Sahara Force India F1 Team Chief Race Engineer Tom McCullough explains the intricacies of the Red Bull Ring, as the F1 calendar heads to Austria this weekend.
To engineer McCullough, the circuit in Spielberg, set alongside the Styrian mountain range, is a highly individual one, with some interesting elements and undulations that make it one of the most enjoyable and exciting for the drivers to race at across the season, as well as being a huge challenge for the team.
“Austria is a unique track. It’s built on the side of a steep hill and the elevation changes are significant throughout the lap.”
The fastest lap time of the season is usually set in Austria, and with the 2017 cars going even quicker this year, the Force India man is confident we could be set for some record-breaking figures.
The short length of the track also usually sees close margins between drivers, which can make for some unexpected results in qualifying and on race day, a feature McCullough feels only adds to the excitement factor of this Grand Prix.
“It’s one of the shortest circuits on the calendar, only 4.318km long, and it’s usually the quickest lap time of the year.
“Two of its only nine corners are flat out and this all means the grid can be very tight, with very small gaps between drivers.”
The high altitude experienced in the lush, mountainous setting of Spielberg, makes the Red Bull Ring tough on the power units and also generates less downforce, which leads to less grip being available to drivers, whilst the brakes also take a hammering.
McCullough advises that straight-line speed is essential if you are to make progress through the field during the race, whilst attention is placed on a good set-up for the high-speed corners.
“At 680m above sea level, we operate at lower air density: this results in lower grip due to less downforce and it makes overall cooling harder. Pair it up with the several big brake energy inputs and you get one of the hardest circuits for the brakes.
“Compared to the last three events, the focus is more on higher speed, grip-limited corners, but you still need good straight-line speed to make the best of the overtaking opportunities.”
Although the spectacular backdrop of the Spielberg circuit make it one of the most mesmeric on the calendar, along with the flat out racing it allows, it can also lead to some rather inclement weather which often plays its part in producing some interesting results, as McCullough recalls from 2016.
“The weather is also an important variable: anything can happen, as we witnessed last year, and this can produce some unpredictable results.”