From the Osterreichring to the A1 Ring, up to the Red Bull Ring. Over the years, the Spielberg racetrack has undergone important changes that have shortened and re-profiled the original layout of the track, without however altering its nature as a high-speed track. On the slopes of the Austrian mountains, in fact, modern Formula 1 cars cover one lap at an average close to 245 km / h, the highest mileage since the start of the 2021 championship.
The three extensions reward the power of the most performing power units, such as Honda and Mercedes, and in general the cars that, like McLaren, have shown great aerodynamic efficiency on the straight. However, it would be reductive to consider the top speed as the only factor necessary to make a good impression, as despite its simplicity the Red Bull Ring looks like a complete and convincing track both from the pilotage point of view and from the technical aspects.
F1 | Spielberg: data, peculiarities and why the pilots like it
Between hairpin bends and straights
Officially the track has been homologated with ten corners, although there are only seven non-power limited ones, i.e. where the distance is not limited by the power of the power unit. Of the seven actual changes of direction, three are long-distance at medium-high speed which require high downforce (curves 6-7-8), while curves 1 and 10 are shorter, but equally technical from the point of view of the mechanical set-up, where the low radius of curvature is accompanied by significant changes in slope.
The remaining two corners of the Red Bull Ring are instead hairpin bends 3 and 4. These sections enhance the effectiveness of the suspension unit in guaranteeing mechanical grip, the ability to generate load at low distances and the traction at the exit to quickly recover speed thanks to a skilful supply of electrical power. aspects in which Ferrari appeared decidedly performing. The Red Bull Ring therefore offers some points where the SF21 will have the opportunity to capitalize on its potential, to try to compensate for the speed shortages on the straight that can be partly associated with the gaps in the heat engine.
The challenges of the mountain
Altitude is one of the themes that regularly accompany the travels of the Circus in Austria, with the Red Bull Ring which is located about 700 meters above sea level, a characteristic that results in a lower air density of about 10% to that encountered in the other circuits of the calendar. The greater rarefaction of the air has a profound effect on aerodynamics, an aspect to which modern single-seaters are extremely sensitive, with consequences that go beyond the generation of downforce alone.
In the first place, the reduction of the air mass per unit of volume affects the load and the aerodynamic resistance generated by an airfoil with the same incidence. The teams therefore opt for different aerodynamic configurations compared to those that the same route would require at a lower altitude.
With the density inevitably decreases also the flow rate, therefore the air mass that hits the internal components complicating the heat dissipation and cooling of the power unit. In Austria we are thus witnessing the proliferation of openings in the bodywork and the adoption of bonnets characterized by wider rear vents to facilitate the evacuation of hot air. Ensuring efficient cooling reduces concerns about reliability and allows for a more aggressive and performing engine mapping. At the same time, however, the openings in the bodywork and the increased dimensions of the bonnet affect the effectiveness of the external aerodynamics, the load generated when cornering, the drag and fuel consumption.
The definition of the number and amplitude of the outlets is therefore aimed at finding the optimal compromise between the usable power of the power unit and external aerodynamic efficiency. Ferrari showed signs of suffering more from internal components overheating problems, which forced Maranello’s technicians to opt for bonnets on average wider than the competition. The cooling difficulties linked to the rarefaction of the air therefore constitute an additional brake on the ambitions of the SF21 in Austria.
The same atmospheric rarefaction also leads to a lower density of the air entering the engine, compensated by a greater compression by the turbo to prevent a reduction in the power released. To meet the increased work required, the turbocharger rotates at a higher average speed and needs more thrust from the MGU-H electric generator, thus intensifying energy consumption and influencing the sustainable pace in the race. All this offers an interesting starting point for analysis in the fight at the top, allowing us to evaluate if the power relations between the Honda and Mercedes power units will be affected by the different operating regime of the turbocharger on the basis of the different design characteristics, net of the repercussions on consumption.
The cooling problems caused by the lower air density affect not only the power unit, but also tires and brakes. For the tires, the possibility that Mercedes will once again incur in the difficulties of warming up that have emerged on several occasions since the beginning of the season, while it seems more likely that overheating problems may arise.
Pirelli had initially confirmed the same compounds as last season, the C2, C3 and C4, but following the addition of the second race to the Red Bull Ring, the Italian company has decided to anticipate this choice at the first of the two events. For the second Austrian weekend Pirelli instead diversified the selection, opting for the softer compounds of the entire range, C3, C4 and C5, whose greater sensitivity to thermal degradation could introduce an important strategic variable for the second tender.
The cooling problems for the brakes can be seen from the track classification carried out by Brembo technicians. Despite the reduced use of brakes and the presence of numerous straights that provide long intervals for heat dissipation, Brembo classified the track with a severity of 3 out of 5 for the braking system. In fact, the rarefaction of the air complicates cooling and accelerates the wear of the discs and the friction material, which in extreme cases can lead to failure. In the double event of 2020 there were several withdrawals due to problems with the braking system, while other drivers have been urged by radio to be more conservative in braking to preserve the reliability of the brakes, episodes that cannot be excluded may also be repeated in the next editions.
The Red Bull Ring therefore constitutes an excellent stage to host the eighth and ninth rounds of a championship characterized by uncertainty at different levels of the classification. The interpretation by pilots and engineers of the challenges offered by the mountain altitudes will be one of the keys to maximizing the haul of points available on the slopes of Spielberg.