ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 19 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   The Austrian GP Preview

A1-Ring, Spielberg by Ewan Tytler, U.S.A.

Formula One travels to Zeltweg, in the foothills of the Styrian Mountains of Southern Austria, to the home of the Austrian Grand Prix: the A1 Ring.

The A1 Ring was built on the site of the legendary Osterreichring (Austria Ring). The Osterreichring was completely redesigned to meet the 1997 FIA Grade 1 Circuit License requirements by Hermann Tilke, the designer of the Sepang circuit in Malaysia. Going against the 1990s fashion, Tilke actually eliminate the Hella Licht Chikane and widened the dangerous pit straight to avoid first-lap pile-ups like those that plagued the 1987 Austrian Grand Prix. Sadly, the awe-inspiring 180° Bosch Kurve was destroyed to make room for the Gosser Kurve but fortunately Tilke added the Remus Kurve, an unusual uphill hairpin, that provides one of the the best overtaking areas in Formula One.

At 4.326 km, the A1 Ring is average in length and is still a faster than average circuit, despite following the straight-slow corner-straight-slow corner-twisty infield formula. Ferrari's Technical Director Ross Brawn explains the technical challenges of the A1 Ring: "The main problem at Austria is the altitude. We are high and the air is thin enough for the engine to feel a real difference. The engine has trouble 'breathing' at this altitude, and will feel slightly down on power, so we have to make sure that the set-up of the cars is perfect. Generally, we have to run a medium to low downforce set up to give the cars the speed on the straights, but the drivers do not want to have to handle a car which is undriveable in the in-field just so that they are fast down the straight. With the throttle open for over 60 percent of the lap, we rely on Shell to provide a first-class lubricant to ensure that the engine is running cool even at high speeds and under constant strain. We also pay particular attention to the brakes and their cooling systems here because of the constant demands on them, especially in the first twenty seconds of the lap."

Shell's Motorsport Account Manager Ian Galliard, added: "With the engines running so hard in the high altitude, we have to make sure that they do not overheat. Shell Helix Ultra gives the engine maximum protection and yet allows it to rev freely. The track gets faster as the weekend goes on and more grippy rubber is laid down on the track and pit stops will once again play an important part in the outcome of the race. Therefore we will try to give Ferrari a high degree of pit stop flexibility by providing a fuel which gives both power yet will burn at a slow enough rate to allows Ferrari a wide range of pit stop options before the race."

Being situated in an Alpine region, the A1 Ring can have changeable weather. Although all four of the Grands Prix held at the A1 Ring have been dry, rain is a possibility as happened during qualifying for the 1998 race. How much holding the race in May will affect the weather and the car set-up is an unanswered question. Initial weather forecasts suggest a cold, overcast weekend which could put the Michelin teams at a disadvantage. The circuit is snow-covered during the winter which leaves a lot of debris on the circuit every year.

Pitstops and Tyre Strategy

Attrition is average at the A1 Ring. Although 15 cars were classified in 1999 and 14 were classified in 1997, only 12 cars were running at the end of the 1997, 1998 and 2000 races, while 13 were running in 1999. Michelin Motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier stated: "Nowadays the Austrian Grand Prix takes place on a remodelled, 4.326km/2.688-mile track of which we have experience through GT racing. It is known for being rustic, but it also twists, rises and dips. The track surface at the A1-Ring is very particular: it is only very mildly abrasive, a complete opposite to Barcelona in some ways. And here, once again, we are stepping into the unknown with some new compounds our engineers have conjured up. We also have to bear in mind that it rains quite often in Austria." Dupasquier added, "We are a long way from getting on top of all the nuances linked to the introduction of traction control, but we will continue to work closely with our partner teams to come up with the best possible tyre solutions."

Tyre wear is very unpredictable at the A1 Ring. Gerhard Berger completed the 1997 race on one set of slicks. In last year's race the first eight finishers adopted a one-stop strategy. Those on a one-stop strategy pitted between laps 38 and 49 while those on a two-stop pitted on laps 17 and 43-45. Tactics are also variable, since Mika Hakkinen won in 2000 by pitting early while Eddie Irvine won in 1999 by pitting late.

Down the Pitlane

Ferrari have extended their lead in the Constructors' Championship to 18 points. Last week, Ferrari completed a marathon 5-day test session with 5 different F2001 chassis at Fiorano. In response to lingering doubts about the reliabilty of the F2001's suspension and/or brakes after DNFs at Imola and Catalunya, Rubens Barrichello stated: "I can't say that everything always works 100%. Testing work aims to ensure the maximum level of reliability, but we know that problems can always arise. As for the cause of my retirement in Barcelona, I can say that it was due to a failure we had never seen before. It had nothing to do with the failure that Michael suffered in Imola, or what happened to Luca in the January test at the Circuit de Catalunya. There is no specific problem with the suspension." Ferrari won the 1999 Austrian Grand Prix with a superior pit-stop strategy and they have scored 22 points at the A1 Ring.

Michael Schumacher has extended his lead in the Drivers' Championship to eight points, after a rather lucky win at Catalunya. Schumacher admitted, "With all the constant acceleration and braking combined with the buffeting the corners give your neck, Austria is a tiring race and takes its toll on the car and on Rubens and me. It is very challenging from a technical point of view but I am confident that I have Ross (Ross Brawn, Ferrari's Technical Director) and Shell doing the best job in the paddock behind me."

Nevertheless, the A1 Ring has been Schumacher's bogey circuit. He has never won, set a fastest lap or set pole position in Austria. Schumacher finished third in 1998 after going off the circuit and sixth in 1997 after recieving a 10 seconds stop-go penalty for ignoring a yellow flag. Schumacher's highest grid position was 4th in 1998.

Rubens Barrichello is still third in the Drivers' Championship and set a personal best time at Fiorano last week. Barrichello qualified and finished 3rd in last year's race and he consistently qualified 5th for Stewart in the previous three Austrian Grand Prix.

McLaren is still second in the Constructors' Championship and set the pace at the Valencia test session last week. Team Principal Ron Dennis stated: "There is still a long way to go in the World Championship and the team is in a strong second place. Despite the obvious disappointment of the last race, there were positives to be taken from the team's performance and we demonstrated that we have a good package."

McLaren is the most successful team in the short history of the A1 Ring, having won twice and scored 38 points on this circuit. McLaren were stripped of 10 Constructors points last year due to a missing paper seal on Mika Hakkinen's MP4/15. In 2000 and 1998, McLaren got everything right but in 1999 they let victory slip through their fingers with a mixture of driver error and inferior strategy. Dennis's ill-judged comments after the Spanish Grand Prix about presumed 'brain fade' on Coulthard's part reopened one of the cracks in the McLaren team. These comments were later withdrawn when a software glitch was found to be responsible for Coulthard's MP4/16 stalling.

David Coulthard has slipped to second in the Drivers' Championship. "We proved in Barcelona that the car is quick in race conditions as I was able to pass people on a track that is not famed for its overtaking opportunities, whilst working my way up from the back of the grid into a points position," Coulthard recently said. "Now we have to go out in Austria and try to secure the desired result. I have finished in the top six in every race so far this season, I believe I am the only driver to have done so, and I intend to continue this consistency at the A1 Ring."

Coulthard is the most consistent driver at the A1 Ring, having finished second in all four Austrian Grands Prix. Coulthard holds the race lap record (1:11.783) for the A1 Ring, which he set in last year's race. The 1998 Austrian Grand Prix was his best performance, setting fastest lap as he clawed his way back from last place after being skewered by Mika Salo's Arrows at the Remus Kurve. In 1999 he punted Mika Hakkinen's car off at the Remus Kurve and then lost the race by pitting too early. Coulthard's highest qualifying position was 2nd, set in 1999 and 2000.

At this point, Hakkinen is 32 points behind Michael Schumacher in the Drivers' Championship and it would take six McLaren 1-2 victories with Schumacher finishing 3rd for Hakkinen to draw level with David Coulthard and overtake Michael Schumacher. Alternatively it would take 8 victories by Hakkinen with Schumacher finishing 2nd for Hakkinen to draw level with the Ferrari team leader. With 120 points up for grabs in the championship, talk of team orders at McLaren is premature and would probably be a disservice to Coulthard's reputation. On the other hand, failure to fully support Coulthard at this stage would give Michael Schumacher the opportunity to divide and conquer his way to the Drivers' Championship.

Hakkinen reflected: "Over the past three years, I've had a good record at the A1 Ring with three podium finishes, two as race winner. I enjoy driving at the circuit, which has similarities to a karting track with its short length and tight corners and it also offers numerous chances to overtake. Although I had a unsatisfactory end to the Spanish Grand Prix, I have not lost my belief that I can win the Drivers' World Championship and I am looking forward to getting back to the racing in Austria."

Hakkinen won the 2000 and 1998 Austrian Grands Prix, finished 3rd after setting the fastest lap in the 1999 race and blew his Ilmor-Mercedes engine on the first lap of the 1997 race. Hakkinen is the most consistent qualifier at the A1 Ring, setting pole position in 1998 and 2000, qualifying 2nd in 1997 and 3rd in 1998.

Williams are still third in the Constructors' Championship. Williams have scored 15 points in Austria, finished first and third in 1997 and sixth in 1998. BMW's Motorsport Director, Gerhard Berger, is the only driver to have competed in Austrian Grands Prix at the Osterreichring and the A1 Ring. Berger, a native of Worgl, commented: "The A1 Ring should be quite a good track for us. It is very demanding on engines and requires more full throttle than on any other Grand Prix track, which is positive for us. A well-functioning traction control system will be an advantage here so hopefully after the test in Valencia we should be a step ahead compared to Barcelona. Michelin tested at the A-1 Ring with the development car last year so with all these factors combined we are assuming this should be a positive race for us. Despite the fact this is a home race for me, I have never had particularly good experiences at home races in my career. Whenever I thought I had got it all right it just seemed to all go wrong!"

Team Principal Sir Frank Williams added: "Not the most demanding of tracks, but the scenic surroundings in a way make up for this. Altogether a much quieter sort of race meeting as there are usually less people and fewer cars, but very good access and very pleasant hotels. I always enjoy going there, especially with a powerful engine!"

Ralf Schumacher is still in 4th position in the Drivers' Championship. Ralf revealed: "I decided to move to Austria, therefore at the A1 Ring I am going to have my first home race of this season. The track is not very demanding on drivers, nevertheless racing here has always been quite exciting. Unluckily in the last years I didn't have that much luck and I hope this time it's all going to change. I will do my best to get a good result to our team." Ralf finished fifth in 1997 and again in 1998 at the A1 Ring for Jordan, and his highest grid position was 8th in 1999 for Williams.

Juan Pablo Montoya has jumped to 7th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Montoya commented: "I am going to Austria in a confident mood, especially after my second place in Spain. It is frustrating when you don't finish races, so I just wanted to make it to the chequered flag, and a second on top of that was the icing on the cake. I am looking forward to going to Austria because I have good memories of the A-1 Ring. I have raced there twice in F3000 - winning in '97 and coming second in '98. On paper it doesn't look a good track for the team, as our results over the last couple of years have not been very good, but in reality we have definitely improved our entire package and we are looking forward to demonstrating that on that circuit. We have had a positive test this week in Valencia and I hope we can see the results of this in Austria." Montoya also set pole position in the 1997 F3000 race.

Benetton are still seventh in the Constructor's Championship but were over two seconds off-the-pace at Valencia. Nevertheless, Technical director Mike Gascoyne revealed on BBC radio: "We're looking at the second half of the season, so don't write us off just yet. You'll see big steps coming on the engine around Magny-Cours, Silverstone time. Renault are very confident, making a lot of progress, the same is true of the chassis as well. We've made a lot of personnel changes at Benetton and again, you don't see the results of them for six months, a year after you've done them. You can't expect people to come in and the next day redesign the car and make it go quicker. We're building a team for the future and that's taken a bit of time. It's very frustrating for all of us, especially the drivers and both of them are doing a fantastic job under the circumstances." Benetton scored two points at the A1 Ring.

Giancarlo Fisichella has slipped to 12th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Fisichella set his first and only Formula One pole position during the wet qualifying session of 1998, but he came to grief at the Remus Kurve. Fisichella finished fourth in 1997 for Jordan. Jenson Button has been struggling so far this season, especially during qualifying, but he has finished each race in 2001. Button was slowest driver at the Valencia test. Button finished 5th for Williams in last year's race after qualifying 18th.

Jordan are still fourth in the Constructors' Championship and were competitive in last week's testing at Silverstone. A Jordan team statement read: "Following two problematic days the team was successful in running similar programmes for both drivers. The programme focussed on tyre evaluation, an extensive range of suspension geometries and testing evolution engines for Honda and the day was a good conclusion to the three day test." Jordan have scored 10 points at the A1 Ring, finishing fourth in 1997 and 1999 and fifth in 1997 and in 1998, but in last year's race, neither Jordan finished.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen has slipped to seventh equal in the Drivers' Championship. Frentzen finished 3rd in 1997 for Williams and 4th in 1999 for Jordan. Frentzen's highest grid position was 4th, in 1997 and 1999.

Jarno Trulli has climbed to sixth in the Drivers' Championship. Trulli drove the race of his life in the 1997 Austrian Grand Prix - after qualifying third, he led the first half of the race, consistently setting fastest laps, until he suffered an engine failure while lying second with twelve laps to go. Trulli's only finish in Austria was 10th in 1999, and he was eliminated in the first corner accident at the start of last year's race.

BAR have consolidated their sixth position in the Constructors' Championship, after Jacques Villeneuve gave the team their first podium finish. BAR set the pace during last week's tests at Silverstone and so prospects - and morale - are high.

Olivier Panis has slipped to 11th in the Drivers' Championship. Panis missed the 1997 Austrian Grand Prix following his leg-breaking accident at the 1997 Canadian Grand Prix. His highest grid position was 10th in 1998 for Prost but his clutch failed on the grid. Panis finished 10th after qualifying 18th in the 1999 Austrian Grand Prix.

Jacques Villeneuve has jumped to ninth equal in the Drivers' Championship. Villeneuve won the 1997 Austrian Grand Prix, setting the qualifying record of 1:10.304 and the fastest lap. In 1998, Villeneuve finished sixth after a consistent performance, but he did not finish in 1999. In last year's race, Villeneuve finished 4th after qualifying 7th.

Jaguar were surprisingly competitive at Valencia last week. Team Principal, Bobby Rahal, stated: "We're naturally disappointed with the result of the Spanish Grand Prix but on the other hand, I am very encouraged by the team effort that was demonstrated over the weekend. Mark Ellis who recently joined us as chief race engineer is bringing leadership and experience into much needed areas. Both drivers have worked hard in the run-up to this race and our four-day test in Valencia went well. Engine and tyre testing has been responsible for taking up the bulk of our time at tests over the past few months but Valencia was well received by the drivers, particularly Eddie, because they worked on set-up and balance. We are pushing forward with the aerodynamic improvements required, and these changes will be applied very soon. The Michelin tyres have proved competitive in dry conditions and we have been working hard with Michelin on wet compounds. We artificially wet the Valencia circuit on the final day and conducted long runs with both drivers in an effort to prepare ourselves for what Austria might bring."

Jaguar's aerodynamic team, led by Mark Handford, is working on an improved floor and rear diffuser that is expected to be introduced on the R2 at the Candian Grand Prix. The team have yet to score a point in the Austrian Grand Prix but both R1s finished last year's race with Johnny Herbert finishing 7th.

Eddie Irvine revealed: "I'm looking forward to Austria, not least because I missed this race last year as I had to be flown back to London for tests after suffering with abdominal pains. It's difficult to say what sort of result we can expect, but I do know that the four days of testing I did last week in Valencia were very positive. We managed to generate good mileage, most of them productive. So far this year, like most of the teams, we have concentrated on tyre and engine development. Last week, while continuing with this we also got down to some serious set-up and car balance work and I feel we have made progress and learnt a great deal about the Jaguar R2.

"Coming to Austria this early in the year, there is a good chance of bad weather and that will mean a more representative test of all the new electronic aids on the car that we used in Barcelona for the first time. Although we didn't have an easy time in Barcelona two weeks ago, one thing I was pleased about was that, while other teams seemed to have problems, we had a trouble-free time with our traction and launch control and all the other electronics developed by Cosworth and Pi Electronics. The team did a great job and I won't be too worried if it rains here. The circuit itself is nothing special, although at least there are some overtaking opportunities. The fact I won here in 1999 means nothing. F1 doesn't stand still and what happened two years ago has no impact on this weekend's race."

Irvine won the 1999 Austrian Grand Prix, taking a leaf out of Michael Schumacher's book of tactics. In 1998, Irvine finishing 4th after slowing, under team orders, to allow Schumacher to pass, and his 1997 race came to an end after a collision with Jean Alesi at the Remus Kurve.

Pedro de la Rosa stated: "Our four-day Valencia test, however, was productive in that we learnt good things about set-up and balance - something we haven't done too much of because of tyre testing duties. We found improvements in the set-up and the handling. We also tried wet weather tyre compounds and I'm encouraged about the results we generated. The tyre war is getting very tight now and it will be interesting to see how it manifests itself in Austria if the weather is bad. On the other hand, we are expecting aero improvements to the car in the next couple of races and that should, I hope, allow Eddie and I qualify further up the pecking order. We are desperately in need of points and being further up the grid makes that challenge a more realistic one." De la Rosa did not finish the 1999 and 2000 Austrian Grand Prix. His highest grid position was 12th in last year's race

Sauber are still fifth in the Constructors' Championship. After testing at Silverstone, Jacky Eeckelaert, the Head of Sauber's test team, stated: "This morning Nick focused again on traction control work, including setting up the system to suit his own style in order to save time in Austria next weekend. We were also able to do further work on our launch control, and to continue evaluation of a new aerodynamic package. This afternoon we worked on the tyre programme that was delayed yesterday, determining the optimum compound for the Austrian A1-Ring." Sauber have scored two point at the A1 Ring from two 6th place finishes, in 1999 and 2000.

Nick Heidfeld is still fifth in the Drivers' Championship. "The good weather gave us a valuable opportunity to do some intensive work on traction control which will stand us in good stead in Austria," Heidfeld stated during testing at Silverstone last week. "The ability to programme the system to suit individual circuits and individual drivers has created a large range of settings, so such test work is essential if we are to get the best out of it. I feel we made a lot of progress in this respect today, as well as with our revised aerodynamics and tyre selection." Heidfeld collided with his teammate Jean Alesi in last year's race, after qualifying 13th for Prost. He had however a hat-trick at the 1999 F3000 race at the A1 Ring, winning from pole position and setting fastest lap.

Kimi Raikkonen has slipped to 12th equal in the Drivers' Championship and has not competed at the A1 Ring.

Arrows Team Principal Tom Walkinshaw commented: "It was good to get Jos's car home in Spain, so we were pleased with the new parts we put on the car. The test team have been hard at work running at Silverstone last week to get some more miles on the parts to support our package, so hopefully we can have a good weekend in Austria. We had a positive race there last year, so you never know." Arrows have yet to score a point at the A1 Ring. Their best finish at the A1 Ring was Damon Hill's 7th position in 1997, but neither Arrows finished in the past three Austrian Grands Prix.

Jos Verstappen finished 12th for Tyrrell in 1997 and his highest grid position was 10th, set in last year's race. Verstappen reflected: "Qualifying is always interesting at the A1-Ring. The whole grid is always very close together time-wise so it's possible to get a good position for the start of the race. The circuit has a lot of slow corners so heavy braking is required along with good acceleration. It's also a very low grip track which lessens tyre wear but can cause understeer. Overtaking is possible at the A1-Ring so it should be an interesting race."

Enrique Bernoldi finished 14th in last year's F3000 race after qualifying 16th, and he did not finish after qualifying 13th for the 1999 F3000 race. Bernoldi revealed: "I raced at the A1-Ring twice in F3000 so I know the track quite well. There are more slow corners than fast ones so it's hard to keep up a steady rhythm throughout each lap. I'm hoping to have a better race than I did in Spain and I'm happy to be going to Austria as it's a very nice country and it's good for me as I live nearby."

Minardi have been testing at Fiorano last week but were again about five seconds slower than the Ferraris. Minardi have also suffered a blow with the resignation of their Austrian Technical Director Gustav Brunner, who has joined Toyota's Formula One project. Minardi have yet to score a point at the A1 Ring, their highest classification was Marc Gene's 8th place finish in 2000. Furthermore, both Minardis finished in the 1999 and 2000 races.

Fernando Alonso finished sixth in last year's F3000 race at the A1 Ring after qualifying 15th, while Tarso Marques was exclude from the 1997 Austrian Grand Prix after his car was found to be underweight after qualifying.

Prost were about two seconds off the pace at Valencia. Team Principal Alain Prost won at the Osterreichring on three occasions, but his team has yet to score a point at the A1 Ring. Last year was a disaster for Prost, with their drivers eliminating each other at the Remus Kurve.

Jean Alesi has yet to finish an Austrian Grand Prix. In 1999, he ran out of fuel while in the 1997, 1998 and 2000 Austrian Grands Prix he was eliminated in collisions at the Remus Kurve. Alesi's highest grid position was 2nd in 1998 for Sauber.

Luciano Burti made his Formula One debut at last year's Austrian Grand Prix, substituting for Jaguar's Eddie Irvine. Burti finished a distant 11th after qualifying 21st. "The Austrian Grand Prix will be for sure always special to me, since it's where last year I ran my first Formula One Grand Prix," Burti said. "It is still a good memory although my debut was somehow hasty. It was so unexpected that my helmet was not even ready! The A1 Ring is a fast, low grip track, where it is difficult to find the limit, especially on qualifying. Even though racing there once was not enough for me to learn the circuit, I enjoyed it, and after testing with the team in Valencia, I feel ready and confident."

My Predictions:

If it is dry, I'm going to pick McLaren, Ferrari, and Williams as the top three teams for qualifying with Jordan and BAR and making up the top five.

Starting grid:

  1. Mika Hakkinen
  2. David Coulthard
  3. Michael Schumacher
  4. Rubens Barrichello
  5. Ralf Schumacher
  6. Jacques Villeneuve
  7. Jarno Trulli
  8. Heinz-Harald Frentzen
  9. Juan Pablo Montoya
  10. Eddie Irvine
  11. Olivier Panis
  12. Nick Hedifeld

The Austrian Grand Prix Preview in a Nutshell:

  • The A1 Ring is not regarded as a challenging circuit for drivers. Overtaking is easy and we can expect plenty of action at the Remus Kurve.

  • Have Ferrari solved their chassis problems? Can Michael Schumacher succeed on his bogey track to hold onto or extend his Championship lead? Will Barrichello keep the challenge from Williams at bay?

  • Can McLaren continue their domination at Austria? This could be crunch time for Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard, who are closely matched at this circuit.

  • Williams are the 'Best of the Rest', with Jordan close behind. Can Sauber and BAR close the gap at the A1 Ring?

  • Always in the points at the A1 Ring: Ferrari, McLaren, and David Coulthard.

  • Dark Horses: Jarno Trulli and Kimi Raikkonen.

  • Ewan Tytler© 2007
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