For a small nation, Austria has had its fair share of star drivers. The late lamented Niki Lauda is probably the most famous: one of the greatest sporting champions in the world whose family nonetheless wanted him to be a successful businessman rather than a top racing driver. Five years before Lauda claimed his first title, Austria’s Jochen Rindt became the only posthumous world champion following his death at the 1970 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Rindt, born in Germany but brought up in Graz, was one of Formula 1’s very first superstars: a large than life legend whose rock and roll glamour was such that he even took to wearing full-length fur coats in the paddock. “On anyone else it would have looked ridiculous, but on Jochen it just looked majestic,” wrote Lauda in his autobiography.
None of the other Austrian drivers who came since them quite achieved the same heights of glory, but Gerhard Berger was the next most successful, winning 10 grands prix in a successful career with some of the biggest teams in the sport such as McLaren, Ferrari and Benetton. Back at the very beginning of his career, Berger was the very first driver to be sponsored by a small Austrian company trying to make a name for itself on the world stage. That company was called Red Bull, and Berger’s success was one of the reason why they continued to make their way in motorsport. Without Gerhard Berger, we arguably wouldn’t have the Red Bull Ring today – or even Max Verstappen.
The circuit has been known as the Red Bull Ring following a comprehensive refurbishment after it was bought by the energy drink giant in 2004, but the track’s origins can be traced back to the old Osterreichring in the 1960s, which then became the A1 Ring.
The circuit is nothing like the length and speed that it used to be, but the involvement of Red Bull, very much the local hero, has radically transformed the place – and the whole sport. Nonetheless, the home team has only won twice, in 2018 and 2019, courtesy of Max Verstappen.
Look around, and Red Bull is everywhere. They sponsor football teams, skiing teams and even own a comprehensive selections of aeroplanes in the Hangar Seven facility at Salzburg. Every year at the Austrian Grand Prix there’s a fly past, with a Red Bull-liveried polished aluminium Douglas DC6, built in 1958, being one of the highlights. Billionaire company owner Dietrich Mateschitz often flies them himself: part of a famous fleet known as the ‘Flying Bulls’ with the DC6 as the flagship. When it comes to stunts, nobody does it better than Red Bull – which is perhaps why they sold an astonishing 7.9 billion cans of drink last year.
Recently, it’s all been about Mercedes versus Red Bull in Austria, but the race lap record holder at the track maybe comes as a bigger surprise: Carlos Sainz, who set the current best race lap of 1m05.619s at the wheel of a McLaren last year. This year, the lap times at the Red Bull Ring could be even quicker, as for the first time, there’s a split tyre nomination there for the two grands prix.
Just like last year, there will be two races on consecutive weekends at the Red Bull Ring, but this time, the softest three tyres in the Pirelli F1 range will be used for the second race: a step harder than the compounds nominated for the first weekend. Softer tyres mean more speed, although the cars are heavier and slightly slower this year, with a 10% reduction in downforce. Such is the constant pace of evolution though that team engineers often manage to make up the difference.
With Red Bull closer than they have ever been to lifting the title since 2013, expect a scintillating pair of race weekends on home territory. The hills are alive.
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