Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2019

Paddock Diary: Austrian Grand Prix day two

2019 Austrian Grand Prix

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What was really behind Red Bull’s efforts to bring back last year’s Formula 1 tyres, asks @DieterRencken at the team’s home track.

7am

Awaken. For a split second I wonder where I am: even after 300+ grands prix – thus at least 2000 nights away from home with all other Formula 1 travel – there’s a strange feeling of disorientation until realisation hits that its Hotel ABC in Place XYZ for Grand Prix 123. And that it’s Friday, thus a slightly relaxed day.

8am

Despite being on location I have some tedious paperwork to catch up on. That done I grab coffee and read the overnight news: It seems we departed Paul Ricard just in time, what with 43C forecast for Nice.

Although the mercury is expected to hit mid-30s here, at least nights are coolish (18C) on account of altitude and surrounding mountains. Indeed, during the drive down on Thursday, patches of snow were visible on mountain tops.

9am

Christian Horner, Paul Ricard, Red Bull, 2019Head for circuit – today’s talk will, of course, be about tyres, whether F1 will (or not) revert to 2018 construction covered by 2019 compounds to ‘spice up’ the show. In other words, resort to desperate measures to stop the Mercedes steamroller. The chief lobbyist is Red Bull boss Christian Horner, who in Canada predicted that if F1 reverted to last year’s rubber “you’d probably find nine teams happy with that”.

I wonder whether this is driven by an (alleged) clause in Max Verstappen’s contract that permits him to exit the team if it fails to win a grand prix by the summer break. With Honda unlikely to deliver winning engines by the end July and Mercedes on a roll, why not ‘spice’ things a bit by introducing a variable, then dress it up as ‘good for F1’?

Mulling the outcome, I forecast the vote will split the teams down the middle: 5:5. Mercedes will (obviously) vote against change and its customer teams (Racing Point and Williams) will follow suit. McLaren has patently sussed the current tyres and team principal Andreas Seidl is on record they “are pretty happy with how the tyres behave this year”, so four against change.

The regulations call for 70 per cent in favour of change, so that ensures the vote will fail to produce a change, but will another team vote against? Would Renault rather be beaten by customers McLaren than by Ferrari- or Honda-powered rivals? Conversely Ferrari and its two customers (Haas and Alfa Romeo) will vote for change, as will the two Red Bull-owned Honda-powered teams, so either way still 5:5.

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10am

Adrian Newey, Guenther Steiner, Red Bull Ring, 2019As I reach the circuit – despite special access for passholders the traffic is slow, primarily due to the number of coaches, mostly bearing Dutch registration plates. My WhatsApp pings: 5:5. It’s not just the on-track action that’s predictable at the moment.

11am

Head for a full English breakfast at Williams. I watch the start of FP1 over a plate of scrambled and bacon, and marvel at the layout of the circuit, which follows natural contours. Any wonder it delivers close racing? Think of circuits that deliver real challenges – Austin, Budapest, Monaco, Spa and Suzuka – and all feature undulations.

Then consider Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Shanghai: flat and featureless. Surely there’s a lesson in there?

1pm

Tyres, Red Bull Ring, 2019FIA press conference time and I ask why, if changing the tyre specifications is seen as a ‘silver bullet’, why not go for a tyre war? After all, different manufacturers would bring different philosophies to bear, making races more unpredictable.

The panel isn’t keen. “I think multiple tyre suppliers goes against the whole ethos of trying to compress the grid and improve the show,” says Racing Point technical director Andrew Green.

“You are going to end up with the haves and have-nots with respect to tyres. Currently we all have the same tyre and we can all do the same job, up and down the grid. I think the team that does the best job with the tyres should be rewarded for that so I don’t think that’s the right way to go for the show, to be honest.”

“While I accept it will not happen in the foreseeable future – if ever again – I don’t buy the reasoning, for during the most recent Bridgestone/Michelin ‘war’, they covered most of the testing bills, while teams didn’t pay for tyres. And arguably the performance pendulum swung back and forward more than it currently does.

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3:30pm

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2019After FP2, notable for ‘offs’ from Valtteri Bottas, Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen (the latter’s crash prompting a mass exodus of his orange-clad followers) it’s time to hit the interview trail.

There’s a bit of gap before the sit-down sessions start, so I catch up with the German Grand Prix promoters. They reckon they’re on 55,000 race day tickets sold – and hope to hit 60,000 – but admit they won’t hit the heights of Zandvoort, which has started the ticket sales process ahead of next May’s event. The Dutch promoters hope to attract 100,000 punters on each of the three days, and if does exceed supply – as projected – a lottery system may kick in.

Based on today’s experience I can’t help but wonder how quickly that crowd would thin out if Verstappen bins his Red Bull on lap one. Still, the immense popularity Verstappen has inspired is wonderful to see, and reminds of the Schumacher era, when over 100,000 fans packed both Nürburgring and Hockenheim each year. Such is the power of special drivers from countries with a passion for motorsport.

7pm

Day done, I head for the Bachwirt Restaurant for outdoor dinner organised by Christoph Ammann, whose CAM company runs the security at all grands prix. If you’ve attended a grand prix you’ll have noticed all the blue/yellow clad folk checking passes and access – that’s CAM.

I’m sat at a table with Austrian journalists, all of whom knew Niki Lauda well, and over dishes of crumbed chicken – followed by local cake-like dessert with berry mousse and ice cream – they regale me with tales of the great man’s antics.

On one occasion Lauda was trying to bag a place on a fully-booked flight with no chance of a seat; not even for the world’s most famous Austrian. No problem: Niki asks to see the captain, whips out his pilot credentials and requests to fly on the ‘jump’ seat. “No problem, Herr Lauda…”

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2019 Austrian Grand Prix

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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16 comments on “Paddock Diary: Austrian Grand Prix day two”

  1. On one occasion Lauda was trying to bag a place on a fully-booked flight with no chance of a seat; not even for the world’s most famous Austrian. No problem: Niki asks to see the captain, whips out his pilot credentials and requests to fly on the ‘jump’ seat. “No problem, Herr Lauda…”

    LOL, typical Niki “get things done” Lauda. :)

  2. Great Niki story- what a pilot !

  3. Red Bull are trying to win through politics not racing. They have failed to deliver a car to run effectively on the standard part every team uses : the tyres.

    Red Bull didn’t show any particularly good pacel using the old tyres but they reckon they can sabotage Mercedes by going back to them.

    I hoped that the change would be agreed so Mercedes could still beat them and so deliver an appropriate level of karma to the unsporting who have failed to deliver a car to compete with Mercedes.

    1. Supposedly there’s a saying along the lines of “Where there’s money there’s politics”. Whether it is true or not, the fact is Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, and every other team on the grid make “political” decisions every day. So today Red Bull want Mercedes to race using last year’s tyres. Next week Renault will want something … maybe “sharing aerodynamic technology”, especially from Red Bull. A few weeks after that Haas will want a revision of the rules on fuel temperatures. Some time later Williams will want chassis built by Dallara to be banned. The point being isn’t so much whether the argument is valid or not, but that could that argument somehow justifies the presence of that team in F1, and especially they deserve the money given to them this year.
      As far as I can tell the tyres used this year are pretty much as good as last year’s, or maybe even slightly better. So this isn’t about tyres, but about who gets an advantage from what tyres.

  4. I’ve ridden the jump seat on a 737-800, Melbourne to Sydney. It’s a fold down steel seat about 12″ square, no padding. Not real comfortable but hey, it gets you home. Pretty decent view though.

    1. Lol he would have been in his glory.

  5. I wouldn’t put Bahrain in the same category with Abu Dhabi or Shanghai, though. It’s one of the best modern-ish circuits in F1 along with COTA.

    1. Totally agree! Since turning to a night race the Sakhir circuit has being very consistent in delivering close wheel to wheel action every season without fail and this year was no exception.
      It also interesting to add that the circuit DOES HAVE very significant undulation especially for a desert track

  6. ““While I accept it will not happen in the foreseeable future – if ever again – I don’t buy the reasoning, for during the most recent Bridgestone/Michelin ‘war’, they covered most of the testing bills, while teams didn’t pay for tyres. And arguably the performance pendulum swung back and forward more than it currently does.”

    Are you saying suppliers have to supply all teams on request – otherwise one team can control the best tyre and lockout rivals.

    1. If it happened, yes, as currently with engine supply: the FIA mandates an equitable supply arrangement. So 2 suppliers, 5 teams each.

      1. But doesn’t the old problem apply. Say Ferrari again form their special relationship with Bridgestone. Then they require that only F teams/b teams + 2 back markers are supplied to lock the ‘5’ teams. Potentially if Bridgestone develop the best tyre the WDC/WCC is over. If the other tyre maker fails those other 5 teams have nothing they can do and no ability to switch

        1. Joe, as you note, one of the major problems with a tyre war is that traditionally they have tended to entrench privileges for the larger teams – is a performance swing back and forth between the same two teams really that much of an improvement when it locks the rest of the field out? It might be seen as a good thing by those who benefit from it, but for a lot of the grid it really isn’t that much of a benefit.

          Equally, is it necessarily true that the tyre manufacturers were prepared to accept the bulk of the costs? Maybe, for the larger teams, they might have been prepared to take a bit of a hit for the prestige that it generated to be associated with a major manufacturer, like Bridgestone with Ferrari and Michelin with Renault, but it sounds as if part of that burden might have been shifted to the smaller teams which were less prestigious – the terms they got, and the amount of information they were given, tended to be rather less generous.

          1. @Anon That’s my concern. In the old days tyre_maker_A and team_A would design together to make a tyre for team_A. Other teams either were refused supply if they were rivals or got what they were given (which was a tyre designed for team_A ‘s car) which was suboptimal at best.

            So you could go for years with Make_As tyre being best and designed for Team_A meaning team_A had a massive advantage that there existed no mechanisms to correct in the hands of the teams at least.

  7. I wonder whether this is driven by an (alleged) clause in Max Verstappen’s contract that permits him to exit the team if it fails to win a grand prix by the summer break.

    Whoa – if that is right then he may get the car he needs sooner than I anticipated.
    It might also increase the number of dimwits who leave when he crashes as well which would be good for ticket sales.
    Really – come on – you only follow a sport because a fellow countryman is doing well?
    Morons.

    I have always said that we need circuits with undulating terrain.
    Eau Rouge would mean nothing to anyone if it were level I believe.

  8. The next time someone blows off a tire war with a response like RP ask them if they think everyone should run the same PU. If everyone ran the same PU then that should compress the grid even more.

  9. @dieterrencken first time I disagree with you ; the Bahrain Sakhir circuit is one of the best for wheel to wheel action and overtaking. It also have fairly significant undulations when considering it’s a desert track.

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