedule after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the season and will be officially known as the Eifel Grand Prix after a nearby mountain range. The Nurburgring last hosted F1 in 2013.