These days, Austria’s round of the world championship features a circuit that is just over 4.3 kilometres long, as opposed to the 5.9 kilometres of its fast and famous predecessor. They are four challenging kilometres though, with continual changes in elevation. Following the pit straight, a hairpin bend begins the lap that takes in one of the steepest climbs of the season. After that, it’s a non-stop series of corners back to the pit straight again, which in combination are quick enough to provide an average lap speed of more than 229kph, as seen with Lewis Hamilton’s pole position last year before he went on to win the race.
At the Austrian track, which belongs to Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz, there’s an air of modernity that sits at odds with the traditional aspect of the surrounding villages and countryside. We’re in the heart of Styria, the greenest part of Austria. The peacefulness and unhurried pace of life comes from the verdant landscapes and rich forests that dominate the scenery. The bucolic valleys, placid cows and infinite pasture all transmit a sense of tranquil rusticity.
But on the track, it’s only about speed. And to harness that speed throughout the wide variety of conditions that can be experienced throughout the lap, Pirelli has once again brought the very softest tyres in the P Zero Formula 1 range. So, it’s clear that the compounds have their work cut out on this rollercoaster track. But while in 2016 (the debut year for the purple ultrasoft in F1) the Austrian race was one of relatively few to feature the very softest tyre, this year it is making its fifth appearance in nine races.
That tells you all you need to know. With the 2017 tyres, which are 25% wider and characterised by a completely new structure (part of a series of new rules to increase speed and downforce) it’s possible to use softer compounds relative to last year. Requested for F1 2017, it’s worth remembering, were tyres that are faster through corners, delivering increased performance and allowing drivers to push harder. With much more rubber in contact with the track, and compounds that are frequently softer compared to 2016, the results are clear to see.
And this is evident too in the enjoyment drivers experience while racing, grands prix that are closer and more competitive, plus lap times that are consistently more than two seconds faster than last year: as well as being at least four seconds faster than 2015, the technical baseline against which the new regulations were measured. So, no surprise if in the next few days the lap times in Austria tumble in the same way that has happened at all the other circuits during this first half of the championship. And maybe even less surprise if from here to the end of the year, the colour purple of the ultrasoft makes its presence felt on circuits that up to 2016 used the supersoft as the softest available compound. Starting with the demanding Spa-Francorchamps track, which will host the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August with the three softest tyres in the P Zero F1 range: a combination that will almost certainly become the most frequently seen of this year’s championship.
And so, Austria goes from green to purple. Unless it rains of course: and in this part of the world that is far from an unheard-of occurrence. In which case, it will be from purple back to green again, of the intermediate tyre. Colour coordinating perfectly with those peaceful Styrian valleys.