Don't overlook Austria: the Red Bull Ring is one of the greatest circuits in modern F1


The Österreichring was legendary in its day, but the Red Bull Ring has rightfully cemented itself as a regular on the F1 calendar

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez at the Red Bull Ring

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez (both Red Bull-Honda) and Lando Norris (McLaren-Mercedes) on the warm-up lap before the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

Grand Prix Photo

In a Formula 1 season packed with over 20 different venues, from much-loved classics to new favourites, the Red Bull Ring is easily overlooked.

It doesn’t have the hyped build-up of this year’s Miami Grand Prix, nor the bright lights of a night race but the Austrian Grand Prix should, by all rights be regarded as a jewel in the calendar.

With the shortest lap time of the season, drivers are never far from one of its many overtaking spots, its challenging sections, or the atmospheric grandstands that burst with cheers (or boos) and the odd emission of orange smoke.

It makes for plenty of entertainment. We’ve seen Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton go head-to-head for a podium spot, there’s also been Max Verstappen‘s controversial overtake on Charles Leclerc in 2019 while three seasons prior, Nico Rosberg collided with Hamilton on the last lap to try and take the lead.

Yet, bewilderingly, there’s a popular opinion that the Red Bull Ring lacks soul, that it’s a boring lap and that because of how short it is, the driver challenge isn’t really there.


The Red Bull Ring is the scene of Lando Norris’ first podium in F1

For many, the current track is overshadowed by its previous incarnation: the Spielberg venue was first used for a F1 race in 1969 when the legendary Österreichring went beyond what is now turn one to swoop up into the Styrian mountains before looping onto the current back straight via the very fast, right-handed ‘Dr Tirok Kurve’ bend.

That exhilarating configuration was used until 1987 which was the year Stefan Johansson had a run-in with a deer that had escaped onto the track. Its high-speed corners and lack of run-off is gone for good. Even if it could be revived, major adjustments would be needed to comply with modern F1 standards.

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So we’re left with the Red Bull Ring, which — historic comparisons aside — is among the best on the current calendar.

Let’s start with the entertainment factor. Following Turn 1 is a long uphill run to the hairpin which has provided big drama through the years. With DRS available up the hill, drivers are then often tempted to stick it down the inside of Turn 3 in a high-risk, high-reward lunge.

It was there Verstappen overtook Leclerc for the lead in 2019, and where it all came tumbling down for Rosberg as he tried to pass Hamilton in 2016. In 2020 the Ferrari duo came together in a big incident amongst the chaos on the opening lap.

The action doesn’t end there because drivers suddenly go into another overtaking spot with that back straight before the off-camber Turn 4. it’s not easy: Sergio Perez and Alex Albon have both tried to make moves stick at that corner and ended up in the gravel, but overtaking isn’t meant to be a breeze.


Plenty of Dutch fans make the journey to Austria due to its close proximity

The new-generation of cars offer the hope of even more opportunities as they follow more closely through the high-speed sections.

While it provides entertainment in abundance, the Red Bull Ring is still a highly technical track which drivers are susceptible to getting wrong. We saw it in qualifying, with lap times deleted for running off track, both at the end of the lap and in Turn 1.

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The first corner is more difficult than it looks because it’s easy to go wide upon the exit, if taken too aggressively. That then impacts the run-in up to the hairpin, all giving anyone following a better chance of overtaking.

Then comes Turn 4 where drivers have often ended up in the gravel. That’s swiftly followed by Turn 6 where, again, it’s easy to run wide and and drift into the gravel — no vast, forgiving asphalt run-off here. It happened to Leclerc last year after engaging in wheel-to-wheel battle with Perez.

While bearing little resemblance to its previous incarnation, the circuit does still blend some of the old with the new, combined with an atmosphere that’s among the best in F1. The Verstappen faithful travel in their numbers, and it doesn’t matter who you’re backing, the flare-filled grandstands bring exuberant soul.

It’s rare to find a track which provides entertaining races virtually every season, yet the Red Bull Ring delivers and it’s more than worthy of being recognised as one of the best in F1.

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