#F1 – The First Austrian Grand Prix

In 2013, after a decade in oblivion, Austria Grand Prix was given a slot for the 2014 F1 season. The decision at that time was practical, given that Red Bull had won three consecutive championships from 2010 and looked set for another when the decision was made. A home Grand Prix for Dietrich Mateschitz, who had purchased the A1-Ring in 2011 and gave it a new name, quite aptly ‘Red Bull Ring’.

Today, we are not talking about the existing circuit, instead, I will take you to a lap down the years, way back to 1964, when Austria hosted its first race, in Zeltweg Air Field, which is in proximity to the present circuit.

Fliegerhorst Hinterstoisser previously known as Zeltweg air base is a military airfield of Austria and country’s main airfield too. This was not the first time someone had built a race track around a military airfield – Silverstone was the first and the most notable one.

The inspiration to build a race track around an airfield was straight out of Silverstone’s success of hosting F1 and other Motorsport races.  After having hosted two non-championship events in 1961 and 1963, an opportunity to host a championship F1 race finally came Austria’s way.

The 3.2 km circuit incorporating the run-away and the concrete road consisted of just four curves in its layout which were narrow and extremely bumpy – as a result many of the cars suffered from suspension failures in the practice.

Graham Hill, who has leading the driver’s world championship at that time of the year (1964) took the pole position.  Not so far behind was Jim Clark in his Lotus Climax and John Surtees in his Ferrari. Incidentally, these two were chasing Hill for the championship with four races to go.

With barely five laps into the race Graham Hill, the pole-sitter had a wheel spin and retired from the race. Soon in the next four laps, John Surtees retired owing to a suspension failure. Jim Clark, who struggled with his gear selection problems (made a late comeback into the race) and Jack Brabham who had qualified in 6th position pitted early due to a fuel feed problem and faded away into the back of the track.

This meant, Dan Gurney led the race with Lorenzo Bandini in the second Ferrari was behind Gurney,  with Jim Clark in third position. On lap 40, Jim Clark retired from the race owing to ‘half shaft’ problem and very soon his Lotus Climax team mate Mike Spence retired the very next lap to a similar problem that of his teammate Jim.

Bruce McLaren (who founded the team McLaren) entered the list of retirements with an engine failure on lap 43 and four laps later the race leader Dan Gurney retired after his car slowed down owing to front suspension problems.

This gave the lead to Bandini, an Italian driver driving for a compatriot team, Ferrari and he looked set to win it for the first time in what was his 18th Grand Prix start.

In the meantime, on lap 59, the 1961 World Champion Phil Hill lost control of his Cooper Climax and went out of the race not before crashing the car onto the straw bales. The car caught fire, but he came out the accident scene unscathed.

On the very same lap, the entire Austrian crowd who had come to witness the debut of Austrian GP saw their local boy Jochen Rindt, who had become the first Austrian to drive in a F1 race retire courtesy of a steering problem.

With no further drama barring few retirements towards the end of the race, Lorenzo Bandini completed 105 laps of the race to win his first ever Grand Prix. Incidentally, this happened to be also his only Grand Prix victory of his career.

And, so was for the Zeltweg airbase, which received complaints for being narrow, bumpy and having poor viewing conditions for the audience. FIA removed the circuit from its calendar and would wait until a modified or a custom track was built.

Jochen Rindt went to become a popular driver in the following years and this being one of the reasons there was a need to construct a purpose-built track. Österreichring later came to be known as A1-Ring was the answer and it hosted Austrian GP in two spells (1970-1987 and 1997-2003). The third spell started in 2014.

Jochen Rindt did inspire a lot as he also went on to become his country’s first World Champion in 1970. Since then, there have been few drivers from Austria in F1, none more popular than the triple world champion Nikki Lauda.

Taking about today’s world of F1, the business of the sport is seldom attached with emotions (how I wish they were at times), and hence there are no races in France with Germany and Great Britain struggling to host races.

How long will Red Bull be associated with F1 if their losing streak continues for few more years? And, what would be the fate of Austrian Grand Prix in that case? That will be topics for a future discussion.

Looking at this week’s race, will Red Bull score a home victory and spice up the world championships?

Wait and watch!



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