The ninth round of the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship sees teams and drivers in the mountains of Styria at the Red Bull Ring, home of the Austrian Grand Prix. Since returning to the F1 calendar in 2014, the race at the relatively short 4.318-km circuit (it is the fourth shortest on the calendar behind Brazil, Mexico and Monaco) has rapidly re-established itself as a favourite among fans due to its picturesque location, varied programme of events and the prospect of close racing on the fast and flowing configuration.

Spectacular F1 races took place there from 1963 to 2003, initially on the airfield at Zeltweg, and later on the current grounds of the Red Bull Ring. “The turbo years [in the 1980s] were the wildest time in Formula 1. And the Ring was tailor-made for a gut-feeling driver like me, and simply the best racing track in the world – ideal for my senses, so that I could experience and push the limit. When it came to corner-sequence, extreme speed and undulations, no other track could offer such an exciting mix – it was motor racing in its purest form,” recalled Gerhard Berger, a former F1 driver.

The modern Red Bull Ring has the same routing as that used from 1996 to 2003 on the layout designed by the Grand Prix track architect, Hermann Tilke. Part of what makes this race track attractive is the sloping terrain around it which creates a natural arena. Natural areas help solving the discrepancy between safety and the closeness of the spectators to the action in the best possible way.

In the best spots, one practically sits above the race cars and can spot the drivers in their cockpits as they break, tackle accelerate out of the corners which gives one the feeling of being part of the action; at most other tracks, you are so far away you have to use binoculars. Certain places allow views of two-thirds of the track, and it is not unusual to witness the now-rare spectacle of cars powersliding; the road surface lends itself to powersliding more than newly designed tracks.

A medium downforce track, the Red Bull Ring is made up of 10 corners that take in the region of just 68 seconds to navigate. However, the circuit packs plenty of thrills into a little lap time, especially at corners such as the tight Turn 3 (Remus) where historically most overtaking moves are attempted and the highspeed Turn 9 (Rindt).

The circuit configuration places the emphasis on good traction and straightline speed. To aid in the quest for traction, the tyres on offer are the softest available.

As the race starts today ( 8 pm Malaysian time), Sebastian Vettel heads the Drivers’ Championship standings despite a fourth-place finish last time out in Azerbaijan that came as a result of in-race penalties applied following a controversial collision with Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton’s race, meanwhile, was compromised by a pitstop to repair a cockpit surround that robbed him of the lead and eventually saw him finish in fifth place.

14 points now separate the top pair, with Valtteri Bottas – who has pole position in today’s race –  closing in on the leaders after a second place in Baku that got him 28 points behind Mercedes team-mate Hamilton. In the teams’ battle, it is Mercedes-AMG in the lead, 24 points ahead Ferrari, with Red Bull Racing in third place a further 89 points down.

On the dispute between Hamilton and Vettel which has been resolved (Vettel called Hamilton and the latter said he has accepted the apology), Mercedes-AMG boss Toto Wolff had this to say: “There is great respect between Mercedes and Ferrari, two iconic motor racing brands, not only because of the challenging battle on track but because we are pushing for the same goal: to see Formula One flourish. The new owners could hardly have asked for a better start to this new era than this epic battle between Mercedes and Ferrari. Add to the mix a Red Bull team that can win as well and it makes Formula One into a great spectacle.”

The race starts at 8 pm Malaysian time tonight.

[Chips Yap]

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