Formula 1’s lost nations: Austria

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Niki Lauda and Gerhard Berger - Austria's last F1 champion and race winner

Last world champion: Niki Lauda, 1984
Last Grand Prix winner: Gerhard Berger, Hockenheimring, Benetton-Renault, 1997
Last Grand Prix starter: Alexander Wurz, Shanghai, Williams, 2007
Last Grand Prix: A1-Ring, 2003

Austria is the only European country on this list. It has had championship winners and dozens of Grands Prix, but no race and active driver today.

Austria’s F1 history

World champions

Austria has produced two Formula 1 world champions. But the first, Jochen Rindt, died in a crash at the Italian Grand Prix before claiming the title.

A prolific winner in Formula Two, Rindt made his F1 debut in the first Austrian Grand Prix, at the unloved Zeltweg aerodrome track in 1964. He joined Lotus in 1969 and although he found Colin Chapman’s cars competitive, they were also fragile. Rindt was leading at Silverstone in 1969 when his rear wing broke.

He led the championship comfortably in 1970 when, at Monza, he was killed in a violent crash at Parabolica during practice. No-one overhauled his lead by the end of the season, and he became the sport’s only posthumous world champion.

Two years after Rindt died, Niki Lauda arrived on the F1 scene. Born into a wealthy family that did not support his motor racing efforts, Lauda made it into F1 via BRM, but was quickly snapped up by Ferrari as new manager Luca di Montezemolo set about turning the team back into title winners.

Lauda won the 1975 and 1977 championships for Ferrari – and it’s no great leap to suggest he might have won the ’76 title as well, but for his horrific crash at the Nurburgring. A move to Brabham left Lauda disenchanted with F1, and he quit at the end of 1979. But two years later Ron Dennis lured him back Lauda won his second race back in the cockpit.

In 1984, armed with the first turbo-powered McLaren, the wily Lauda edged team mate Alain Prost to the title by half a point – the tightest winning margin ever. After a final win at Zandvoort the following year, Lauda quit again – this time for good. However, he would return to the F1 pitwall in Ferrari and Jaguar colours in the 1990s and 2000s.

Berger and the A1 era

Austria’s best championship hope after Lauda was Gerhard Berger. After winning for Benetton at Mexico City in 1986 he was snapped up by Ferrari, but although more wins followed the car was never consistently quick enough to take on the dominant McLarens. Berger remedied that by joining the Woking team in 1990, but despite starting from pole position in his first race for them, he was rarely able to trouble team mate Ayrton Senna.

He returned to Ferrari in 1993 and spent his last two seasons at Benetton. The final of those, 1997, saw Austria return as a Grand Prix-hosting nation ten years since it had last held a race.

Throughout much of the sixties, seventies and eighties the Austrian Grand Prix was held on the sweeps and crests of the Osterreichring. For many years it was the fastest track in F1, and as a result was highly popular with the drivers. But the writing was on the wall in 1987 when the cramped start/finish line meant it took three attempts to get the race started due to persistent pile-ups.

The venue returned in 1997, now named the A1-Ring, and was the first example of what is now a familiar phenomenon in Formula 1: Tilke-isation. The fast corners were nearly all clipped into tight, blunt, slow bends. This meant it often provided decent racing, but much of the spectacle was lost. Its contract was not renewed after the 2003 race, and it is now owned by Red Bull magnate Dietrich Mateschitz.

Until recently the Austrian crowds had home-grown talent like Christian Klien and Alexander Wurz to shout on. But despite Mateschitz owning two F1 teams, and having Austrian ex-F1 driver Helmut Marko involved in his operations, there are no Austrians in F1 today.

Austria’ F1 future

Mateschitz does not seem too interested in bringing F1 back to the A1-Ring, though he has talked about holding DTM races there.

Klien and Wurz remain on the fringes of F1 as test drivers for BMW and the former Honda team respectively. But with little obvious chance of either of them getting a race seat they are increasingly turning towards sports cars. But these two represent the greatest chance of seeing an Austrian competing in F1 again, as there doesn’t seem to be many up-and-coming drivers from the country in the major feeder series.

More about Austria’s F1 drivers

Formula 1’s lost nations

The Osterreichring in its turbo heyday, complete with first-lap crash (1982)

Images (C) Red Bull / GEPA, Ford

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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20 comments on “Formula 1’s lost nations: Austria”

  1. Austria has had some great champions and drivers. I know the A1-ring wasn’t the greatest track on the calender up to ’03 but I always liked the layout of both the A1 and Osterreichring. It would be nice if they returned to Austria, even if it’s not at the A1-ring.

  2. While I became interested in F1 after all of the Austrain involvement had ended, I do enjoy driving the A1-Ring on the F1 2001 video game I have. Sadly, the A1-Ring fits in with those venues that Bernie dosen’t need- he thinks the less races in Europe and the more in Asia, the better.

    As for drivers, while there may be no hot prospect at the moment, I can’t see Austria going more than a few years without someone popping up on the radar. There is tremendous wealth in the nation, and some young karter is going to stirke it rich one of these days.

  3. Niki Lauda is a real F1 great, the guy risked it all and even after one of the worst non-fatal accidents in the sports history he came back and managed to fight for the title again.

    I was never a fan of the A1 ring, they went too far when they redesigned it, they should have just sorted out the pit straight and first corner and left the rest of the track as it was.
    They sadly turned it into another generic F1 track and took away its best bits, just like they’ve done to so many others.

  4. Even If they haven’t any active racing driver, they have two teams in F1 grid, and I strongly believe that Mr. Matetzchist would very much like to have a gp in his country.
    I hope for Austria’s return, A1 ring was a magnificent circuit!

  5. A bit off-topic. Are Berger and Prost the only two drivers since late 80’s to drive for both Mclaren and Ferrari ?

    1. Well there’s now Kimi Raikkonen of course.

      I do like Gerhard a lot though. He’s intelligent, thoughtful and, since he has raced for McLaren, Ferrari and what is now Renault, he’d be my former driver pick to succeed Max… that’d be some Austrian involvment!

    2. And Nigel Mansell.

    3. And Stefan Johansson, but that was in the mid 80’s so he doesn’t really count.

  6. A1 had some decent races, although it wasn’t always necessarily down to the track: Trulli losing a win in ’97, Coulthard hitting Hakkinen in ’99, the farce in ’02. Hakkinen versus Schumacher in ’98 was a good race though, real clash-of-the-titans stuff while it lasted.

  7. I’ll buck the trend and admit that I really liked the A1-Ring. Granted it was not in the same league as the Osterreichring, but it produced good races and included that one special ingredient new F1 circuits generally lack: elevation.

    Give me the A1-Ring over the new Hockenheim any day.

  8. Yeah, the original Oesterreichring was an awesome circuit. The new A1-Ring ruined it for me – and I can’t believe after that hatchet job that we all let Mr. Tilke carry on ruining circuits the world over!

    1. It’s not Mr Tilke’s fault.

      He does exactly what his clients ask him to do, if you want to blame someone for the state of modern circuits then look no further than the FIA.

      They’re the ones who set the regulations regarding new circuits and they’re the ones who direct the planning of any new circuits and any redevelopment of existing circuits.

      Mr Tilke has given several interviews stating that he’d love to build tracks with lots of changes of elevation as well as a variety of different corners but the poor guy is given design briefs and has to follow them.

      I read an article in a magazine once (think it may have been F1 racing) and they had CGI pictures of his dream circuit, it was built in a real valley in the Alps and had corners that looked a bit like the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca mixed with straights going up some serious inclines.
      Unfortunately the current regulations would never allow anything like this.

    2. True, and that’s something I don’t understand about the FIA, half the time it seems like their overbearing saftey views are only concerned with F1. Look at the new track in Argentina – its ok for the GT series but I imagine it’d be considered too dangerous for F1 – containing the best racing drivers in the world!

      Its like cancelling rally stages in Wales last year because it was too icy… nonsense!

    3. That new track in Argentina is amazing, the pictures & video’s Keith had on his articles about it made it look like a great circuit and after reading them I watched the replay of the GT race on motors TV and it was a really interesting circuit that would be perfect for F1.

      I’ve just read a comment on another article saying that Bernie is too preoccupied with flashy facilities and swanky corporate area’s while not caring enough about the actual track layout and I couldn’t agree more.

      The FIA really need to have another look at the rules regarding tracks, the limitations on gradient, types of corners and length of track could all do with being changed to allow the inclusion of some of the worlds great tracks.

  9. My views may not be shared on this, but I always enjoyed the A1 event and miss it not being on the calender. Unlike many ‘new’ venues that have come about in the last five years, the A1 had elevation change, and places to overtake.
    For example, back in 1999, Mika Hakkinen’s race looked dead and buried after being spun out infamously by his team mate, David Coulthard. With great skill and determination, Hakkinen came back from plumb last to grap a podium, keeping his championship hopes alive. I always felt this was one of Mika’s most underrated drives, yet showed perfectly that overtaking was possible at the A1.
    The long 190mph downhill charge to the tight righthand hairpin at turn two, with the Austrian mountains as a backdrop, was visually stunning, and was by far one of the best chances for overtaking, which Hakkinen exploited to its maximum that day.
    Three years later, Takumo Sato had a very lucky escape at that corner after being broadsided by Heidfeld’s spinning Sauber, which has to rate as one of the most scariest crashes of this decade.
    As for the drivers Austria has produced, the history books speaks for themselves. Two great champions in the mould of Rindt and Lauda, both legendary figures, and then Gerhard Berger, of whom I have always been a fan.
    What I like about both Lauda and Berger is that they both always give you a straight, no B.S answer. I can remember Lauda back in 2007, on asked about Fernando Alonso’s temperament in an interview, that he
    thought Alonso ‘only had to worry about his right foot’, in other words, drive.
    That and the fact that Lauda came back so soon to racing after his terrible crash, when other drivers would have retired, and achieve so much more, is aweinspiring. They just don’t make men like that anymore.
    As for Berger, he had his moments too. Some of his drives were really special, like in Germany in 1997 for Benetton. I great personality, something in rare numbers in Formula One these days.

  10. Rindt is one of those drivers I never saw but is still a favourite of mine. From descriptions and clips he was hugely talented, as well as being as bright a person as has ever sat in a cockpit.
    It often seems to be forgotten how involved he was with making the sport safer, too.

  11. The A1 Ring may not be of the same stature as its predecessor but year in year out it gave good races unlike Barcelona, Hungary etc etc which produce an unending stream of boring processions.

  12. I like the A1 Ring, the first corner, up the hill, always a great place for incidents and passing.

    I kinda miss now that I think about it.

  13. Hallo, I am Austrian and I can say that we are no lost F1 country, we have an austrian f1 team driving for the championships and you can hear the austrian antemn played for Red Bull Racing almost after every second race. We have also some young talented drivers, as Andy Soucek for example (he is driving with the spanish license but he has an austrian passport, but there is also Norbert Siedler etc.) however, you forgot to write that Gerhard Berger was the co owner of Torro Roso and Franz Tost is still the boss there. And our home GP is the Hungarian GP where you can see thousands of Austrians every year. In Budapest at the Grand Prix,there is also a special austrian red bull tribune… In aprox. 2 hours you can reach Budapest drivning from Vienna, the road to Zeltweg was also 2 hours long, so there is no different. You must understand that there is just 1 race for us in middle europe and it is enogh because the ticket prices are really high… (cheapest € 100,– but golden tickets for € 500,–). So everybody has a chance to see F1 live and I am doing so for many years, I was never at Zeltweg for a F1 GP, but about 10x in Budapest, but Monza and even Hockenheim, Nuerburgring or Spa or Monaco is not so far away for a real F1 fan (all max.1000 km).

  14. Formula One is also one of the most popular sports on TV, maybe the most popular event. Just the downhill in Kitzbuehel (skiing) or football/soccer matches with the national team have a better audience… And if you look into austrian newspapers, after football and alpineskiing f1 is no.3 of all sports. We are still a crazy F1 nation, unfortunatelly we are really small but it doesn’t matter because F1 is no sports with national teams…

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