You never meet anyone who objects to the Österreichring. It may be a little difficult to get to, there may not be any Four Star restaurants or the area or Hilton Hotels nearby, or even a motorway system for getting away, but everyone is agreed that it is a really good circuit built only eleven years ago on virgin soil and carved out of a hillside so that its trace follows the natural contours of the landscape. It is very fast, very daunting, remarkably safe and a challenge to anyone who considers himself to be a Grand Prix driver. From World Champions to raw newcomers, all are agreed that it is a super circuit and that it is a joy to drive and race on it. The Austrians are friendly people, the organisation does not make problems, the spectators love the place and come in droves from Italy, Germany and Switzerland as well as from most other European countries and the attendance can easily top the 100,000 mark.
The Österreichring, the traditional home of the Austrian Grand Prix, has everything going for it, yet we arrived this year to he greeted with the sad faces of the local people and the resigned outlook that this was to be the last Austrian Grand Prix because Mr Ecclestone was demanding more money for his Formula 1 circus than the Austrian organisers could afford to pay. In addition Mr Ecclestone wants more races in the United States (dollars!), so needs to manipulate things to get rid of the less lucrative European races from the World Championship calendar. The Swedish GP has long gone, the Spanish GP is fast going, while Belgian and Holland are on the short-list and so it goes on. This may sound gloomy, but it is the way Formula 1 will go if it is not checked.
The Österreichring owners intended to improve the pits and paddock, which are becoming over-crowded, but with the Ecclestone sword hanging over the scene you cannot blame them for being reluctant to invest money in building for the needs of Formula 1. As far as the drivers and the racing is concerned there are no problems and the number of drivers who flew off the road at high speed in practice and the race, without harm to themselves was quite remarkable, which suggests that run-off areas, catchfences and barriers are pretty effective, The only hazardous thing about the Austrian GP is the habit of holding the race late on Sunday afternoon, for quite often bright sunny days deteriorate in late afternoon and rain comes in over the surrounding mountains very quickly.
At midday this year the weather was almost too hot, and Renault were not only anxious about their turbo-chargers but also about their Michelin tyres. By the time of the start, which was at 3 pm, it was distinctly cool, for grey clouds had appeared over the mountains to the north and the whole Zeltweg Knittelfeld plain turned grey. Fortunately nothing worse happened and the race was run in ideal conditions, but by midnight thunder and lightning arrived and the plain was swept by storms, with Monday morning very wet and nasty. Formula 1 has good luck and bad luck, and this time it was good luck. — DSJ.