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Red Bull, Green Heaven

It has been a little while since I have written a blog but I thought I would now as it was appropriate timing.

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to go to the absolutely majestic track that is the Red Bull Ring. It firstly must be stated at just how absolutely beautiful a country Austria is. It has the most outstanding landscape and scenery you could wish for. No wonder they are crazy about their skiing with the size of the mountains they have! (Congratulations Anna Fenninger)

I arrived with friends on Friday with a sense of anticipation. I have become very eager to see and hear these new generation of hybrid cars. After casually walking around the F1 Fan Village and purchasing some Ferrari and Williams t-shirts we proceeded to the grandstand along the straight between turn one to turn two.

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We hit our first problem trying to actually get in the grandstand when they said our passes were not valid which made no sense considering Friday was “meant to be” access all areas even on a general admission pass. Apparently not. Luckily we were able to peer around the grandstand and see our first glimpse of turn two. Initially I was a little underwhelmed, it looked less of an incline than I thought.

All of a sudden I could hear a rogue whistling sound followed by a large thud of booming. Sure enough FP2 had started to my absolute amazement. I did not hear them coming, I did not hear a single thing until the braking of turn two. I didn’t even need ear phones and I have a dodgy right ear!

As we ventured to the top of turn two we looked back and the landscape to centre stage. This wonderful, sweeping valley of greenery with vista’s that could only dream of. It also made me realise “Oh, turn two is rather steep.” It wasn’t until we were at the top I truly appreciated just how steep the run to turn two was or how much the track dips between one and two.

We found ourselves a spot high up on the grassed banking at turn two and took in an afternoon of sunshine and loud whistles. That really is all I can describe these V6 hybrid turbo engines. Loud whistles. I had the privilege of going to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 2013 and remembering how my ears would ring all night long before going to the track again the next morning for them to be absolutely obliterated again with screaming V8’s at 18,000rpm. My chest would vibrate with the noise reverberating around the trees. It was pure magic. Absolute magic.

I realise and understand that the car industry and modern life itself is in a flux of trying to save the environment but I struggle to see the relevance of these engines in road cars. I thought that’s what the WEC boys were doing, oh and doing it better may I add. I have been a Formula 1 fan all my life but never have I been let down so much by the cars. They are woeful, truly woeful.

We returned for day two bright and early because one of us in the group had a press pass – the lucky bugger! So as he ventured off we took to walking around the track and taking more in until Qualifying. We were fortunate enough to find a nice little spot between turns two and three which gave us not only a spectacular view across the circuit but a demonstration of what these cars can do in to turn three.

Qualifying comes and it is fascinating to see when they turn the wick up on these cars, SORRY! Batteries, we see just what the can do. Both Mercedes were braking barely before the 50m board. Incredibly late braking in qualifying trim and even with the fly-by-wire braking systems they seem to work quite nicely. The transition from wet to dry caught Kimi out and we were left with a regular story come Q2 and Q3. Mercedes up front on their own with little interest from the others and a lockout even though they both through away what would have better laps.

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Post qualifying we ventured off in to the wilderness as the track cuts from turn three up to around the turn 8 area. This is where I captured a fantastic video through the fencing, wedging my phone between two bars and seeing the Porsche Supercup. They never cease to amaze. Wonderful machinery cascading down the hill and the drivers having to deal with both curb and camber changes. Sublime area to see cars fly through.

Race day and another early start. We arrived at 8.30am with cappuccino in hand waiting for the support races. We had found a bench the day before and being with a German we had to make sure we got our beach towels down early to avoid disappointment. The vantage point we had though was fantastic. I honestly could not have hoped for a better setting to sit and enjoy a day’s racing. I have often raved about the view from Knickerbrook at Oulton Park and the view you get there, this was better!

Both GP3 and GP2 were great to watch. Viewing the rising talent through the ranks and the drivers wanting to get the elusive F1 prize. It must be said at this point at the phenomenal talent that is Stoffel Vandoorne. The guy is breath-taking to watch on track. The speed and control he has with a GP2 car and the way he controls the Pirelli tyres is awe inspiring. If he does not secure an F1 seat then it would a travesty. How do you replace Alonso or Button? Easy. Vandoorne for Button and wait for Honda to sort their engine out.

On the point of Honda. Engine? Well, none of these engines may sound particularly great but where they do come alive is a low speed. A deep gargle and splattering of fuel as it tries to pull away and then it’s gone as they crank through the eight gears. The Honda engine though sounds like it’s like an extra cylinder down than any other manufacturer. It gargles, spits, pops, it has been a long time since I have heard something quite that throaty. Do I like it? Not really but many will.

Before the F1 race we were enticed by some old machinery from the 80’s and the 90’s along with a plane from the Red Bull Air Race which was very impressive and finally a giant Austrian flag was helicoptered in. When you can hear the noise of the engines from the far side of the track, blast along the start straight with the sound bouncing off the paddock that is when the blood rushes. That thrill of the sound and noise the feel of speed rushing through your body.

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Five red lights go out and with all cars on the grid you can hear the engines but only for a lap or two until they have filtered out. That was proven after the safety car came in after the Alonso and Raikkonen had their bust up on the exit of two. Unfortunately did not get a glimpse of it but did get to see the truck take the Ferrari the wrong way turn round and go back the other way. Alonso and Kimi also going their separate ways on bikes back to the pit lane.

Once they were back to full speed it truly shocked me at just how much they lift and coast prior to a corner. They do brake incredibly late but because the aerodynamics has done most of the work by then it was makes little differences. They cars look incredibly easy to drive and not a great challenge for the driver. One thing of note though was how the Mercedes cars turn through turns three and four. They pitch the car in on the nose, let the rear slide and power on. This was actually the issue they had a few years ago with Schumacher and Rosberg with the rears overheating. By the looks of it they have not got rid of the issue but due to the longevity of the Pirelli’s the tyres heat up in to an operating window and keep them well enough to stretch their legs.

At all times the Mercedes looked like they could just turn the boost up and run away as and when they needed to. All very calculated and controlled and gave no openings or opportunities to other teams. Ferrari are coming though, the car looks very strong at the rear with little movement which could help in the future.

My overall conclusion though is one of disappointment. These cars are terrible with absolutely no heart or sole about them. Quiet, easy and just all round dull racing. There is a lot to be sorted in Formula 1 but something has got to be done about these cars. I would like to thank the Red Bull Ring for a phenomenal venue and support package though. Tremendous effort and I fully endeavour on returning to the track soon. I hear you have MotoGP coming…