Red Bull's big boys aren't all on the same page
One of the bigger stories to come out of the Austrian Grand Prix weekend was the news that Red Bull – who are understandably frustrated by their relative lack of power when compared with championship leaders Mercedes – were considering building their own engines in future, with Helmut Marko telling Martin Brundle that powertrain construction was an option.
“We have a lot of very skilled companies [in Austria] concerning engines,” the Red Bull motorsport advisor said. “Pankl is about 30 kilometres from here, and AVL is 70 kms. … We are looking at all alternatives.”
Understandably, the story gained traction and was the subject of much discussion both in the paddock and on the internet. But the bigger story was Dietrich Mateschitz' refutation of Marko's comments, with the Red Bull boss saying to reporters “we are not a car manufacturer. Our primary expertise is not the construction of engines.”
Given that Marko has long been perceived as Mateschitz' representative in the paddock, keeping his countryman informed of paddock politics and the team's progress, that the two men would present such contradictory messages in such a short space of time raises questions about the continuing strength of their relationship.
It is also interesting that Marko pointed to AVL and Pankl as possible partners when a bespoke Red Bull engine made by title sponsor – and existing OEM – Infiniti would make greater commercial sense. Maybe those quickly dismissed pre-season rumours of a split between team and sponsor were not as far-fetched as first thought.
Austria delivers a surprise package
When the return of the Austrian Grand Prix was announced last year, there reaction was a mixed one. On the one hand, it was positive to see another European race announced where there was bound to be a strong appetite for the grand prix, as well as the track being in a beautiful location. On the other, access to the circuit had often been difficult in the past, and accommodation for teams, workers and media would be in short supply.
However, despite a blip on Thursday when local roads were not policed and caravans clogged the route in and out of the circuit, the return to Spielberg was an overwhelming success.
Red Bull's renovation of the circuit facilities allowed for stunning views from the media centre, grandstands and a number of locations around the track, while teams also had ample space to work in the paddock and a challenging track to try and tame. Just as importantly, the stunning scenery was enjoyed by thousands of fans who could camp within a very short walk to the circuit and created a fantastic atmosphere from Thursday evening onwards.
For all the magnificent new facilities being developed in each and every corner of the world, sometimes the old ones are the best.
The FIA can be tough when they want to be
In recent years one of the criticisms most frequently levelled at the FIA has been about the Federation's apparent lack of willingness to stand firm behind decisions that have been made, signed off, and widely publicised. Over the course of the Austrian race weekend, FIA race director Charlie Whiting proved time and time again that such criticisms are unfair, at least where race control is concerned.
At their regular briefing drivers were informed that the FIA would “adopt a 'zero tolerance' approach to car leaving the track on the exit of Turn 8 during qualifying” unless it could be proven that the failure to respect track limits was beyond the control of the driver in question. The zero tolerance approach in qualifying would result in lap times being deleted as applicable.
So it was written, and so it came to pass, with nearly half the grid seeing times deleted on Saturday afternoon, most memorably for Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg, both of whom were listed on the official qualifying classification as having failed to set a time in Q3.
On Sunday morning, Whiting issued another edict: “During the race, any driver leaving the track on the exit of Turn 8 who appears to have gained a clear and lasting advantage by doing so will be reported to the stewards. We would not, for example, expect a driver who left the rack on the exit of Turn 8 to attempt to pass a driver in front of him into Turn 1.”
The FIA's take no prisoners attitude on Saturday paid dividends on Sunday, when the majority of the field stuck within the white lines at Turn 8. Even those backmarkers who occasionally crossed the line did so infrequently enough that their behaviour was not deemed worthy of a post-race meeting with the stewards, and the racing was all the better for it.
Drivers want to be consulted
The suggestion that standing starts could be used following safety car periods from 2015 onwards emerged in the Austria paddock over the weekend, with the idea having come up as teams look for ways to increase entertainment for F1 fans.
While such discussions are all well and good, one key component of the sport appears to have been overlooked: the driver. Jenson Button was keen to point out some safety concerns that could arise as a result of the change being implemented, and the two Mercedes drivers were completely unaware of the proposal despite it being set for World Motor Sport Council approval.
Rosberg said he was not in favour of such a departure from the previous safety car procedure, while the telling point came from Button himself when asked by Crash.net if drivers would like to be consulted beforehand.
“Yes! I think the drivers like to be more involved,” Button said. “When we hear of the regulation changes or ideas we do have our input and I'd like to think the teams do listen to our comments, or the people within the teams will listen to their own drivers and their comments and feelings for the new regulations.
“Because we're the guys that can feel what the car is doing and what it's capable of, but obviously sometimes as a driver you are single minded. For a team you need to think about the bigger picture – which I completely understand – but I think it's important for a driver to have a little bit of input.”
Not all the drivers know how a press conference works
There is a certain structure to the FIA press conferences for the top three finishers in qualifying and the race. And while the structure has seen minor tweaks over the years – the most recent being with the introduction of the podium interviews mid-way through the 2012 season – the format is consistent from race to race.
There's the TV unilateral, which is the short section aired as part of the race coverage, and then drivers whose mother tongue isn't English comment on their session in their language so that there is relevant comment for the national broadcaster. After that, the moderator asks a series of questions and then the floor is opened to the press corps at large.
Despite that, however, occasional mistakes are made, and they're usually quite funny. In the post-qualifying press conference for the 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix, pole-sitter and Williams rookie Nico Hulkenberg had to be shown where to sit as he'd never been in the top three before. And on Saturday evening in Austria, both Williams drivers answered the TV questions, spoke briefly in their mother tongues, and then removed their microphones and prepared to leave the room.
Perhaps a refresher in press conference procedure might prove useful at the next drivers' briefing?
By Kate Walker and Chris Medland