Your first impression of Styria is that it’s the greenest place in Austria. There are fields and meadows everywhere: a bucolic landscape of woods and forests, which cover around 60% of the local area. There are also wide valleys and a pervading sense of rustic tranquillity. It’s the greenest place in Austria in the political and environmental sense too, thanks to villages that fight rampantly against the inexorable march of a noisy and invasive progress, complete with historic centres that are the most rigorously forbidden to motor vehicles that Europe can possibly come up with. The traffic itself is sparse and diligently attentive to every speed limit, while the small hotels and restaurants of the region cling onto a lifestyle last seen in the 1960s and 70s. Television programmes are among the most discreet and conservative within Europe. Austria is all of this, and Styria even more so.
And yet, a remarkable phenomenon takes place every year in this peaceful Heidi-land, at the beginning of July. From out of nowhere comes a love of speed, for the sheer technicalities of racing. Formula 1 only returned to these parts in 2014, and the local farmers staged a vociferous protest at the time, claiming that the engine noise terrified their cows to the point that they were incapable of producing milk for at least a week. Bit by bit these protests fell silent, also because of the generous investments that Dieter Mateschitz – the boss of Red Bull and also of the circuit – put into the locality to ensure that everything would be perfect for the Austrian Grand Prix. After all, Austrians are famously organised. And even the houses around the circuit look like show homes during the grand prix, with gardens and plants in perfect order thanks to an army of gardeners provided by Mr Red Bull, who has also been known to give the residents free bicycles, in order to cut down on road traffic when the race weekend is on.