ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 28

  The Austrian GP Preview

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

Leaving Magny-Cours in France, Formula One crosses the Alps 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. The last waltz at the Osterreichring was in 1987 which was the fastest race of that season with the pole time being 256.6 km/h. The start of the 1987 Austrian Grand Prix was delayed for an hour due to two consecutive pile-ups; six cars started from the pit-lane in the 3rd start.

The Osterreichring was redesigned by Hermann Tilke, the designer of the magnificent Sepang circuit in Malaysia, the Zhuhai circuit in China and the revised Brands Hatch circuit which is scheduled to hold the 2002 British Grand Prix. Instead of littering the Osterreichring with chicanes, Tilke completely redesigned the circuit to meet 1990's requirements. He widened the dangerous pit straight and reprofiled the corners to provide the run-off areas needed to obtain an FIA Grade 1 Circuit License required to hold a Formula One event. Sadly, the awe-inspiring 180 Bosch Kurve was destroyed to make room for the uninspiring Gosser Kurve but fortunately Tilke added the Remus Kurve, an unusual uphill hairpin that provides the best overtaking opportunity - but it is also a accident blackspot - more on that corner later.

Sir Frank Williams is an enthusiastic supporter of the A1-Ring, recently saying: "A challenging and fantastic race-track which is very popular with fans and drivers given its beautiful and charming country nature. The crowds always seem to enjoy the race weekend so much and I am continuously amazed how many people choose to camp in fields which are often very wet. Long may their enthusiasm continue!"

In contrast, Sauber's Mika Salo lamented that, "The Austrians have had traditionally a wonderful circuit. When they rebuilt it, I feel that the shorter modern version of the A1 has lost its former character. It is now a succession of three medium length straights and a twisty section as well, but offers a driver less in the way of a challenge than the old circuit did."

At 4.297 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. BAR's race engineers describe the Austrian circuit as a "high-downforce" track, although not in the same way as Monaco or the Hungaroring. It requires effective brakes, good levels of downforce to assist braking, and good traction to get through and out of the corners quickly. Chassis balance at this circuit is known to be more dependent on track temperature and other ambient conditions than at some circuits, while the slightly thinner mountain air means engines are likely to require a "mapping" adjustment.

Jaguar's Technical director Gary Anderson added, "The circuit allows for some variation in aerodynamic set-up. For instance you can run more downforce for qualifying but run a lower aerodynamic set-up in the race because you don't want to risk losing out in any overtaking battles at the slower turns. The big issue in qualifying will be to get the new tyres working well and finding efficiency from the brakes. The brakes are worked hard at the A1-Ring because the layout means the cars get up to speed then brake far a very low speed turn - a process which is repeated the whole way round."

BMW-Williams driver Ralf Schumacher explains the challenges of the A1-Ring: "The A1-Ring has a very low-grip surface and is made up of a combination of slow corners, with just two fourth gear turns at the Gerhard Berger and Jochen Rindt curves and three medium-fast sections. Interestingly, the circuit also has big changes in elevation. The start/finish straight is at the bottom of a hill, then the straight after the Castrol Kurve rises sharply towards Remus Kurve, the highest point on the track. At the A1-Ring the engine is highly stressed and the percentage of the lap spent on 100% throttle is one of the highest of any current F1 circuit." Local driver, Alexander Wurz added, "Times in qualifying will be very close there - maybe closest of the year."

Being situated in an Alpine region, the A1-Ring can have changeable weather. Although all three of the Grands Prix held at the A1-Ring were dry, rain is a possibility as happened during qualifying for the 1998 race. Amazingly, the circuit is snow-covered during the winter which leaves a lot of debris on the circuit every year. A spokesman for the Jordan Grand Prix revealed that "Melbourne-style" kerbs - which feature five centimetre higher steps - have been installed around the circuit and flagstones have been added to the inside areas to keep dust off the track. A third row of tyres has been added to the tyre barriers at all corners, secured with 12mm thick rubber bands.

Pitstop and tyre strategies

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 and 1998 races while 13 were running in 1999. Tyre wear is very unpredictable at the A1-Ring. On tyre choice, Bridgestone will again offer the teams a choice of soft or medium compound tyres. Technical Manager of Bridgestone Motorsport, Yoshihiko Ichikawa stated, "With its smooth surface and varied corners, the A1-Ring does not present any particular problems."

Gerhard Berger completed the 1997 race on one set of slicks. In last year's race almost everyone adopted a one-stop strategy except for Sauber's Pedro Diniz, who was on a two-stop strategy. Those on a one-stop strategy pitted between laps 35 and 46 while Diniz pitted on laps 24 and 52.

The Season So Far

Sunday's race is the 10th Grand Prix of 2000 and is the first race of the second half of the Formula One season. The constructors' title is a straight fight between Ferrari and McLaren with Benetton and Williams, some way back, in 3rd and 4th.

The season started with a runaway streak by Ferrari's Michael Schumacher that looked like a repeat of Nigel Mansell's 1992 season. McLaren's David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen struck back when the Ilmor-Mercedes engine became reliable. The first 9 Grand Prix have been won by only these three different drivers. Rubens Barrichello is still looking for his maiden victory while neither Giancarlo Fisichella, Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli, nor Heinz-Harald Frentzen have the equipment to challenge the Ferrari and McLaren drivers.

At this stage, with 80 points still to be contested, mathematically any driver could win the title. Realistically, the 2000 drivers' title is a contest between the Ferrari and McLaren drivers. The closeness of the season is underlined by the fact that each of the top four drivers scored a total of 10 points over the last 2 races.

The second half of the Formula One season has four fast circuits, (the A1-Ring, Hockenheim, Monza and Spa-Francorchamps), two medium-speed circuits (Sepang and Suzuka), the slow Hungaroring and the wild-card Indianapolis circuit. The second half of the season, with a majority of fast circuits, is likely to be more favourable for McLaren than for Ferrari but this has been a season of upsets and more unexpected results are possible as the season progresses.

The Teams

Ferrari still leads the constructors' championship by 6 points despite 4 DNFs. Ferrari won last year's Austrian Grand Prix with a superior pit-stop strategy and they have scored 18 points at the A1-Ring.

Michael Schumacher still leads the drivers' championship but 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. Schumacher will want to add this circuit to his CV. (The only other Grand Prix circuits where Schumacher has never won are Adelaide, Donington, Kyalami, Mexico City and Sepang.)

A cautious Schumacher commented, "What happened in France just proves what I have been saying before, that you cannot start thinking about the Championship so early in the season. It only takes a couple of races like the last one and suddenly I am the one with an uphill struggle to take the title."

Rubens Barrichello is still 4th in the drivers' championship. Barrichello was classified 14th in 1997 and has yet to score a point in Austria, but he consistently qualified 5th for Stewart in all 3 Austrian Grands Prix. Barrichello stated, "The competition is so close between us (Ferrari and McLaren) that it only takes a small thing to change the result completely."

McLaren is still 2nd in the constructors' championship and are now the most reliable team of the season with only 3 DNFs. McLaren were wise to avoid the distractions of the 'Silly Season' by extending the contracts of both of their drivers.

McLaren is the most successful team in the short history of the A1-Ring, having scored 32 points on this circuit. Their aerodynamic advantage is important at this circuit and in 1998 McLaren got everything right. In 1999, however, they let victory slip through their fingers with a mixture of driver error and inferior strategy.

Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix will be David Coulthard's 100th Grand Prix. The Scot is still 2nd in the drivers' championship after his victory at the French Grand Prix, and he is also the most consistent driver at the A1-Ring - having finished 2nd in all three Austrian Grands Prix. 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 last year's race he punted Mika Hakkinen's car off at the Remus Kurve and then lost the race by pitting too early. Coulthard's highest qualification was 2nd in 1999.

Coulthard's thoughts on Sunday's race: "It is way too early to talk about 'David Coulthard being world champion'. All I want to do is my best at each individual race. Maybe that might not be good enough for a win and I'll have to accept another position, but as long as I've done my best I'll be happy. But I want wins now, I've had enough second and third places in my career."

Mika Hakkinen is still 3rd in the drivers' championship and has been resting following the French Grand Prix. Team Principal, Ron Dennis explained, "Mika is only suffering from a bit of psychological tiredness. It's really of no concern, it's just that sometimes you need a holiday. I've made a mistake of not backing off on the drivers' testing duties, as their work is very hard for this part of the season. They need a psychological break, so Mika's having quite a long break now and David will have a holiday after the next race."

Hakkinen won the 1998 Austrian Grand Prix, finished 3rd - after setting fastest lap - in last year's 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, qualifying 2nd in 1997 and 3rd in 1998.

Benetton is still 3rd in the constructors' championship. Throughout the first half of the season Benetton have been inconsistent but have been reliable with only 4 DNFs. Benetton scored 2 points at the A1-Ring. This year the team is planning to use a new qualifying-specification Supertec engine which they tested at Silverstone.

Giancarlo Fisichella is still 5th in the drivers' championship and has been the most consistent driver of the season. 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.

Waithofen's Alexander Wurz finished 5th last year in his second Austrian Grand Prix after qualifying 10th. Wurz stated, "My home Grand Prix not only means racing in a nice atmosphere with the support of the fans, but also a lot of work off the track. My schedule is quite heavy, with lots of PR, sponsor appearances and media, and little time to rest. But that is pressure I can cope with and I am very strict about having some time to myself in order to prepare properly for qualifying and the race."

Wurz added, "(My goals for this season are) very clearly to win points and generally make up for the poor start into the season in the best possible way. We have good aerodynamic developments and a new spec. engine for the Austrian Grand Prix, so I'm quite confident of achieving this."

Williams are still 4th in the constructors' championship. After an unexpectedly successful start to the season, Williams have had 8 DNFs and have been inconsistent over the last few races. 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 the Austrian Grands Prix at the Osterreichring and the A1-Ring.

Berger, a native of Worgl, commented, "So far the season has shown that our package can be reasonably competitive on every sort of track. If the drivers and the engineers will get a good set-up for the A1-Ring and the technical side is reliable we should be able to be in the points, as in Magny-Cours. This is clearly our target. The Austrian Grand Prix is something special for me, of course, both before as a driver and now as Director of Motorsport for BMW."

Ralf Schumacher has consolidated his sixth position in the drivers' championship. Ralf finished fifth in 1997 and again in 1998 at the A1-Ring for Jordan. Ralf stated, "The race weekend in Magny-Cours was quite successful for the BMW WilliamsF1 Team and I am happy with my birthday present of two World Championship points. Last year we didn't have such a good performance at the A1-Ring, so we will be pushing very hard to improve in 2000. It would be great to finish within the points this year."

Jenson Button is still 10th equal in the drivers' championship. Button confessed, "The A1-Ring is completely new to me and it's going to take a little practice time to learn it. As usual I will be walking the track on Thursday - with Gerhard Berger - who will show me all the tricky bits of his home-circuit and explain to me how to make the most of this challenging circuit. After the French weekend, when I qualified 10th and ended the race in 8th position, I feel reasonably confident about my performance in Austria. Last week's testing in Estoril was positive as we made a few helpful changes and the car was feeling definitely better. I am looking forward to being on track again with the other teams though, in order to compare how competitive our car really is."

Jordan are still 5th in the constructors' championship but 8 DNFs show that their reliability has deserted them this year. Jordan have scored 10 points at the A1-Ring, finishing fourth in 1997 and 1999 and fifth in 1997 and in 1998. Jordan's Managing Director, Trevor Foster revealed, "We will have an up-graded engine for qualifying and the race itself and will be looking for a top six performance this weekend."

Jarno Trulli has climbed to 8th in the drivers' championship. Trulli drove the race of his life in the 1997 Austrian Grand Prix. After qualifying third, Trulli 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 last year's race. Trulli remarked, "I have good and bad memories from racing at the A1-Ring because of the experience of 1997. I normally race well in at this track as it suits my driving style. If I can qualify third as I did in 1997 that would be a fantastic result! "

Heinz-Harald Frentzen has slipped to 9th in the drivers' championship after the French Grand Prix. Frentzen finished 3rd in 1997 for Williams and 4th in 1999 for Jordan. Frentzen's highest grid positions were 4th in 1997 and 1999. Frentzen confessed, "I like Austria. The food is great and the people usually give me lots of support. I hope we can give them something to cheer about on Sunday."

BAR have consolidated their 6th position in the constructors' championship despite having 9 DNFs in 9 races. BAR's Chief Engineer, Steve Farrell, Chief Engineer stated, "As a team, we're just remaining focused on our plan for the year and trying not to be distracted by the inevitable ups and downs of a Grand Prix season."

Jacques Villeneuve won the 1997 Austrian Grand Prix, setting the qualifying record of 1:10.304 and the race lap record of 1:11.814. In 1998, Villeneuve finished sixth after a consistent performance but he did not finish in 1999. Villeneuve commented, "The result in France was good and gives us hope that the second half of the season will provide more points and some podium finishes. Everybody on the team is working really hard and it would be nice to see those efforts rewarded. I got pole position, won the race and set fastest lap in Austria in 1997, so I have good memories of the circuit. I would like to be able to go away with some more good memories this year."

Ricardo Zonta was classified 15th in last year's race after qualifying 15th. Zonta's thoughts on A1-Ring: "France was a big disappointment for me, so I really want to have a good result in Austria. The circuit is quite interesting and there are overtaking opportunities. I must concentrate on getting the best possible grid position in qualifying and then hope to have a good race."

Jaguar are still 7th equal in the constructors' championship despite 8 DNFs. Team founder Jackie Stewart never won at the Osterreichring and his team has yet to score a point in the Austrian Grand Prix. Technical Director, Gary Anderson stated, "Last week's test was very encouraging. Despite the weather we were able to complete our full three-day test programme and made some gains with revised aerodynamics and general set-up work. We now have a solid baseline for Austria, we just need to put into practice what we learned at the test."

Eddie Irvine is still 10th equal in the drivers' championship, and what a difference a year makes: Irvine won last year's Austrian Grand Prix by taking a leaf out of Michael Schumacher's book of tactics. In 1998, Irvine finishing 4th after deliberately 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.

Irvine commented: "It's always good to go back to a track where you had a good result the previous year and, of course, I won in Austria in 1999. The weather can be very changeable at the circuit, so I hope the storms keep away. The A1-Ring is a good place for spectators. We had a positive test at Silverstone last week, and I hope we can give them something worth seeing from Jaguar Racing."

Johnny Herbert finished 8th in 1997 and 1998 for Sauber. Herbert's highest grid position was 6th in 1999 for Stewart. Herbert commented, "I'm very much looking forward to going to Austria as I really like the circuit. It's not a particularly difficult one but I always seem to go well there so I'm hoping it will be my best race so far this year. Last year's Austrian race signalled a change of fortune for me and I'm hoping for the same this weekend. We completed some good work in testing last week, which I hope will stand us in good stead for this race."

Sauber are still 7th equal in the constructors' championship and have been very reliable this season with only 4 DNFs. Sauber worked on aerodynamic optimisation and engine mapping at Silverstone. Sauber have scored one point at the A1-Ring.

Pedro Diniz finished 6th in last year's race but he was another victim of the Remus Kurve in 1998. Diniz commented, "I like Austria very much. It reminds me of good moments, having finished sixth there in the past. I hope I can do something similar - or better -this year."

Mika Salo is still 10th equal in the drivers' championship and he has had little success at the A1-Ring with collisions at the Remus Kurve in 1998 and 1999. Salo's only finish in Austria was 9th in 1999 for Ferrari and his highest grid position was 6th in 1998 for Arrows.

Arrows are still 7th equal in the constructors' championship despite being the most unreliable team of the season with 13 DNFs. During this season Arrow have been competitive on low-downforce circuits like Montreal and they are hoping for similar results in Austria.

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 last year's race. In 1999, Pedro de la Rosa did not finish after qualifying 21st. De la Rosa stated, "I'm looking forward to Austria and we are capable of qualifying quite high up in the grid. Now we have to keep the pace during the race and cure some of the problems we have experienced with race set-up."

Jos Verstappen finished 12th for Tyrrell in 1997 and his highest grid position was 12th in 1998 for Stewart. Verstappen commented, "The A1-Ring is a circuit where no one can test so all teams are in the same boat. Hopefully, and I know we will, sort the car out to be better than in Magny-Cours. I think we will be able to learn some useful set-up information from testing at Silverstone to apply to Austria, and then hopefully qualify where we should be, closer to the front of the grid. I like the circuit, and there are some overtaking opportunities which should make it an interesting race."

Prost will want to put the first half of the season behind them-no points and 10 DNFs. Team Principal Alain Prost won at the Osterreichring on three occasions, but his team has yet to score a point at the A1-Ring.

Jean Alesi has yet to finish an Austrian Grand Prix. In last year's race, he ran out of fuel while in 1997 and 1998 his Austrian Grand Prix came to an abrupt end at -you've guessed it-the Remus Kurve. Alesi's highest grid position was 2nd in 1998 for Sauber. Nick Heidfeld had a hat-trick at last year's F3000 race at the A1-Ring winning from pole position and setting fastest lap. Team Principal, Alain Prost commented, "He has had a difficult time so far this season. He has had loads of problems in the races and it's true it has not been an easy situation, but during the winter he did some excellent tests. He just needs a bit of time to establish himself."

Minardi, the eternal optimists, have yet to score a point this season but they have had only 6 DNFs. Minardi finished eleventh in the Austrian Grand Prix of 1997, 1998 and 1999. Both Minardis finished in last year's race with Marc Gene finishing 11th after qualifying 22nd. Gaston Mazzacane finished 17th in the 1997 F3000 race at the A1-Ring and did not complete a lap of the 1998 race.

My Predictions

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

Starting grid:

  1. Mika Hakkinen
  2. David Coulthard
  3. Rubens Barrichello
  4. Michael Schumacher
  5. Heinz-Harald Frentzen
  6. Ralf Schumacher
  7. Jarno Trulli
  8. Eddie Irvine
  9. Jacques Villeneuve
  10. Giancarlo Fisichella

The Austrian Grand Prix Preview in a Nutshell:

  • Can Ferrari hold onto their championship lead? Can Michael Schumacher succeed on his bogey track?

  • McLaren have dominated the short history of this Grand Prix and they could have the advantage on Sunday. Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard are closely matched at this circuit.

  • Benetton are the Best of the Rest: Can Williams, Jordan, or BAR find pace and reliability at the A1-Ring?

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

  • Can Alexander Wurz score points at his home Grand Prix?

  • Who will lock horns at the Remus Kurve?

  • Ewan Tytler© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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