Was the 2014 Austrian Grand Prix a Success? Reviewing Red Bull Ring's 1st Race

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2014

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 22:  Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams leads Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Williams during the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix at Red Bull Ring on June 22, 2014 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Dom Romney/Getty Images)
Dom Romney/Getty Images

With Formula One trying and failing to make a name for itself with circuits in Turkey, South Korea and India in recent years, last weekend's Austrian Grand Prix represented the sport going back to the future.

The venue, located in the Styrian region of Austria, had previously been a regular fixture on the F1 calendar as long ago as the 1970s and '80s, when it was known as the Osterreichring, and the late 1990s and early 2000s, when it went by the name of the A1-Ring.

Formula One's first trip to the Spielberg circuit, now formally known as the Red Bull Ring, since 2003 was a resounding success.

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 22:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing drives during the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix at Red Bull Ring on June 22, 2014 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

More significantly, it offered an instructive lesson to Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's ringmaster, and Hermann Tilke, the man guilty of designing tracks such as the Korean International Circuit in Yeongam and the Buddh International Circuit in New Dehli.

If you want a new circuit on the calendar, it's often better to give an old one a facelift and use that instead.

The first sign that the weekend would be a success was evident as early as the traditional track walk on Thursday, with old fashioned gravel traps—rather than asphalt run-off areas—lining the infield section of the lap between Turns 3 and 7, the most technical section of the circuit.

The downhill entrance to the right-hander Turn 3 often caused front-right wheels to lock up under braking, almost creating an illusion that a car was set to spear off the track before the corner magically opened up on exit, offering a lifeline to drivers.

The pressure on the drivers to be precise and rhythmic with their inputs through Turns 5 and 7 was great enough, but the presence of gravel only added to the knowledge that a single mistake would prove costly in terms of grid position in qualifying and track position in the race.

And that proved to be the case even at the sharp end of the grid, with Williams driver Valtteri Bottas effectively losing pole position in the dying seconds of qualifying after leaving the track momentarily.

The final sequence of corners also proved a challenge for drivers, with qualifying times which involved a car running completely off the track on the exit of Turn 8 being deleted immediately.

The verge of grass sitting on the exit of the final corner, meanwhile, led to several drivers—including four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and two-time title winner Fernando Alonso—losing control of their cars in the early stages of the race weekend. 

Darko Bandic/Associated Press

Although it remains to be seen whether the men in high-visibility jackets will ensure that the gravel is dumped at a secret, remote spot in the Styrian mountains and the lawn is, at the very least, mowed or replaced with tarmac ahead of the 2015 race—if indeed the Red Bull Ring retains its spot on the schedule for next year—it was refreshing to see drivers punished for their greed and unforced errors for once.

In terms of the standard of the on-track action, meanwhile, the Austrian Grand Prix again excelled.

The cooler conditions of qualifying helped produce a shock result, with Felipe Massa becoming the first non-Mercedes driver to take pole position this season, before the warmer, brighter weather of race day allowed a strategic grand prix to take place.

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 22:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP makes a pit stop during the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix at Red Bull Ring on June 22, 2014 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Mathias Kniepeiss/Getty Images)
Mathias Kniepeiss/Getty Images

"Strategy" has become something of a buzzword in Formula One in recent years after the arrival of Pirelli as the sole tyre manufacturer at the beginning of 2011. 

Since then, races have often been difficult to follow, with the running order seemingly in a constant state of restructuring itself after the latest round of pit stops.

Crucially, however, the Austrian Grand Prix—like many of this season's races to feature a strategic element—toed the line well, providing a fascinating, nicely poised spectacle without ever tumbling into chaos.

The short lap, as expected, encouraged close racing, and any pre-race concerns over a lack of overtaking opportunities were firmly put to bed when Lewis Hamilton surged from ninth to fourth on the opening lap before passing Felipe Massa into Turn 2.

The Red Bull Ring arguably produced two of the finest overtaking moves of the season so far, with Daniel Ricciardo's last lap pass on Nico Hulkenberg on a par with Hamilton's, while Sergio Perez's late pass on Kevin Magnussen was a consequence of close racing having an adverse effect on a driver's nerve and concentration.

In fact, the only disappointment of the Red Bull Ring's first race came shortly after the chequered flag had fallen.

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 22:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium after victory in the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix at Red Bull Ring on June 22, 2014 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Dom Romney/Getty Images)
Dom Romney/Getty Images

During the podium ceremony, race winner Nico Rosberg, along with Hamilton and Bottas—rather than being handed trophies that would take pride of place on their respective mantelpieces—were presented with the most horrendous pieces of silverware, which would have looked more at home at an auction than a grand prix podium. 

Yet the post-race rewards could only momentarily ruin what was an assured first weekend for the Red Bull Ring, which—although it proved no match for Monza—experienced a slight track invasion ahead of the podium celebrations.

Perhaps the greatest triumph of Formula One's return to Austria will encourage Ecclestone and his colleagues to focus on reviving historic circuits, such as Imola and Magny-Cours, rather than continuing to waste time and money by taking their product to new markets that care little for it.

The first race was more than a victory for Nico Rosberg and Mercedes; it was a win for F1, its history and its fans.

Shame about the trophies, though.