It’s been a busy couple of weeks as we tackled the first pair of back-to-back races of the year. While the engineers and part of the team made a quick two-day pit stop in Faenza after the French Grand Prix, our garage setup crew and some of the mechanics headed straight to the Red Bull Ring to get ready for what is obviously a special event for anyone connected to the Red Bull family.
On track, we didn’t have any “home side” advantage and unfortunately, it was a weekend with no points to add to our total. In fairness, the need to get Alex using Honda’s latest Spec 3 meant it was his turn to start from the back of the grid. Naturally, that compromised his weekend and with no retirements in the race – only the ninth time this has happened in the 1006 race history of F1 – there were no free gifts for our Thai driver. What we had not expected was for Daniil to be joining his team-mate at the lower end of the grid. In the first part of qualifying, coming round the penultimate corner on a lap that would easily have got him to Q2, he came up behind a trio of cars either going very slowly or tripping over one another and his lap was ruined. Excuses aside, we did not really have the pace this weekend, but now that both our drivers have dealt with the inconvenience of a back row start to take a new PU, maybe we can focus on having a more linear weekend at the next round in England.
From France, both Alex and Daniil went straight to Austria, being special guests at the “Sport und Talk” show on Servus TV from the Hanger 7 in Salzburg on Monday evening after the race and before the Austrian GP. There was not much time free as on Wednesday, our two drivers were already back to work on behalf of one of our sponsors and indeed the title sponsor of this race, MyWorld. In the main square of the beautiful city of Graz, the nearest major conurbation to the track, our drivers were on stage in the boiling heat for interviews and to meet fans who had turned out to see them.
Daniil actually got some extra laps of the Red Bull Ring under his belt on Thursday, when he gave some guests a very fast ride around the track as part of the Hot Laps supercar programme. “Hot” was the word of the weekend, as central Europe experienced a mini heatwave with temperatures reaching the mid-thirties on race day.
Even allowing for our natural bias, the Red Bull Ring really does offer race fans one of the best experiences of the year. Everything is incredibly well organised, with well laid out campsites, easy to access car parks and special cycle parks too. In addition, because of all the two and four-wheeled activities that are part of daily life at the track, that meant there were a host of off-track activities for spectators to enjoy. On track and in the paddock and public areas there were various tributes to Niki Lauda, who is at the very heart of Austria’s love affair with Formula 1. Roughly 60,000 red caps were placed on grandstand seats to honour Niki, with the all 20 drivers also sporting Niki’s trademark look right before the Austrian National anthem on the grid. To top off remembering a legend of the sport, a helicopter flew over the track towing a giant flag with a picture of Niki and the words, “Danke Niki”.
Our drivers had never encountered such a busy fan forum and autograph session and coming to the circuit every morning was a slow but fun process, walking down the “Green Carpet” outside the grandstand, signing hundreds of autographs and posing for selfies.
On race day, after what had been a difficult afternoon for us, but a fantastic win for Aston Martin Red Bull Racing thanks to an incredible drive from Max Verstappen and Honda’s great improvements, it was a real morale booster to hear Honda’s F1 Technical Director, Tanabe san say that “We must not forget the great contribution made by Scuderia Toro Rosso, who helped us get back on the right path last year. Honda has not done this alone.”
Shortly after the race, both drivers flew straight to England for some time in the simulator to prepare for the British GP, but whereas last year the race at Silverstone was the third of the sport’s first ever triple-header, this time they will get a chance to pause for breath as the next round is in a fortnight’s time.