Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2021

Paddock Diary: Austrian Grand Prix part two

2021 Austrian Grand Prix

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Max Verstappen’s crushing win was cheered by a huge contingent of Dutch fans as Formula 1 welcomed its biggest audience since the pandemic began.

Saturday 3rd July

If travelling to Spielberg from my weekend digs in the Styrian mountains on the first two days was a doddle – a 30-minute drive – Saturday brought a shock: There are more yellow-plated cars Dutch about than I saw Austrian registrations on working day. Clearly the circuit will be packed; so it turns out: around 40,000 (mainly orange-clad) fans turn up.

Upon arrival I receive a message that Lewis Hamilton has signed a two-year contract extension – which expires with that of team boss Toto Wolff’s deal. I ask Wolff whether that’s coincidental – he says he’ll remain a (33.3%) shareholder in the team after leaves the day-to-day role.

I set about gathering comments about the beefed-up rear tyres earmarked for Silverstone, evaluated here on Friday and Saturday. While team reaction is positive – most indicate there is little difference performance-wise, but welcome the reinforced sidewalls – the tyres still require FIA sign-off. This will be a formality as they are to be introduced under the auspices of ‘safety’, which requires no team vote.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Red Bull Ring, 2021
Comment: Even Hamilton’s critics should be pleased he signed for two more years
I grin when I’m told that in the past any in-season change of tyre construction required team approval, but after they raised questions about safety in Baku the teams backed themselves into a corner in this regard. In F1 what goes round eventually comes around.

For my usual trackside outing during final practice I head for a vantage point outside the turn six-seven-eight complex and thus opposite the ‘Max Verstappen’ grandstand. The cheering, whistling and flag-waving is simply wonderful to behold, and I can only hope that Silverstone has a similar atmosphere.

During my rounds I meet briefly with the Hungarian promoter who tells me a capacity crowd has been approved by the government for the final race before the summer break. Ticket sales are strong but late approval means they got off to a slow start. Still, with the on-track tussle between Verstappen and Hamilton the Hungaroring should sell out soon. Three full races in a row – great news all round.

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The big off-track event of the day is, of course, the engine summit attended by F1’s top managers and their power unit counterparts at Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Red Bull, with Dietrich Mateschitz – owner of two teams and the circuit at which we are racing this weekend, and whose company takes over Honda’s intellectual property after the Japanese company departs – attending his first power unit summit.

Held at his Steirer Schlosshotel, the summit was called by the FIA to discuss the broad framework for the 2025-onwards power unit regulations. Hopefully more news about what was a ‘closed’ meeting next week.

After the post-qualifying media sessions I head for the car park and my guesthouse, with my route taking me past a number of campsites and party areas where much merriment is in evidence. Indeed, I wonder how many Dutch fans will nurse massive headaches after this weekend, particularly if Verstappen wins as expected…

Sunday 4th July

Red Bull Ring, 2021I love race day: the closer one gets to the circuit, the crisper the atmosphere. Sport really does heal downcast spirits, and elite sports all the more so. As I turn into the circuit fans throng the gates, brandishing pens, programmes, t-shirts or anything with driver (or team) connections at the passing cars in the hope they are ferrying drivers prepared to attach scribbles to whatever is waved. All are united by their love for the sport.

During my morning wanderings I meet with Travis Krause, Red Bull’s global head of motorsport media, who explains some of the brand’s strategies. Motorsport owes all sponsors a debt of gratitude, but Red Bull more than most. Indeed, I doubt whether any other company invests more in global motorsport than does the Austrian brand.

After a hurried but excellent lunch – vegetable spaghetti bolognese followed by crème brûlée – in the media centre I prepare for the main event. Following my trackside visit I decided to deviate from my usual modus operandi of following the race from the media centre and request a tabard to watch the opening laps from turn one. Permission granted, I headed for a vantage point above the large ‘Austrian GP’ sign.

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It’s a simply wonderful experience, one which transports me back to my first F1 visit – Kyalami in 1971. It was then that my deep love for the sport was consolidated – I’d followed it via magazines and books – and as I watch the field jockey for advantage after the start I realised how much atmosphere (and noise) we sat in sterile working areas actually lose. I promise myself that in future I’ll try to get out at least once a year.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2021
Gallery: 2021 Austrian Grand Prix in pictures
The post-race media sessions bring another step towards normality. Race director Michael Masi makes his first ‘personal appearance’ for the media since Abu Dhabi 2019, the Australian having since then provided comments via audio. While Zoom et cetera are all very well, for authenticity nothing beats grilling someone in person, in turn enabling us to bring you better coverage. It proves timely after a race packed with acrimony – indeed, the stewards are still deliberating some incidents when we speak.

After Masi’s session I pack and depart the circuit: for Munich, from where I fly to Nice on Monday to attend the FIA’s annual conference: president Jean Todt’s last as he steps down in December after three four-year terms. I expect the candidates for global motoring’s top job – Emirati Mohammed bin Sulayem and Briton Graham Stoker – to lay out their stalls over the next four days.

The trip from the circuit is a less welcome return to ‘normality’: the capacity crowd – I’m told over 130,000 visitors were counted over three days – is heading home, and the traffic jams are simply horrendous. Still, it’s been great to have fans back, and none are more passionate than the Dutch – provided Verstappen wins.

Editor Keith will be at Silverstone due to the complexities of Covid regulations, but I’ll be back on site for the Hungarian round, take good care until then.

2021 Austrian Grand Prix

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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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13 comments on “Paddock Diary: Austrian Grand Prix part two”

  1. It good to see those enthousiast fans shearing for Norris as loud as they did for Verstappen.
    Even Bottas received a warm welcome on the podium.

    1. Oops.. cheering that is.

    2. Yes that was good to see, although I guess the Norris cheers was as much for the color orange as for a top drive I suspect..

  2. The atmosphere was great! Lando got a big ovation and George after quali as well.

  3. “…for authenticity nothing beats grilling someone in person, in turn enabling us to bring you better coverage” should read “for one-upmanship, triumphal exclusivity nothing beats grilling someone in person…”

    “I’m told over 130,000 visitors were counted over three days.” This information was provided by a graphic on the television broadcast! So on a par with a former Eurovision Song Contest commentator who added “he/she/they told me” when it was obvious the commentator was quoting, verbatim, from a press release

  4. Nice report. It makes me again consider going to an F1 event. (I haven’t as I’ve been to other sporting events and it’s been a let-down compared to the TV experience)

    1. @balue Having been to my first F1 race this past weekend, I say it’s totally worth seeing at least once! It’s a very different perspective. If you can, go for it!

      1. @j-l What about all those hooligan Dutch fans? ;)

        1. @balue Haha. While we were not in a Dutch section, it all seemed very safe and in good jest. Hooligans seems very unfair from my experience. Had a chance to meet several groups of Dutch fans at the hotel and they were all lovely people.

          1. @j-l I was being ironic about ‘Dutch hooligans’ after the recent COTD where somebody thought that burning orange flares was a sign of ‘negative atmosphere’ in the stands..

    2. So far all the 3 races I have been to have been a blast @balue. It does pay off to have a good look at what part of the GA or what Grandstand you want to be on though (if Grandstand, most of the time you are allowed to have a look around the track from different angles especially on friday), so that you can actually see a decent chunk of the track.

      Those big screens are fine, but once you start watching there, you often find yourself wondering why you are staring at a big screen when you are next to the track. Having something else to (radio, live feed, live timing, live commentary feed) to keep an overview of what is going on helps understand the race :-)

      1. @bascb Yeah with the F1TV audio on the phone that could improve it a lot.

        I guess also Red Bull Ring is also well suited being a smaller track. I’ll consider it for next year.

        1. Yeah, the Red Bull ring certainly is a really lovely one – we were there in 2019 @balue. There are quite a few places where you can see many of the important corners. Even just the GA area above the top straight you can see almost the whole track apart from the last corner and the main straight.

          Also, the area is great to visit as well. And there is plenty of room for either camping or smaller pensions to stay at.

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