sport

Thumbs-up for Austria return

The F1 fraternity has given an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the resurrection of the Austrian GP as the sport descends on the Styrian mountain region for the first time in over a decade this weekend.

Sunday's grand prix at the Red Bull Ring is the first the venue, formerly known as the A1 Ring and before that the Osterreichring, will stage since 2003 following the energy drinks firm's takeover and revamp of the historic facility.

The venue's long absence from the calendar means that only four drivers on the current grid - Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa - have ever raced around the 4.3km, nine-corner circuit, with the rest having had to familiarise themselves with the short layout on their respective teams' simulators ahead of Friday practice.

Raikkonen, the only one of the experienced quartet to have stood on the podium at the race, said both the location and the track layout made Austria's return positive news for F1.

\"It's a nice place to go,\" the Ferrari driver explained. \"It's close to where I live. The circuit is [made up of] not so many corners but it's one of the circuits that you used to see a lot of good races because there are a few straight lines and corners that you can try to overtake.

\"It's a bit like Montreal, not many corners but a layout for a good racing.\"

Jenson Button, who finished fourth for BAR when the race was last staged, said the atmosphere at the event was akin to some of the more established European races on the calendar.

\"Lots of campsites and lots of very merry Austrians over the Grand Prix weekend,\" Button replied when asked for his Austrian GP memories. \"It's one of those races that they really embrace the sort of party scene and the camping scene, which is really cool. It reminds me very much of Spa, British Grand Prix and those sort of races. It's a true racing fan's Grand Prix, I feel.

\"The circuit itself... you look at it and you think 'there's like seven corners, it can't be that fun to drive.' But it is, it's a really good circuit. I've enjoyed racing there in the past, I don't know what it's going to be like with these cars. I've always had fun racing there."

Raikkonen's team-mate Fernando Alonso, who failed to finish either of his previous two races in Austria, is also looking forward to tackling the track again and thinks its several straights should offer up overtaking opportunities.

\"It is quite a challenging circuit. I remember the races there you had some specific set-up for that circuit. Very long straights where you need speed on those, especially this year with the overtaking possibilities and the DRS that we didn't have in the past,\" the Spaniard said.

\"There are a lot of high-speed corners and nothing in between, so it's not easy to set up the car for the high-speed corners and the long straights, that will be the biggest challenge for us.

\"It's going to be a good event because the circuit provides us always with good emotions and good overtaking possibilities with these straights.\"

For Mercedes' Austrian team boss Toto Wolff, meanwhile, the revival of the race is a particularly special occasion.

\"It's great because that is a fantastic place with so much history and heritage. What [Red Bull co-owner] Mr Mateschitz did there he' s revived the region," he said.

\"For me this is where I started when I was 18 years old. I remember living there and trying to make a living as a driving instructor. Coming back there is fantastic and the whole country is excited.

\"I hope on Sunday night we [Mercedes] are going to spoil the party but for him I think he has a bigger picture than just the racing team. The racing team is one part of his empire.\"

Although based in the heart of the UK, Red Bull are effectively the 'home' team this weekend given the outfit are Austrian-owned and registered. The World Champions entered F1 as a team owner two years after the race dropped off the calendar and team chief Christian Horner admitted: \"To have a race at the Red Bull Ring as Red Bull Racing, with that inevitably comes a bit of pressure.

\"But it will be fantastic to perform in front of effectively a home crowd. They sold out within a matter of hours a colossal amount of tickets and I think it's going to be a huge spectacle that Red Bull put on over the Austrian Grand Prix weekend.\"