McLaren Mercedes Austrian Grand Prix preview

Formula 1 returns to Austria this weekend for the first time since 2003. The race takes place at the newly refurbished Red Bull Ring, situated deep in the Styrian mountains near Spielberg. Will the 71-lap race produce a Hollywood thriller?

Red Bull Ring facts & stats

The layout of the Red Bull Ring (née A1-Ring (1997-2003), née Osterreichring (1970-1987)) remains unchanged from Formula 1’s last visit to the track 11 years ago. However, there have been significant changes to the track’s infrastructure, all of which has been upgraded.

The Austrian Grand Prix has inextricable links to Styria, located in the south east of the country. Zeltweg Airfield staged the inaugural race in 1964, with the magnificent Osterreichring becoming its permanent home from 1970. There were many memorable moments during the race’s 18-year spell at the ’Ring – most notably Vittorio Brambilla crossing the line backwards to win in 1975, and Elio de Angelis beating Keke Rosberg by just 0.050s in ’82.

But by the late ’80s the ’Ring’s fast sweeps and minimal run-off were deemed too dangerous for F1. The sport’s top echelon only returned after the track had been modernised and shortened by track designer Hermann Tilke. Seven races were held between 1997 and ’03.

From a technical point of view, the Red Bull Ring is similar to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, albeit slightly less extreme. Fuel consumption is expected to be hard, but manageable; brake wear will be high, but the four long straights will aid cooling, and high top speeds will once again be crucial to success.

The track surface is also very smooth, which allows Pirelli to bring the two softest tyre compounds (Soft and Supersoft) in its range to the race. But tyre warm-up might still be a problem, particularly on the right-hand side of the car, because there are only two left-hand corners on the lap.

McLaren has an enviable record in Austria, having won more races in the country than any other constructor. Jenson Button is one of only four drivers on the grid to have previous F1 experience at the track, while Kevin Magnussen raced there last year in World Series by Renault 3.5.

Red Bull Ring – the stats you need

Race distance 71 laps (307.146km/190.860 miles)

Start time 14:00 (local)/12:00 (GMT)

Circuit length 4.326km/2.688 miles

Lap record Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2003-GA) 1m08.337s (227.894km/h)

First championship race 1970 (as the Osterreichring); 1997 (as the A1-Ring)

What makes it special Four good overtaking opportunities, plus stunning mountain scenery

Wins from pole position Seven

Track abrasiveness Low. Hence Pirelli are taking their two softest tyre compounds to the race, as they did in Monaco and Canada

Pirelli tyre choice Supersoft (Option)/Soft (Prime)

Fuel consumption High. Nearly 60 per cent of the lap is expected to be spent on full throttle, and there’s lots of acceleration from slow-speed corners

Brakewear High. Not as bad as in Canada last time out, but there are plenty of big stops from high speeds

Weather The temperature in recent weeks has been in the mid-20s, but conditions in the mountains can change very quickly

DRS zones Two – on the start/finish straight and on the approach to Turn Three

Turbo effect High, due to lots of acceleration from slow speeds

Safety Car likelihood High. There were two aborted starts and a Safety Car when F1 last raced at the track in 2003, so we should probably expect more fireworks this year

Grid advantage The racing line is on the left-hand-side, so it will hold a slight advantage. The start-finish straight goes uphill, which magnifies start-line performance

Pitlane time Estimated at 22s

McLaren at the Austrian Grand Prix

Wins 6 (1984, 1985, 1986, 1998, 2000, 2001)

Pole positions 4 (1976, 1985, 1999, 2000)

Fastest laps 8 (1972, 1976, 1984, 1985, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001)

Jenson Button

Age 34 (January 19 1980)

GPs 254

Wins 15

Poles 8

FLs 8

“First, I think it’s great that we’re going back to Austria. Obviously, the Austrian Grand Prix has such a lot of history, the country has had some great drivers and champions in the past, and it’s also currently got a world-class grand prix team, so it makes a lot of sense for us to be racing there again.

“Second, I think it’s a great venue, a fantastic location for a grand prix. From my previous visits, I remember the clear mountain air, the cool morning temperatures before the sun hit the paddock, and the fast, sweeping corners that still largely exist, and which give this circuit a great feel from the cockpit. I remember the racing line for Turn One would lead us far out over the exit kerbs and onto the Tarmac run-off – it was crazy!

“It’ll be interesting to see what has changed in the intervening 10 years – I hear that the track has been left largely unchanged, but that the pits and paddock have been renovated. I think that’s a good call – the track is simple but great. A mini-classic.”

Kevin Magnussen

Age 21 (October 05 1992)

GPs 7

Wins 0

Poles 0

FLs 0

“It’s strange to be able to say it, but, of all the drivers on the F1 grid, I’ve probably got the most recent experience of racing at the Red Bull Ring, because two rounds of the World Series by Renault were held there last summer.

“It’s a very cool place – it’s a circuit where you never really get to rest in the cockpit because the track is always going somewhere; there’s only really one ‘straight’ straight, along the start/finish line, but it’s book-ended by fast corners so the opportunity you get to relax is pretty minimal.

“But that’s what makes it so enjoyable – every lap is a real adrenaline rush because the corners never stop coming. You need to really be on top of the car around here, you want it to be doing exactly what you ask of it, simply because the lap is so physical, the driver is actually doing a lot of work, so he needs his car to take as much of that burden as possible.

“I think this’ll be a great new addition to the calendar – the circuit is a hardcore racetrack, the fans are passionate and the venue is spectacular.”

Eric Boullier

Racing director, McLaren Mercedes

“Jenson’s fine fourth place in Canada was more the result of some great team strategy calls and a hungry and opportunistic drive from Jenson himself than an improvement in the overall pace of our car. Kevin drove very well in Montreal, too, although his race was thwarted by traffic and ill luck. Still, it’s a mark of the strength of the organisation that we can achieve results like these at a track where it’s often easy to falter.

“Nonetheless, we’re still not where we need to be. Since the beginning of the season, we’ve stated that we need to bring more downforce to the car. Of course, that’s a constantly moving target – for this weekend, however, we'll be evaluating a number of short- and long-term performance steps. It’s still too early to feel confident about calling them raceable options – it’s more about evaluating their applicability at the circuit than simply hoping they’ll improve lap-time. Nonetheless, we hope the steps will pave the way for an improvement.

“I’m looking forward to a challenging but successful weekend in Austria. It’s good news to see a new, albeit historic, European venue added to the calendar, and everybody will be hoping that this weekend’s event is a successful one.”