The last Austrian Grand Prix took place in 2003 at the A1-Ring. On Sunday, Formula One cars returned to the famous Spielberg venue as, revamped and upgraded, it began a new life as the Red Bull Ring, providing a new home for national and international motorsport.
Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were among those present at the special opening event, showcasing their F1 machinery, along with Toro Rosso stable mates Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari.
“I was 14-years-old the first time I was at Spielberg for a Formula Konig race and I watched the drivers there with great enthusiasm, including the Austrian, Bernhard Auinger,” Vettel told Red Bull Racing’s official website. “At that time I was very new to the Red Bull family. A lot of time has passed since then and it has changed a lot.”
Vettel took time out to add his hand and foot prints to a special plaque for the Red Bull Ring’s ‘winners’ road’, as well as completing the obligatory demonstration laps for a soaked, but highly appreciative crowd.
“I like the new track very much, as the core of the circuit remains the same,” added the world champion. “The downhill sections with the curves, which are still hanging to the outside, are very tricky, especially because today the track was wet. It would be very nice to drive a race here and I would be very happy if Formula One should return to the Red Bull Ring – preferably during my career!”
The original circuit, then known as the Osterreichring, opened in 1969 and staged its first Grand Prix the following year, with local hero Jochen Rindt drawing massive crowds. Austria’s other world champion, Niki Lauda, won his home event there in 1984 and he returned on Sunday to win again in a special ‘legends’ race from compatriot and fellow F1 veteran Dieter Quester.
“It’s really impressive what’s happened here,” said Lauda. “I am very happy that the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg has been revived – it’s a huge asset to the racing scene in Austria. The basic route is the same, but the whole course is in perfect condition and has similar modern facilities to those in Bahrain.”
The track was dropped from the F1 calendar in 1987 on safety grounds, before returning in 1997 as the A1-Ring. It staged the infamous 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, where Rubens Barrichello controversially moved aside to hand victory to Ferrari team mate Michael Schumacher, the man who also win the final Formula One race there in 2003.
“What has been rebuilt is truly unique,” said Red Bull Motorsport consultant Helmut Marko of the revitalized venue.” Not just the ring itself, but the entire project in Spielberg. The area is harmoniously integrated into the landscape. Not only motorsports fans, but families can spend an entire weekend there. The mood among the surrounding population is very good, everybody is happy that the area here has been revived.”
The Red Bull Ring’s first major event will be a round of Germany’s DTM touring car series at the start of next month.