The in’s and out’s of the Austrian GP with Formula 1 have been akin to an off-again and back-with-it-again saga, where two lovers cannot stay apart with each other for long.
The Austrian Grand Prix held at Spielberg in the current firmament of the sport is a long-standing, suddenly vanishing and surprisingly enduring love story of sorts.
So how’s that?
It won’t be wrong to say that ever since its inception, in 1963, the Austrian GP kept falling off and returning to the racing calendar.
Having taken place from 1970 to 1987 and then, taking place after a decade from 1997 to 2003, it would slip off yet again.
It wasn’t until 2014 that it re-emerged on the schedule to become a regular fixture.
Though ever since marking a return, which was eight years ago, Spielberg has also played home to two Styrian Grand Prix, in addition to eight Austrian GP races.
As the season draws close to halfway stage, the picturesque venue serenaded by glorious Austrian mountains is at the scene of what could be a pulsating contest.
That’s provided Ferrari and Red Bull engage in a classic slugfest of speed over a 71-lap run spread over a 4.3 km track that’s as gorgeous as it is tricky to master.
Should Mercedes, though without much luck this season, suddenly rise to put up a fight to the two regular winners this season, we could get to see an enormously captivating 2022 Austrian Grand Prix.
With Russell’s redoubtable consistency and Hamilton’s resolve to overcome odds this season, the Austrian GP could well offer a James Bond-esque ‘Never Say Never Again’ proposition for the forthcoming fixture.
It could well be that the ultimate winner isn’t the one who you’d have placed your bets on, but who knows?
Though make no mistake. It’s a track where no driver has ever been able to claim a hat-trick of wins.
It’s also a track where the fastest lap of the race has been set on the event’s final lap, the occurrence having birthed legends of sorts.
Forget not the legend of “Last Lap Lando!”
With its slow turns and tricky corners, Austria demands tenacity and full focus from its pursuers for nothing little or else can warrant success.
Having said that, as we head to round eleven of the season with Red Bull still out in the lead with Ferrari fighting back, which dominant scenarios might come to play in Austria?
Not an awfully successful event for Lewis but a successful event for Mercedes
The Austrian Grand Prix may not be a hugely successful venue for F1 great Sir Lewis Hamilton, someone who’s won multiple races in Spain, Hungary, Great Britain and Abu Dhabi, to quote just some of the diverse destinations on LH44’s resume.
But when he won in Austria back in the day, he utterly dominated the rest of the pack.
However, it wasn’t before 2016, that the seven time world champion collected his maiden Austrian win.
But when Lewis took victory, he clinched a massive one at that scoring a grand slam in the event, which included snatching the pole, clinching the fastest lap as well as standing on the top step of the podium.
At the same time, of the ten teams contesting on the grid, only Mercedes have enjoyed an iron-fisted dominance of sorts here at Spielberg.
No other team barring Mercedes have won the event on four back-to-back occasions, starting from 2014 until the completion of the 2017 race.
Interestingly, during this time, as many as three different drivers from the Silver Arrows contingent struck gold, including – Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Will Austria continue to be happy hunting ground for Max?
With his vigour, confidence and elan, Max Verstappen is authoring a bold new chapter of Formula 1.
And the Austrian Grand Prix is, in some ways, a home race event for Max, given it happens to be Red Bull’s home race for starters.
Verstappen has won on four previous occasions here in Austria and each time he’s won, he’s demonstrated a greatly entertaining show of speed and fighting spirit.
That none on the grid comprising Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel have ruled Austria like the Verstappen has underlines the Red Bull driver’s dominance at the checkered racing venue.
Can the most successful driver of the venue enter record books again by clinching a fifth race win here? It’ll undoubtedly be one of the most interesting facets of the forthcoming race.
Should Max succeed in doing so, he’ll not only claim a special feat that even icons like Schumacher, Hamilton, Prost and Lauda haven’t achieved in Austria, but will also return to winning ways following a forgettable run at Silverstone that culminated in a lowly P7.
A special venue for Lando Norris
Lando Norris and Spielberg, the home of the Austrians as well as the Styrian Grand Prix, is quite the romantic saga that the Briton wouldn’t want to see end anytime soon.
For it was here two years ago that McLaren’s ebullient Lando Norris grabbed his maiden career podium.
Back then, it was just his 22nd race in the sport’s top flight having made his debut in Australia in 2019.
The smiling lad with a steely edge began the race from fourth on the grid. This was a pretty fantastic feat in itself in that qualifying. Norris outperformed a more experienced teammate in Carlos Sainz, then eighth on the grid.
For someone who is just out of teens, a podium finish against prominent names on the grid like Raikkonen, Vettel, Hamilton, Ricciardo wasn’t too bad, was it?
Having said that, the joy for Norris didn’t end with the remarkable 2020 drive at Spielberg; he’d clinch another podium the following year, landing himself a P3 again in 2021.
But here’s more.
Mathematically speaking, a third of Norris’s career podiums (6) have occurred in Austria. His best finish remains P3.
Moreover, when Norris achieved his maiden top three F1 finish here, he became the third youngest driver in the sport to claim a podium.
Having outperformed Daniel Ricciardo, such a huge talent in the sport, without much struggle, there’s little doubt that Norris cannot continue his red hot McLaren form in Austria.
The driver contesting in just his fourth season in Formula 1 is currently seventh on the table with 58 points.
Can the most successful teams in Austria extend their record?
McLaren and Mercedes are the teams with the most victories against their name at the track with six wins apiece.
McLaren, undoubtedly, an icon of the sport enjoyed a hat-trick of wins here starting from 1984 until 1986, where they excelled at the back of Niki Lauda and Alain Prost’s heroics; the Frenchman winning both the ‘85 and ‘86 events.
But after going winless for a decade, McLaren emerged with chart busting wins thanks to Mika Hakkinen winning the 1998 and 2000 Grand Prix. A year later, David Coulthard excelled for the British car winning the 2001 event.
Meanwhile, Ferrari first won at the straight-out-of-dreamscape venue thanks to the often undersung Lorenzo Bandini back in 1964. It would be a shame that Bandini, whose only F1 career win came here in Austria, couldn’t go long in the sport meeting a sad and untimely end aged just 31.
Thereupon, the sport’s most famous stable collected memorable wins in the years – 1970, 1999, 2002 and 2003.
And while the legendary Belgian Jacky Ickx drove home the 1970 triumph followed by Eddie Irvine winning for Ferrari twenty nine years hence that victory, it would be Michael Schumacher who’d be responsible for the successive wins in 2002 and 2003.
This brings us to the all-encompassing question whether either of the two teams can land on the top step of the podium in a few hours’ time?
It’s a question Ferrari would ideally like to answer with an affirmative response, riding high on the confidence of their Silverstone triumph.
But the possibility of Ferrari triumphing at Spielberg on July 10 is perhaps tied to a tantalising scenario. It’ll be interesting to see as to which driver gets the team’s full support should he land himself in a winning position.
Carlos Sainz, the sport’s most recent race winner – as also the driver with most podiums than Charles Leclerc wouldn’t want to be left out in the cold.
But wouldn’t Leclerc be the natural choice of the team to win should he be in a commanding position come Sunday?
Having said that, Ferrari will have to make a bold choice as following an enormously important win at the British GP, Sainz trails Leclerc by only eleven points. And the current scenario, unless you are treading in oblivion, is becoming a four way fight to the 2022 driver’s world championship.
Meanwhile, can Lando Norris, who all but won the Russian Grand Prix of 2021, find himself a victory in Austria and thus, spoil Ferrari’s party should it come to that?
It’s all to race on Sunday.
Austrian GP facts and milestones
Number of laps: 71
Jack Brabham won the first ever Austrian GP in 1963.
Jochen Rindt made his debut here.
Niki Lauda won his home race back in the eighties with Ferrari.
Lando Norris got his first ever career podium here.
Nico Rosberg has more wins here than Hamilton.
Order of winners ever since Austrian GP returned to the F1 calendar
2014 winner: Nico Rosberg
2015 winner: Nico Rosberg
2016 winner: Lewis Hamilton
2017 winner: Valtteri Bottas
2018 winner: Max Verstappen
2019 winner: Max Verstappen
2020 winner: Valtteri Bottas
2021 winner: Max Verstappen