Last month, we made our first trip to the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring circuit in Spielberg, near Graz. Here’s our report!
All photos © f1destinations.com
The trip began in Vienna, where we met a friend from Australia, picked up a hire car and set the GPS for Spielberg, the home of the Red Bull Ring. Ever since watching races on the old Österreichring back in the late 1980s, we have always wanted to make it to this iconic F1 venue in the heart of the beautiful Austrian countryside, and this year we had the opportunity. We elected to stay in Graz* and drive to the circuit each day, which turned out to be a good decision. It takes about an hour on the motorway and parking was plentiful (and free!) at the circuit. After selling out for its return in 2014, spectator numbers were down this year by around 30-40%. From our perspective this was a good thing. The atmosphere at the track was still pretty good, but we didn’t have to queue for a beer or the toilet. (*We stayed at Red Lodge, an affordable place on the outskirts of Graz, where a single room set us back €38 each per night)
We’ve been to plenty of F1 races in recent years, and the fan experience at the Red Bull Ring was overwhelmingly positive. The organizers no doubt learned a thing or two from the return race in 2014 and we found it hard to find fault with the way the event was managed. The only frustrating aspect, apart from the changeable weather and lack of sun, was that we were led to believe that there would be ‘Free Friday’, i.e. we would be able to access all the grandstands on Friday. This wasn’t the case, and whilst we were able to sneak into a couple of grandstands on the day, it still felt like we had been misled. Read on to find out what we though of the event and check out our photos, the majority of which we took with an iPhone6.
Excellent views in General AdmissionAlthough we had Mitte grandstand tickets, we spent much of the weekend in the General Admission areas at the circuit, which offer some excellent viewing opportunities. The areas on the hill at the top of the circuit provide panoramic views of much of the circuit and there were multiple big screen TVs on which to follow the action (a rarity for General Admission). Closer to the start/finish straight, there was also excellent viewing on the final corners of the circuit. Turn 9 – the final corner on the circuit – also offered good viewing (though without a big TV screen) and this is where we chose to watch the start of the race. The Ost (East) and Red Bull Mobile grandstands were located here in 2014, but with ticket sales down for 2015, these were not constructed.
On the ragged edge in Turn 8This was our favorite part of the circuit and the small general admission area on the approach was an area we returned to time and time again over the weekend. The cars were really on the ragged edge in this corner, particularly in qualifying. We enjoyed watching the different approaches to the corner from drivers keen to look for a few tenths on an important corner.
The Legends’ Parade…The highlight of the weekend. It felt like turning back the clock to the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide, which I grew up with. The line up of cars and drivers from the 1980s turbo era was impressive. Former multiple world champions were reunited with period cars from their prime: Nelson Piquet in a 1983 Brabham BT52, Niki Lauda in a 1984 McLaren and Alain Prost in a 1985 McLaren. They were joined by race winners Gerhard Berger (the local hero, along with Lauda) in a 1987 Ferrari, Ricardo Patrese in a 1984 Renault E50 and Jean Alesi in a 1995 Sauber (the only non-turbo car), as well as a couple of less successful drivers from the period, Pierluigi Martini in a 1986 Minardi and Christian Danner in a 1987 Zakspeed. The 1980s turbos ventured first ventured out on track on Saturday evening, and what a beautiful sound they made!. Sadly, Berger’s Ferrari broke down and didn’t make the parade on Sunday ahead of the race. Unsurprisingly, the Zakspeed also broke down and made no appearance on Sunday, while the Minardi did complete both on-track sessions, despite belching a lot of flames and smoke!
Mitte GrandstandWe bought tickets in the Mitte (Middle) grandstand for €195 each, which turned out to be a good decision despite us spending hardly any time in our seats the whole weekend! As the name suggests, this grandstand is in the middle of the circuit, right in front of the big bull in fact. Other ticket holders were not allowed into this section, which made it somewhat less crowded. The grass area in front of the stand was more comfortable than sitting in the grandstand itself! Fairly close to the track, but raised above the catch fencing, this was also a good place for amateur photographers to practice their panning shots (see a couple of our attempts below with an old Sony Cybershot) and there was catering and toilets behind the grandstand.
FanzoneAs well as being the base for the Legends Parade, the Fanzone behind Turn 1 was also the place to go for the best selection of merchandise, food and drink at the circuit. Hearty Austrian fare was the order of the day when it came to food at the Red Bull Ring, including tasty schnitzel burgers and bratwurst (both reasonably priced at €6, cheaper options were available). Half-liter beers were €4.50 and there was no shortage of Red Bull products for around €3.
There was a friendly, welcoming atmosphere at the Red Bull Ring. The crowd was predominantly German speaking (and mainly supporting Red Bull), but there was a good selection of fans from other parts of Europe as well. Many people seemed to hit the beers pretty hard (and every second person was a smoker!) but no-one was obnoxious and the security seemed ready to step in, should they be needed. Most service staff spoke English and were knowledgeable.