Top 5 Austrian Grands Prix
F1 is back once again this weekend and we’re at one of the most popular races on the calendar, the Austrian Grand Prix. That also means that my series detailing the top 5 races from the history of each grand prix in 2023 is back.
First held in 1964 as an official round of the Formula One World Championship at the Zeltweg Airfeld, it would be another six years until the race would return to the calendar at the Osterreichring.
Between 1970 and 1987 it remained a staple on the F1 calendar, and also became a popular race for Aussie Alan Jones, who scored two wins at the circuit in 1977 and 1979, one of which you will read more about very soon.
The race returned between 1997 and 2003 at the same circuit, albeit shortened and re-named the A1-Ring, before once again returning in 2014 where it has been held ever since at another new name, the Red Bull Ring.
Austria also has hosted two other races, named the Styrian Grand Prix, in 2020 and 2021 as an additional race at the same circuit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While both those races where considered for this list, neither has made it.
So, which five races make the cut for the best Austria has ever seen? Let’s find out.
5. 1987 – Winner: Nigel Mansell (Williams)
Three starts before the action got underway? That was the 1987 Austrian Grand Prix.
The first start saw Martin Brundle’s Zakspeed crashing as well as the two Tyrell’s of Philippe Streiff and Jonathan Palmer and the Ligier of Piercarlo Ghinzani.
An even more serious crash on the second start came after Nigel Mansell struggled to get off the front row in his Williams and caused a concertina effect behind him with half the grid being involved in some form of accident. The third start finally saw the race get underway properly, two hours after the scheduled start of the race.
Once the race did happen, pole sitter Nelson Piquet led early from the Benetton of Thierry Boutson, the Ferrari of Gerhard Berger and Mansell, who survived his clutch issues to take part in the race. Berger promptly retired on lap five with a turbo issue, Boutsen then had gearbox problems, leaving the two Williams cars of Piquet and Mansell to battle out for the lead.
A great battle between the teammates took place before Mansell took the lead on lap 21 and never looked back, winning a race that looked like it had slipped from his fingers on the second restart.
There was a tight battle behind the Williams pair, with more car failures seeing Teo Fabi sneak onto the podium for his second career and last top three finish.
4. 1977 – Winner: Alan Jones (Shadow)
The race which saw Alan Jones win his first ever F1 race and become only the second Australian to stand atop of an F1 podium.
It was done in style too. Jones qualified in 14th but carved his way through the field on a drying rack to be in second place by lap 16. He was only behind the then reigning World Champion of James Hunt in his McLaren, and when Hunt’s Cosworth blew up, the lead was there for Jones.
It was a lead he never let go of, winning his first ever race and the only ever race for the Shadow F1 team.
So unexpected was the win by Jones that the race organisers didn’t have the Australian national anthem on hand to play for his win. Instead they played Happy Birthday. What a way to celebrate an iconic moment in Australian motorsport.
3. 2002 – Winner: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
Controversial choice I know. But you can’t talk about a list of the best Austrian Grands Prix and not include this race. Even if it is technically for all the wrong reasons.
Ferrari were in the midst of their peak powers of the early 2000s when the F1 circus came to Austria, but it was default number two Rubens Barrichello who had the pace all weekend ahead of Michael Schumacher.
Barrichello planted his F2002 on pole, led from the start and looked set to take a comfortable win in what would’ve been only his second F1 victory.
But then we all know what happened.
Team orders from Ferrari informed Barrichello that he would have to yield to Schumacher, something he duly did on the final straight to give Schumacher the win to the boos and jeers of an angry Austrian crowd.
While team orders have always been part of the world of Formula 1, and the favouring of one driver to mount a Championship tilt has also always existed, the fact this happened in only round six really showed not only the dominance Ferrari had, but the favouritism it showed to Schumacher.
So controversial was this move that team orders were banned in F1 for close to a decade.
Ferrari did receive a $1 million fine after the race, but not for the team orders. Their fine was due to “transgressions on the podium” after Schumacher stepped off the top step and gave Barrichello his winners trophy.
Easily one of the most iconic F1 races of the 21st century.
2. 2019 – Winner: Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
By far the best race in Austria since it returned in 2014, it saw a tense battle between two future superstars of the sport at the time, Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc.
Leclerc started on pole in his Ferrari ahead of Verstappen in his Red Bull, but Verstappen suffered an anti-stall issue at the start which saw him as far down as 8th by turn 2. Leclerc meanwhile fended off the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and maintained his lead for the majority of the race.
Verstappen fought his way through the field and had an extended stint in the pit stops to give himself a slight tyre advantage for the rest of the race. This saw him set a string of fastest laps before fighting his way into the podium positions by passing Leclerc’s teammate Sebastian Vettel on lap 50 and Bottas on 56. With 15 laps to go he was only five seconds behind Leclerc.
By lap 68 Verstappen was right up to the Ferrari and attempted to take the lead into turn 3, but Leclerc held him off and outdragged him into the straight. However a lap later Verstappen pulled the same move giving Leclerc much less space, forcing the Ferrari driver off track to which Verstappen maintained the lead and went on to a memorable victory.
It was an epic battle between two drivers who still stand at the very front of the sport today.
1. 1982 – Winner: Elio de Angelis (Lotus)
The fourth closest race finish in the history of F1, this race saw a battle between two drivers fighting for their very first win.
Elio de Angelis had started seventh on the grid in his Lotus while Keke Rosberg started one spot ahead of him in 6th in his Williams. All five cars ahead of them were running the far more powerful turbo engines and were all expected to dominate the race.
However on race day, four of them suffered issues with their turbos, opening the field up completely for de Angelis and Rosberg to battle it out for the win.
Rosberg had been closing in on de Angelis over the final laps and by lap 51 he was only 1.6 seconds behind him. The next lap he got even closer to the Italian but de Angelis seemingly had done everything he could to hang on.
However on the last corner on the last lap de Angelis suffered a slight engine stutter which allowed Rosberg to close right under the rear wing of the Lotus car. De Angelis moved to the inside to defend but Rosberg had the quicker exit, with the pair crossing the line side-by-side.
Lotus team principal Colin Chapman famously flung his hat in the air to signify his driver had won, a point that was proven right with the margin of victory being 0.050s.
It would be one of only two wins for de Angelis who would have to wait another three years before he tasted the victory champagne again. Meanwhile Rosberg wouldn’t have to wait that long for his debut win, taking the victory in the next round in France before claiming the World Championship that season.
An incredible finish and an incredible race.
Do you agree with this list? Which Austrian Grand Prix is your favourite? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here