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Styria GP: Preview - Haas

NEWS STORY
22/06/2021

Uralkali Haas F1 Team is heading to the green pastures of Austria for Rounds 8 and 9 of the 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship.

Austria joined Formula 1's calendar in 1964 at the Zeltweg Airfield but the flat and featureless circuit proved unpopular, and a new complex was designed in the hills above nearby Spielberg. The fast and flowing Osterreichring featured between 1970 and 1987 before returning in refurbished and truncated fashion as the A1 Ring from 1997 through 2003. The venue fell into disrepair thereafter, with no events taking place for eight years, before it was brought up to modern standards and heavily renovated by Red Bull.

Austria's grand prix subsequently returned once more in 2014, with the verdant hills again reverberating to the sound of Formula 1 machinery. In 2020 Spielberg became the first venue in Formula 1 history to host two races in the same calendar year. Its pair of events were the opening rounds of the pandemic-delayed season as Formula 1 proved that it could safely compete in a challenging global environment, providing a much-needed fillip for the motorsport industry.

The 4.3km circuit has only 10 corners and its short lap time leaves very little wiggle room, heightening any mistake, which frequently leads to close qualifying sessions and fast-paced racing. Once more in 2021 Spielberg will host two grands prix across successive weekends, with the first titled the Styrian Grand Prix - in deference to the local commune - and the second taking on the Austrian Grand Prix moniker.

With Austria lifting restrictions on July 1st a full capacity crowd is set to be welcomed to Spielberg for the second event - the first such occasion since 2019.

Austria brings back welcome memories for Uralkali Haas F1 Team and its rookie drivers. It was at Spielberg in 2018 where Haas F1 Team claimed its best ever race result of fourth and fifth, amassing 22 points, en route to fifth overall in the Constructors' Championship. In 2017 Nikita Mazepin made two podium appearances in European Formula 3 while Mick Schumacher scored a double pole position and a pair of victories on his way to the championship trophy in 2018. Both drivers amassed substantial experience at Spielberg in FIA Formula 2 in 2019 and 2020 prior to their graduation to Formula 1.

We're almost a year on from when the Red Bull Ring in Austria hosted a pair of races to re-start the 2020 Formula 1 season. The world is certainly a different place now but what do you recall of your thoughts and emotions heading into those races after four months of uncertainty after the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix in March? Did you expect then that a season could realistically be completed or was it simply a case of being happy to get going again in some capacity?
Guenther Steiner: "Of course, we were happy to get going again and let's see what we could do with it. I think it was very good from the Austrian organizers to start the season last year, in 2020, and also this year to jump in with a second race when we needed it. It's a good place to go to anyway but if there's a place where you want to stay for two races, one of them would be obviously Austria. They're doing a good job and they're always here to help. Last year they triggered the Formula 1 revival after everyone thought the season would not start."

With fans returning this year for both races and the circuit generally enjoyed by drivers and teams alike, what is it that makes the atmosphere at the Red Bull Ring so special?
GS: "I think it's the amount of passion from the people. It's always been a race where a lot of people have come from everywhere and now it seems to be taken over by the Dutch fans. We know they are very loyal to Max - they like to party, and they know how to do it! I think that's one thing but in general, it's the scenery - it's beautiful - and it is a good race track and everybody enjoys it."

Does having a second race at the same circuit, just one week apart, allow you more of an opportunity to benchmark the progress of Nikita and Mick behind the wheel of the VF-21?
GS: "I wouldn't say it's planning to benchmark. It gives them a chance that if on the first race we learn something, we can try something different for the second race. It's more a test that if we learn something you can think about it a little bit longer than on a race weekend and that's the opportunity for us."

Finally, how often do you cast your mind back to Austria 2018 when the team captured its best-ever result with a fourth and fifth place finish with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. Does it inspire you that on a given day, and in the right circumstances, a team such as Uralkali Haas F1 Team can score big in Formula 1?
GS: "I think back every time we go out on the race track this year to keep motivated. I'm sure we can go back, we did it once and we can repeat it but we just need a little bit of time. We've had a few tough years but what makes you suffer, makes you tougher. We will come back, it will take a little bit longer but for sure, finishing fourth and fifth in 2018 was our best result. When you know what is possible and you have experienced it, you know you can do it again."

The Red Bull Ring hasn't been the kindest track to you in terms of results from your time in Formula 2 in 2019 and 2020 - a pair of top 10 finishes your best results in six race starts. What memories do you have from the circuit from your junior career?
Nikita Mazepin: "The Red Bull Ring hasn't been so bad. I think it's a circuit I can be good at presuming I feel comfortable in the car. In 2019, I didn't get myself around to the car balance and I wasn't very happy with the way the car was. In 2020, it was the first round of the championship and unfortunately my car broke down in the first free practice therefore I went out in qualifying and just missed out on a top-10 finish, which I believe was a very good result after not driving for six months. Then, we had a 25-second pitstop in the second race which also put us down in the time sheets but in terms of the times, we were there, and I'm hoping that this gradual improvement with luck and performance will continue from there onwards."

Describe a lap of the Red Bull Ring and what you expect there behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car?
NM: "The track is rather short if you look at the track map, and also looking at it you might think that it's very straightforward. However, I think it's a real car circuit - if the car is good there, the driver is able to extract some great lap times. There are very few slow speed corners on the track and it's dominated by much more high-speed so I'm looking forward to seeing what the VF-21 feels like out there."

You experienced back-to-back races in Austria last season to start the Formula 2 season. This year you're doing the double again at the Red Bull Ring in Formula 1. Do you think a second race at the same circuit, just one week apart, allows you more of an opportunity to benchmark your progress in the VF-21 and with the team?
NM: "I genuinely do think it will be interesting to race back-to-back at the circuit. As a rookie in Formula 1, you often feel you're not getting enough time behind the wheel, especially with free practices being shortened, so I think it will definitely put everybody much closer together with two weeks of racing on the same circuit and hopefully FP1, 2 and 3 will be a bit more straightforward. I've never done 90-minute FP1's like other drivers have, however it doesn't feel short to me having three free practices available when I'm used to one 45-minute free practice before qualifying. I think Formula 2 brings you up in a very strict manner so that you appreciate it in Formula 1."

The second race in Austria will see a different tire compound selection available - moving from Pirelli's C2-C3-C4 range for the Styrian Grand Prix to the softer selection of C3-C4-C5 for the Austrian Grand Prix. What are the challenges in running different compounds at the same track on consecutive weekends and how steep is the learning curve with the new, shortened 60-minute practice sessions this season?
NM: "I don't think the challenges will be that big. I'm a big fan of soft tires because they ultimately feel better on a single push and they also need less warm-up time, however that comes at a cost of tires going away quicker. For me, it's a little bit difficult to predict what it's going to be now. I just believe on a track like Austria which is very smooth, being on the softest compound available will make it easier to warm-up the tires and potentially a more interesting race for the fans with the tires going away."

The Red Bull Ring hasn't been the kindest track to you in terms of results from your time in Formula 2 in 2019 and 2020 - a pair of 4th place finishes your best results in six race starts. What memories do you have from the circuit from your junior career?
Mick Schumacher: "I've always been very happy around the Red Bull Ring; it's been a great track for me and I've been fast. In terms of luck, maybe it wasn't always my race, but I think in general we've had the pace. In 2019, it was the first race where I had the pace to stay with the top runners, even though it was a lap down, and I was just as close as what Nyck de Vries was doing at the time, and he won the championship that year. Looking at Formula 3, my speed was good and I've had multiple wins there. In general, the Red Bull Ring is a very special track - it has a lot of altitude changes in it and quite frankly it's a track that is fun to drive."

Describe a lap of the Red Bull Ring and what you expect there behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car?
MS: "I haven't driven a Formula 1 car around the track so it's hard to describe but looking at it there are three very fast corners at T6, T7 and again in T9 and I'm excited about experiencing that in a Formula 1 car. We have high braking areas as well which is tough for the car and tough for the brakes. I'm very much looking forward to it. It's going to be a double-header with the team so we can try lots of things and hopefully we'll be able to try to maximize what we have."

You experienced back-to-back races in Austria last season to start the Formula 2 season. This year you're doing the double again at the Red Bull Ring in Formula 1. Do you think a second race at the same circuit, just one week apart, allows you more of an opportunity to benchmark your progress in the VF-21 and with the team?
MS: "It gives me the opportunity to try something in the second weekend during FP1 and FP2 because normally we have to run some different programs and try some things, which we'll do in the first weekend but then on the second weekend we're able to try some other things. We'll get a lot of information through that and hopefully set-up the car to the maximum of its potential."

The second race in Austria will see a different tire compound selection available - moving from Pirelli's C2-C3-C4 range for the Styrian Grand Prix to the softer selection of C3-C4-C5 for the Austrian Grand Prix. What are the challenges in running different compounds at the same track on consecutive weekends and how steep is the learning curve with the new, shortened 60-minute practice sessions this season?
MS: "They have done the same thing as last year where we just changed the tire compound, but Austria is not the biggest tire consumer in that sense. The first weekend is probably going to be more on the harder compound and easier to keep the tires alive but potentially to warm them up will be a bit difficult. It changes a bit for that second weekend, but I think that strategies will stay the same and the things we can try will also be the same. I'm just happy we get to drive to much and spend time with the team."

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