June 23, 2014 (F1plus/Katie Grimmett).- Only Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen arrive in Austria with previous experience under their belts however under new employment, the circuit is now a shadow of its former self and will greet the drivers under its current name: ‘The Red Bull Ring’. Indeed, without the support of the Austrian-owned outfit, it is unlikely that a revival of the Austrian Grand Prix would have come to fruition.
Their success and seemingly endless pot of money has allowed the country back into the F1 fold to take its slot on the calendar once more.
Kimi Raikkonen is the most successful man on paper after securing a second place finish in 2003 – the last time Austria hosted a Grand Prix. His performance against Rubens Barrichello was impressive and the enigmatic Finn was (almost) smiling after his McLaren outpaced the Ferrari on the straights.
However, this previous triumph will count for very little as the returning circuit still sets an altogether unfamiliar challenge. Eleven years is a long time in Formula 1 and, besides which, the modifications to the 2014 models are extensive.
It may be fair to say that the Finn’s great performance, which placed him first in the championship standings, is not the most memorable moment of Austria’s Grand Prix run. In 2002, the victory once again belonged to Michael Schumacher with Ferrari’s main man still on winning form. In many people’s eyes, the win belonged to Rubens Barrichello and understandably so for only team orders cost the Brazilian the win - the image of his Ferrari slowing down in the final seconds is etched in the minds of fans the world over.
As the fall out surrounding the win began, (complete with a $1 million fine) the German appeared reluctant to add ten points to his championship haul and following heckles from the crowd, allowed his long-serving team mate, Barrichello to join him on the top step of the podium.
Ultimately, Schumacher was a dominant figure in 2002, not once failing to enjoy the champagne celebration of a podium finish, but the Austrian GP was controversial. Perhaps Michael Schumacher was not the unstoppable force we all assumed him to be?
The events of the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix were a case of déjà vu for some racing fans. At this same event the year previous, Barrichello conceded yet more points, gifting his championship-winning team mate with second place. It was Jean Todt who gave the orders, the now-FIA President’s dulcet tones commanding the switch to protect the championship hunt.
Schumacher and BArrichelo at the podium in 2002 (LAT Photo)
Team orders are a source of great debate in modern day Formula 1 and a repeat performance from any teams would not be accepted from its audience - fans now have a platform to make their voices heard. This year, Austria sits firmly in the middle of the European tour so may not hold the same baring to the title standings, it once did.
Regardless, Austria has always provided a back-drop for closely-fought and unpredictable races – we can only hope that 2014 will offer the same heroics. The 1982 Austrian Grand Prix is a classic example of unconventional racing results at their best as all eyes were on the Brabham pairing of Riccardo Patrese and Nelson Piquet after their front row lock out in qualifying.
It had been a difficult start to the season for the driver-owned team with eleven retirements curtailing their chances of championship glory. Midway through the race, the divisive line-up added yet another retirement to their scoring sheet, forcing the team to further question their mechanical reliability. If their positions on the front row were not unpredictable enough, the outcome of the 1982 Austrian Grand Prix certainly was.
It was an ‘on-the-edge-of-your-seat’ type race, the ones we all dream about. Brabham enjoyed a strong start and sat first and fourth following their trip to the pits, the first few pit stops to adopt the mid-race fuel and tyre combination.
Elio de Angelis was the eventual winner in a Colin Chapman designed Lotus-Ford. The winning distance, just five one hundredths-of-a-second, was just enough to hold off a fast-finishing Keke Rosberg at the chequered flag. The Swedish racer would later win the championship for Williams and his near miss in Austria is one of many memorable moments from his glory year.
It is perhaps strange to think that a country, which can boast fourteen drivers to its credit, has suffered such a lengthy absence.
Particularly when one looks back on the careers of Jochen Rindt, the first and only posthumous champion, and Austria’s poster driver, Niki Lauda. Their race pace and natural talent was undeniable and the latter’s Grand Prix debut at his home race in 1971 was certainly very memorable. Then an unknown entity, Lauda took to the helm of a March-Ford for his first F1 race.
The Austrian fought hard to race amongst the best in the world, forced to buy his way to a seat using bank loan after bank loan to prove his worth.
This race, whilst not his most successful, was a statement from a mentally-tough driver who would later become a racing legend in his own right. The number 26 car retired after just twenty laps but the symbolism remained; few drivers achieve a Formula 1 career and even fewer enjoy the roar of their home crowd in such unique circumstances.
Formula 1’s return to Austria is greatly anticipated and the unpredictable nature of a new circuit can only benefit the sport’s loyal audience.
Austria has provided some controversial and closely-fought race results in its illustrious history but with eleven years of catching up to do, the Red Bull Ring must live up to its expectations. No one driver holds the advantage this weekend but for the home team, nothing but a 1-2 finish will do.