This page tells the story of the most famous circuit of Austria. We don’t talk about the A1-Ring or Red Bull Ring… We are talking about the old Österreichring, once one of the most beautiful racetracks in the world! Unfortunately perished in the modern era.
The origination of the Österreichring
From 1958 to 1968 races where held at an airport near the Austrian city of Zeltweg. In 1961 and 1963 this 3,2 km (2 Miles) long airport circuit was the scene of the Austrian Grand Prix which where both inaugural races.
In 1964 another Austrian Grand Prix was held at the airport, this one was counted for the Formula 1 World Championship. But the circuit was very bumpy with the result that many suspensions broke, so the track was find no longer suitable for Formula 1.
A few miles from the old airport circuit a brand new permanent circuit was opened in 1969, called the Österreichring. It was a beautiful 5,942 km (3.713 Miles) long circuit with many fast corners and lots of elevation differences. From 1970 until 1987 the Austrian Grand Prix was held here every year and the track became one of the most popular venues on the F1 calendar.
The first changes to the old Österreichring
The Österreichring was not only a beautiful and challenging circuit, it was also a dangerous circuit! During the warm up for the 1975 Grand Prix, American Mark Donohue crashed because of a puncture in the first corner and died a few days later in the hospital. After the rain soaked race was finished earlier, race winner Vittorio Brambilla crashed in the exit lap in the same corner. He escaped unhurt.
To increase the safety of the track the first corner was slightly modified for the 1976 Grand Prix, but a year later it was changed to a chicane. The corner was now less challenging but a new overtaking opportunity was created. Unless the modified first corner the Österreichring still was a very fast circuit.
The last Grand Prix at the old Österreichring was in 1987. They had to restart the race three times caused by some accidents where the narrow Start/Finish straight was blamed for.
From Österreichring to A1-Ring
After the circuit was found not suitable for Formula 1, other races have been held at the Österreichring but the circuit neglected slow but certain.
A new group investors took over the Österreichring. With financial support from telecom provider A1, the classic circuit was modernised. The new race track opened in 1996 and was renamed to A1-Ring. But the flow of the old Österreichring was completely destroyed! The so called Westschleife (West Loop) was abandoned and all fast corners where gone, which makes the A1-Ring a stop and go circuit.
The new connection. In front a very slow corner, unfortunately there where plenty slow corners at the A1-Ring.
In 1997 Formula 1 returned to Austria after nine years of absence. But after seven Grand Prix the contract was not renewed, so the last Austrian Grand Prix was in 2003. The official reason to leave Austria was the ban on tobacco advertisement in the European Union.
Other sources tell that Austria was not lucrative enough for Formula 1. “Races will only be allocated into countries which will be in the best interests of the teams, manufacturers and sponsors” Ecclestone said. So it looked that the 2003 Grand Prix of Austria should have been the one last ever…
The end of the old Österreichring?
In 2004 the A1-Ring was bought by Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz. He had ambitious plans to rebuilt the race track to a sort of theme park. There should come a hotel, kart track, racing school and much more.
Also the old part of the original Österreichring should be reconnected to the circuit! Assuming that all permissions have been granted they start to demolish the old buildings.
But after protests of the owner of a neighbouring domain, the Austrian environment Council did not agreed the permissions and the works had to stop. What remained was a half demolished circuit!
In 2005 the Austrian government decided the A1-Ring should be rebuilt. Red Bull was the financial partner again, but also the KTM, VW and Magna concerns. The circuit should be made suitable for races and tests, and the works where planned to start in 2007.
But after a long struggle for permission from the local authotities, VW withdrawn from the project followed by KTM and Magna. It looked all over for what was once one of the world’s most beautiful race tracks in the world.
From A1-Ring to Red Bull Ring
Nevertheless in 2008 Red Bull owner Mateschitz gets green light from the local authorities to rebuild the circuit. But for his ambitous plannes was no money. They just rebuild the A1-Ring and changed the name to Red Bull Ring.
On May the 15th 2011 the track was reopened, but it looks that the great old secton will never be a part of the race track anymore. Today it’s a parking area and there’s a small kart track at the Hella Licht.
A new return of Formula One in Austria
In the summer of 2013 it was announced that the Grand Prix of Austria would return in 2014 on the new Red Bull Ring. Mateschitz, owner of both the circuit and the Red Bull Formula One Team, did it again. The circuit that seemen death a few years ago is now back on top of motor racing. But we will still miss the old lay out of the Österreichring.
Will the Westschleife (West Loop) become operational again?
In the spring of 2016 photos of a new connection (with a chicane) to the old part, called Westschleife (West Loop), appear on the internet. Several media speculate about a possible return to operation of the old Westschleife, but the operators of the Red Bull Ring remain silence.
However, owner Mr. Mateschitz indicated that he was interested to reuse the old section when he bought the track in 2004. The biggest hurdle to realise that would be the question with the neigbours about noise pollution.
If this section will be used again it will not be exact like the old Österreichring. Before the Hella-Licht they already built a chicane, and there will be another one at the site where the Westschleife joins the current circuit. Fortunately it seems the rest of the Westschleife will stay as it was, which will bring back a piece of the great old Österreichring!
© Text: Herman Liesemeijer Photos: Herman Liesemeijer & Michael Draye
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