Start, Red Bull Ring, 2020

Was a Red Bull Ring repeat the best solution to F1’s latest calendar headache?

2021 F1 season

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Has an opportunity has been missed with F1’s announcement it will again race at the Red Bull Ring twice this year?

Teams are already being subjected to the sport’s longest-ever, 23-race schedule. Does it really need to include two races on the same circuit?

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic last year led F1 to break with its long-held convention of never holding multiple rounds at the same venue in a calendar year. The disrupted 2020 schedule opened four races months later than planned with a double-header at the Red Bull Ring, then raced twice at Silverstone the following month.

Later in the year Bahrain held another double-header. Usefully, its track has more than one F1-ready layout. Its second race was held on the Outer Circuit, giving a completely different character to the previous round a week earlier.

F1 won’t have that option when it returns to the Red Bull Ring this year, however. The Austrian track is already one of the shortest on the calendar and has no alternative layouts which meet the minimum length requirements necessary to hold a grand prix.

Grosjean’s only Mercedes run will happen behind closed doors
The addition of a second race in Austria has come about following the cancellation of the Turkish Grand Prix (just 16 days after it was announced, which must be some kind of record). Istanbul Park was added to the 2021 F1 calendar in place of the Canadian Grand Prix when that race was called off.

The new arrangement is unsatisfying for more than one reason. The earlier date for the French Grand Prix means it now coincides with IndyCar’s race at Road America, in which Romain Grosjean will compete. His planned demonstration run in a Mercedes F1 car in front of spectators at Paul Ricard will therefore not take place (his separate private test will still go ahead).

Some 15,000 ticket-holders for the French race will face disruption due to the date change, and not all may be able to attend the event now it has been moved forwards by a week. RaceFans understands the grand prix promoters are disappointed by the development, but the decision was out of their hands. F1 thanked them for their co-operation in a statement released today.

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Did the sport even need to replace its lost Turkish/Canadian round, when it has so many other races scheduled? As was the case last year, once eight rounds are held the world championship is official, and it should tick that box well before the summer break. Broadcasting rights deals are thought to demand at least 15 rounds, which F1 will achieve even if Covid claims seven more events.

Start, Interlagos, 2019
Later rounds of the championship are in doubt
But as recent events have surely demonstrated, F1 cannot afford to leave anything to chance with Covid-19. The tide may be turning against the pandemic, but it is certainly not doing so in all places at the same rate.

Infection and vaccination rates vary enormously worldwide. The gradual return to normality enjoyed by some countries is under threat from emerging new variants of the virus. Facing that, F1 has evidently taken the view that ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ and is prudently ensuring it completes as much of its championship as possible while it can.

Nonetheless, was a better option available than holding two races on the same track? With no disrespect to Austria’s round – which successfully held F1’s first post-Covid races last year – of the two events to ‘double up’ on, France’s held obvious advantages. And not only in terms of avoiding inconvenience to fans and allowing Grosjean’s demo run to go ahead.

While the Red Bull Ring offers no alternative layouts, Paul Ricard has a dizzying number of variants – well over 100. While some of these would not be suitable for F1, a large number are.

It would have provided an ideal opportunity to answer the question which F1 has wrestled with since it returned to the French circuit in 2018: Would the racing benefit from bypassing the Mistral chicane on its long straight? Different versions of several other corners are also available, including the Verrerie S-bend at the start of the lap. Alternatively, the series could have reverted to the abbreviated configuration it used in the late eighties.

Paul Ricard reprofiling and resurfacing, 2021
Paul Ricard has many different configurations
At Paul Ricard, F1 could have held races on two almost completely different tracks at the same venue. Instead, at the Red Bull Ring, it has no choice but to race on the same track for two weeks in a row and therefore risks serving up a familiar spectacle each time.

It could bring different tyre selections for each round – Pirelli is considering its options having already nominated the C2, C3 and C4 tyres for the Austrian Grand Prix. But F1 experimented with this scheme at Silverstone last year and while the outcome was two different winners, it’s debatable whether either was a particularly more memorable race.

Throughout the unprecedented upheaval Covid-19 wrought on the world, Formula 1 has done an excellent job of keeping the show on the road. It has conducted around 95,000 Covid-19 tests during race weekends with a positive rate of 0.1%. It held 17 races last year and is determined to get 23 done this year.

But for all the credit they deserve, and while the decision to press on with rescheduling its latest lost race is understandable, this feels like the second-best solution.

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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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75 comments on “Was a Red Bull Ring repeat the best solution to F1’s latest calendar headache?”

  1. Of course not. Management just thinks about money and fears some future races will be cancelled as well.

    The most sensible thing would have been just the cancellation, no other race or rescheduling.

  2. If they really didn’t want to lose a race from the planned 23 then i’d have preferred a 2nd race at Paul Ricard over Red Bull Ring primarily because they could have run a different layout on the 2nd weekend which would have been more interesting than having 2 races at RBR running on the same layout.

    1. i know you’re not supposed to be rude to strangers on the internet but you just suggested a second race at the single worst venue in F1 right now …

      1. @mrboerns The current layout is pretty terrible, but as the article suggests, there are 100+ alternatives, one of which might make for better racing.

      2. @mrboerns I’ve no doubt almost everyone will agree that Paul Ricard is easily the worst track F1 visits (it makes Catalunya look exciting), but at least trying another variant of it’s layout might give us a chance to see if there is a better circuit somewhere in that desert of tarmac.

        I’m sceptical, I don’t really think it matters where you paint the white lines in that carpark, it’ll still be terrible, but we may as well give it a go.

        Personally i’d like to see the FIA make another exemption for minimum length and we do the Red Bull Ring but turn right halfway up the hill towards turn two, that layout features in other series, in F1 traffic and lap times would be silly, and Nikita would be getting lapped before he had finished a lap. Obviously for those two reasons alone, nobody would ever consider it, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t mind seeing what it looks like.

    2. @stefmeister I couldn’t agree more with you. The track layout experiment flexibility is why I’d also rather have a Paul Ricard double.

  3. Germany should have been brought back when they had the chance. And they’ve wasted it.

    1. Both Hockenheim and Nurburgring are still there so presumably there is still a chance.

      Reply moderated
  4. What about going back to Mugello?

    1. I fear a repeat of that restart crash. It can happen, but it won’t happen.

  5. someone or something
    14th May 2021, 17:32

    But F1 experimented with this scheme [different tyre selections for each round] at Silverstone last year and while the outcome was two different winners, it’s debatable whether either was a particularly more memorable race.

    Is that really debatable? The first race had:
    – a tyre failure 3 laps from the end, which cost a driver 2nd position (and a points finish altogether)
    – a precautionary pit stop for the second-placed driver on the final lap
    – a tyre failure on the final lap for the leading driver, which almost led to a grandstand finish despite the second-placed driver’s precautionary pit stop

    The second race had absolutely no drama to speak of.

    Was it a more memorable race for all the right reasons? Maybe not. But memorable it was.

    1. someone or something
      14th May 2021, 17:38

      That notwithstanding, a second race at Paul Ricard would’ve been the obvious decision for all but one of the reasons given in the article, so it’s difficult to understand why they went with Spielberg.

  6. Zach (@zakspeedf1team)
    14th May 2021, 17:48

    I miss Mugello

    1. Feels like Domenicali has something personal against Mugello.

  7. Indeed, why are “they” so stressed about getting a record numbers of races on the calendar? Do they make more money per race? I would think it could actually cost money to pay off the organizers for not having attendees.

    I’m assuming the FIA doesn’t really care beyond the minim requirements for a competition and the teams would not be looking for a high number of races either.

    1. @f1osaurus Even if they didn’t add a new race to replace Turkey, they’d still have a record number of races on the calendar!

      Before this season, the record number of races was 21. Even without a Turkey replacement, they’d have 22 races this year.

      1. @racer Exactly, I really don’t get why this has to happen.

    2. Somebody, somewhere wrote a contract that said 23 races and now they want to make that happen. Even if we would have 3 races in same place.

      1. @qeki 8 is the minimum requirement for a world championship status, 15 for TV broadcasting. 23 isn’t a minimum requirement for anything.

        1. @jerejj For someones wallet it might be but I hope they will go quality over quantity. 2 races in Red Bull Ring is too much. It will hurt those who have families. Instead of staying together they will be stuck in somewhere in steiermark.

          It’s still great to see F1 as much as possible but is there any other reason to have two gp in austria than money? I still get it because every company needs money especially in these times but still for some reason it doesn’t feel right.

  8. isthatglock21
    14th May 2021, 18:05

    Two races at Austria were fine last year to kick start things…but could we really not have picked something else instead of the same one again? It’s just not that exciting anymore knowing they race the same place again next week, At least Bahrain had the outer track last year to spice it up. I doubt Merc are happy about doing 2x full championship rounds at Redbull’s home turf where they usually go very well either.

    1. I assume you meant “usually don’t go very well either“?

      I’m not sure where this myth comes from (you’re certainly not the only person who thinks this) – since F1 returned to the Red Bull Ring in 2014, Mercedes has won six out of eight races there, including two last year. The only races they didn’t win were during the “overheating/diva” period in 2018/19.

      It is true to say it’s one circuit which Hamilton doesn’t seem to particularly enjoy.

  9. Having Paul Ricard one week early is bewildering.

  10. Jim Nitzkowski
    14th May 2021, 18:15

    Niece piece, Keith. Even if the promoter’s agreement with F1 says otherwise, Paul Ricard should have dug in their heels and said a straight “NO” to the late date change. The exchange should have gone, “Then cancel us, too. Unless, of course, you want to give us the double-date to cover the lost race in Turkey.” Although I really dislike the PR circuit (France needs to give us a better venue!), I have to agree with Racefans that PR was the obvious best choice to fill the date, based on the calendar, the negative effects of a date change on patrons, and the myriad circuit variants provided by PR. It was a ‘no-brainer’. I smell Dieter and Helmut!

    Reply moderated
  11. Why not in Germany or Mugello again?
    But at least it’s a track that breeds good racing. And it didn’t suit Mercedes that much in the past…

    1. @roadrunner

      And it didn’t suit Mercedes that much in the past…

      Mercedes has won six out of eight races at Red Bull Ring since it came back on the calendar in 2014, including twice last year.

      It is fair to say it may not be Hamilton’s favourite circuit, but aside from the “overheating/diva” years of 2018 & 2019, Mercedes has gone very well there.

  12. Helmut has some dirt on someone.

    1. @phillyspur

      Indeed, never underestimate the influence of corruption, incompetence, politics, or little contractual details.

    2. I rather think he has the gold dust at hand to make it happen @slotopen, @phillyspur. Red Bull most likely were first to offer solid money to make this change (especially since it’s not unthinkable that F1 had to give PR a bit of a cut to the rate to go along, since it will almost certainly hit visitor numbers)

  13. There were really just two options: either two races at Paul Ricard or two at the RB Ring
    Anything else would’ve just caused a logistical chaos, resulting in another triple-header (and there already are three real triple-headers this season), where the teams need to pack things up on Sunday and get to the next destination within three days.
    From a logistical point of view, it’s definitely the right decision, as it reduces the freight costs for all the teams.
    Whether it’s better or worse for the racing to have two venues at the RB Ring, remains to be seen. They could use it as an opportunity to test the new Saturday sprint race format prior to Silverstone. They could do the first venue in the new format (practice – qualy – sprint race – full race) and the second one in the usual format (FP1-3 – qualy – race).
    Paul Ricard might offer different variations of track layout, but I don’t see anyone of those being good for racing (even the F3-races there have been extremely boring).

    1. Using the new Sprint Qualifying format at one of the sessions at the Red Bull Ring sounds like a good idea. It might be better using it at the second race rather than the first, but nevertheless I think F1 should take the opportunity to test this format there.

    2. The logistics is not a valid argument for Austria. It is replacing Turkey. Any European circuit would have been better than Turkey logistically.

      1. I think you are missing my point there. The two races have different dates: Turkey was meant to be held together with Azerbaijan at the start of the month (June), while Austria will be held at the end of the month at the original date of the French GP, which in addition to that has been placed a week earlier.

  14. This is an interesting article and makes a very good case for an extra race at Paul Ricard. It seems like this would have been less disruptive and offered the potential for a more interesting race. It might have been better even to just drop one race with 23 on the calendar.

    Formula 1 is good at making poor decisions though so perhaps we really should not be surprised. You get resigned to them after so long.

  15. It’s a GREAT solution! Two races on a track that Max can win on.. sound like an excellent mutation to maybe get some excitement back into the season!

    1. “Can” being the operative word.

      There seems to be a general belief that Red Bull run spectacularly well at their home circuit, yet they’ve only won twice in the last eight races there (since F1 returned in 2014). Meanwhile, Mercedes has won the other six races, including both last year.

      Yes, Mercedes struggled there in 2018 & 2019 with the diva car and overheating and it doesn’t seem to be one of Hamilton’s favourite tracks, but Mercedes have certainly been strong there.

      1. I normally quite dislike that some commenters repeat their views multiple times within a thread in the form of replies to other commenters, but I do appreciate that you have tried to personalise/reword each of your responses.

        I, as many others on here, would also prefer that the second race be held at Paul Ricard using a different layout, which could have been interesting. However, the chances that RBR could open up both championships (not guaranteed, as @scbriml correctly points out) makes this double-header proposition interesting as well.

        I must also say, as much as I dislike the proposed execution of the idea of Sprint Qualifying, it would definitely be more interesting and useful to use the second race of a double-header for this purpose.

        Reply moderated
  16. I understand the point about different layouts for the French GP. However, I would gladly take a year of 23 races at the Red Bull Ring over two in France. I have yet to see an even moderately interesting race there, and even if one were to eventuate, I could hardly watch for more than 10 minutes without getting violent headaches due to the painted runoff.

    Reply moderated
  17. I think they are using it wisely to be fair. End of September there is a lot of fly-away races which surely are going to be scetchy to happen. So my two cents is, if any of them are going to drop out they might use Hockenheim, Nürgburgring or Mugello then. Even Turkey if the situation gets better there. Logkstically it makes sense to have two races at Red Bull Ring and last year proved you can have two very different races there (Exciting and kind of meh, in my opinion). Count in weather as well as a variable. The only thing is, why not have two races in France with them able to provide like 100+ different configuations for the track. At the end of the day I think it’s sensible, though.

    1. @t-a-r France-Austria-Austria isn’t any different logistically from France-France-Austria, though.

      1. Aye. I am just trying to say as much as a double header on the same track is meh, logistically it makes sense. But would definately make more sense to have two races in Paul Ricard as they could use two different configurations. Like, it makes sense to have a double header instead of heading to Germany and keeping that option for autumn fly-aways should a back-up be needed.

  18. It’s a one time solution to a one time problem. Not everything has to be the best. It’s life, were human. Even the humans at the top of their industry.

    There are more important things going on in F1 than not picking little decisions like this.

  19. The Australian race is not going to happen

    1. I’m sceptical too about Australia

    2. No chance it will go forward in Australia later this year. We have the opposite problem now – COVID rates are so low now that everyone loses their minds when 2 cases pop up in a city as big as Melbourne. No politician will want to be responsible for the potential for bringing more cases to Australia, particularly when we’re so close to zero cases.

      1. Australian Open Tennis tournament wokred in February (with crowds watching), it did require everyone entering Australia to test negative to COVID after a 2 week quarantine (where you must remain in a quarantine hotel/facility). No reason why this cant work again if everyone does the 2 week quaratine.

        Reply moderated
      2. Personally, I doubt races in Australia, Brazil, Singapore, Mexico and CotA will go ahead, although it is hard to tell when much can change until then.

        1. @bascb I’m most skeptical about Brazil, followed by Mexico and Australia, but less so for COTA and Singapore, but difficult to predict as things can change.

  20. Just run the second race backwards, counter-clockwise, stick lots of tyre barriers in and treat it like a street circuit. :oP
    (Okay no doubt this is technically completely infeasible, I just remember doing this some times on PC games that would let you)

    1. Do all those alternative configurations of Paul Ricard have FIA Grade 1 certification? And could it be managed in this short amount of time?

      If that is not the case, I prefer Austria.

    2. @david-br You can also do that on a slot car track by switching the positive and negative wires around :)

      1. @david-br That too :o)
        Just discovered I’m not completely mad and Charles Leclerc actually backed the idea last year, when Formula E did this (?) in Berlin. He also gives the same reasons for why it would be so good with drivers having to relearn the circuits. It would be a great comparison for a two-header venue. The biggest practical objection given is run-off area, but that’s why I suggested treating it (or that drivers would have to treat it) as a Monaco or Singapore with little or no runoff anyway. I’d seriously far rather they attempted this than see the same race twice, with or without the added ‘excitement’ of didferent tyre choices.

      2. Actually meant for @robbie not a note to self, duh

    3. @t-a-r Impractical for safety reasons. Doable in rallying, but not circuit-racing.

      1. @jerejj It’s been done in Formula E. Obviously there’s a safety issue, but Formula 1 races in tight street circuits with little or no run off. I don’t think it should be impossible. Maybe impractical in terms of installing and testing/evaluating on time.

      2. And here’s @keithcollantine himself on racing Silverstone backwards, conclusion: doable with some safety changes (OK, money). But looks fantastic to race.

  21. I was really looking forward to another Turkish GP. All this talk of its replacement is robbing me of the chance to grieve properly

    It’s like going to the vet to have your dog put down and then stopping at the pet store on the way home.

  22. Konstantinos
    14th May 2021, 23:12

    I kind of like Austria, it is a very legible circuit from a spectators perspective with undulations, landmarks etc. I don’t mind two races there. The arguments
    for alternative layouts in France had not occurred to me but the track as it is so indifferent, it’s hard to get excited about any race there. F1 is hardly about this but I really like the hills and the trees…

    Reply moderated
  23. No, but compared to a world where they offer us 2 races in Russia or Abu Dhabi instead… I’ll take it.

    1. I would be happy with Austria->Hungary->Moscow Raceway->KymiRing

    2. That is certainly a decent point you make there @mrcento. Put like that, it is a solid alternative.

  24. Paul Ricard racetrack is the dullest racetrack on the F1 calendar. If I had to chose between Paul Ricard and Red Bull Ring, 2nd options always.
    It also suits Red Bull much better and with possibility that they can knock Mercedes off the throne, Formula One will do anything to help the show.

    1. @denis1304

      It also suits Red Bull much better

      It does? The’ve won just two races there since F1 returned in 2014. Mercedes has won the other six, including both races last year. Red Bull’s wins were widely attributed to “diva car” in 2018 and bad overheating in 2019.

      However, it doesn’t seem to be a track at which Hamilton excels.

  25. Bring C1, C2, C3 tyres for the second race.

    1. @banana88x For some reason, last season’s back-to-backs at the RBR used the same compounds (while the compounds were changed for Silverstone’s races).

  26. Red Bull Ring usually produce good races so I’m all for that. Turkey’s track surface was almost a joke, especially when wet as we remember, so not a loss (even the track layout is quite decent).

    1. @balue Yet Turkey produced one of the more interesting races last year.

      1. @scbriml Any race starting full wet and drying up usually do that, but Istanbul Park practically made a mockery of F1 with cars looking like deers on ice.

        Drivers complained about Algarve now, but Istanbul was much worse.

  27. I couldn’t agree more regarding Paul Ricard. I wonder what’s the reasoning for RBR 2x again instead of Paul Ricard 2x despite the greater flexibility in track configuration alternatives.

    1. This is F1 @jerejj. What is the most important factor in our sport that decides where we race? Indeed, money.
      I am pretty sure that RB was able to offer a better rate than what PR was able to offer for the pleasure.

      1. @bascb My feeling too that Red Bull Ring probably offered more for the double than PR, which is understandable if/when this indeed was the decisive factor in giving RBR another double-header.

  28. Paul Ricard may have 100s of configurations but it is as flat as a pancake. I gotta say I would rather have two Austrian GP races than only one. The are doing the best job they can with the cars they are given. Perhaps running tow races in Austria but one of them the opposite direction.
    I don’t know, Paul Ricard is always so boring and soulless in my opinion.

  29. I’d rather 10 races at Austria than even 1 at Paul Ricard because the whole place is an assault to the eyes with the blue and black run off everywhere. I doubt any of the other layout choices would be better than the current as surely they’ve already selected the one they think is best. Just out of curiosity does the Le mans circuit have F1 graded suitability?

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