The race in Austria last weekend was a very special one for me, as it marked my first attendance at a Formula 1 weekend. This fact had long been a bugbear of mine, so it was pleasing to get this particular monkey off my back. One week on from the race, I thought it was a good chance to reflect on the experience, and offer some observations from a fan perspective.
Our itinerary began with a flight to Munich – not only were the cost advantages of flying there and picking up a rental car clear, but it also gave us an opportunity to enjoy a spectacularly scenic five-hour drive through the Austrian mountains, stopping in places such as Salzburg, Graz, and of course the Arnold Schwarzenegger museum in Thal (if you’re ever in the area, definitely worth a visit!). We arrived at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg on the Thursday, a beautiful setting for a circuit surrounded by the stunning mountains of the Alps. The elevation changes make for exceptional vantage points all around the track, and the dramatic clouds add to the magnitude of the setting. The weather for the duration of the four days we were there was constantly threatening but rarely punishing – when the sun was out it was very warm, but as soon as that sun disappeared a chill descended leaving many looking for coats and jackets.
The fans in attendance were largely local, one must assume that Brits are generally holding out for the Grand Prix at Silverstone next weekend. The majority of people we came across were Austrian or German, unsurprising when you take in to account the cancellation of the German Grand Prix this year. Red Bull had a very wide following, and the respect and goodwill felt towards Dietrich Mateschitz is plainly evident from the Austrians. It did surprise us to see the vast number of Ferrari fans, along with Red Bull they had the best representation of flags and team colours, but with Austria being just a short trip over the border from Italy it did make some sense!
We opted to camp for our time in Spielberg, staying close to the action and avoiding the daily 2-hour round trip from Graz. The facilities were (thankfully) surprisingly clean, functional, and well-maintained, and I didn’t have to queue for a shower even once!
On arrival we were aware that the pit lane had been opened up for the fans to walk through, offering some great access. Understandably this was very popular, but a patient wait in the main grandstand was rewarded with a walk on the grid and a view of the cars close-up whilst they were being assembled for the weekend. Lotus and Sauber treated the fans to some pit-stop practices, a treat for any F1 to witness!
The Friday brought an exciting day: my first opportunity to see the cars on track, and they did not disappoint. I took my position in the grandstand on the left going up the hill from turn 1 to turn 2, giving me a fantastic view of more than half the circuit. Not only did I have the first two corners in sight and the long straight in between, there was also a great view of turn 4, and the beautifully flowing ‘S’ of turns 5 and 6. In the distance I also had a glimpse of the last corner (a prime position for Rosberg’s off at the end of Qualifying).
I know a big deal has been made of the noise of the cars since the regulation changes last year, so I was very keen to experience it for real, and it must be said: I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Yes, they’re not as loud but believe me, they are still most definitely loud. It is odd, when they are further around the track you don’t hear too much, but as they pass right in front of you then you very much feel it. What I have enjoyed so much about these quieter engines is that you hear other little details in Formula 1 – the tyre squeal, the cars bottoming out, the roar of the crowd when witnessing a particularly close overtake; I am enjoying hearing these details instead of the all-consuming V8. It is also nice to watch the race without needing earplugs – after all, what is the point of overly loud engines if people do everything they can to make it quieter?
A highlight of the weekend was the ‘Legends Parade’ put on with some epic cars from the past including the McLaren MP4-2 and MP4-2B, the Ferrari F188, and a Brabham BT52. Great drivers from the past including Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Gerhard Berger and Nelson Piquet put on a treat for the fans on the Saturday afternoon (which they termed ‘familiarisation laps’) and before the race on Sunday. It was very special to witness these cars, for as long as they lasted anyway! Several breakdowns were seen very quickly, a source of great amusement to the crowd, but Lauda stayed out there for by far the longest in his McLaren.
A quick note must also be made to the GP2 series, in which we saw some exceptional talent spearheaded by McLaren’s protégé, the mightily impressive Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne – his pace was incredible to watch, definitely a star for the future. Special mention also to Sergey Sirotkin, a lot was made of this youngster when Sauber were rumoured to be picking him up, but it’s not all talk – the boy’s got skills!
The Sunday brought with it some fantastic weather for racing – beautiful sunshine and clouds, with a dry race expected. A spectacular air show preceded the national anthem from The Flying Bulls; it really was something to behold, flying around the small circuit giving all fans unbelievable views of the impressive jets.
Before long, the race was underway, Rosberg beating Hamilton off the line for the lead before the Raikonnen-Alonso crash after turn 2. I could not see the incident where I was, but shared in the relief when both drivers climbed out of their cars OK. The race itself was an absorbing one, with many battles to keep an eye on, particularly at the end between Massa and Vettel, and Verstappen and Maldonado. Further to my last blog a month or so ago, my view has not changed as regards the gaps between the cars; drivers are struggling to get really close to the car in front, in my mind because of the intricacies of the front wings and how unstable they become in dirty air – a situation not conducive to good racing; watching the GP2, the drivers in that series run noticeably closer to the car in front. That said, the drivers in F1 are exceptional, still trying to do what they can leading to some ambitious and risky moves, and you really do have a full appreciation for the skills of these drivers.
Following the race, fans were allowed to invade the track and enjoy the celebrations from across the pit wall. This gave us another opportunity to walk down the grid, catch a glimpse of the winner, and all the melee that follows the Grand Prix race. Unfortunately there was no Eddie Jordan to chant at, but Toto Wolff responded to the cheers, fist-pumping to the crowd in a rather amusing fashion!
Thank You Austria
All in all, Austria offers a fantastic venue for a Grand Prix – stunning views, a crowd which is genuinely excited about motorsport, and a lovely flowing track which offers amazing vantage points for fans. I would definitely recommend it for any fan, as would I a Grand Prix weekend anywhere! I look forward to my next one.
Lastly, I cannot publish a blog on the Austrian Grand Prix without a mention to those who lost their lives or were injured during the attack in Graz during qualifying on the Saturday. A truly shocking incident, my thoughts go out to the families of those affected.
The embedded video below is a collection of clips that I took, I only really did this so in years gone by I can watch a video without having to watch each individual clip, but as it has been made seems silly not to share!