After having found itself in the shadows for nearly ten years, this weekend will see one of the most beloved racing circuits return to the international motorsport arena; the Red Bull Ring, Austria. The former Grand Prix venue - which became a living legend under the Österreichring banner and morphed into the A1-Ring before being closed down in 2004 - is set to stage the fourth Formula 3 Euro Series round of the season, and Felix Rosenqvist arrives at the recently re-opened facility in third place in the championship standings following a hugely successful outing at Zandvoort three weeks ago.
The Red Bull Ring, as the name would lead you to expect, is the result of one of the energy drinks giant's numerous projects. The existence of the circuit was at the centre of intense speculation following Formula 1's departure in 2003, until Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz and his empire finally decided to refurbish the site. This weekend's Formula 3 Euro Series round - which is once again part of the popular DTM package - will be the inaugural race meeting at the venue under its new era. While the facilities have undergone significant updates, the circuit layout itself still remains unchanged since the A1-Ring days.
The circuit, which seamlessly melts into the undulating Alpine landscape around the village of Spielberg, represents somewhat of a compromise for the Formula 3 Euro Series teams. In stark contrast to the flowing nature of Zandvoort, the Red Bull Ring is made up of a more aggressive mixture of fast straights, areas of heavy braking and tight hairpin corners - placing a higher emphasis on engine reliability and top-register performance. Felix and his team, Mücke Motorsport, will be aware that Austria provides them with an altogether different set of challenges than Zandvoort, but still enter the weekend with a positive mind-set following Felix's podium appearances in all three races in the Netherlands.
"Zandvoort was possibly the best weekend so far in my career," Felix said after becoming the top points scorer on his first acquaintance with the Dutch circuit. "I didn’t expect to be on the podium in every race over the weekend - particularly not with the reverse grid rules in Race 2. I am obviously very happy about what we achieved, but we can’t afford to rest on our laurels if we want to continue like this for the rest of the campaign."
With the Red Bull Ring not having hosted any high-level racing over the last seven years, none of the drivers in the Formula 3 Euro Series field have raced at the Styria venue before. The championship has visited the Austrian mountains on one previous occasion, though; in 2003, when the list of participants included names like Robert Kubica, Nico Rosberg and Timo Glock. The lap record at the 4.326 km circuit is held by F1 star Rosberg at 1m27.427s - can anyone better that time this year? Before the first practice session has been completed, it will be impossible to guess how the tarmac has reacted to the very limited running that has taken place here lately. To add to the uncertainty, early weather forecasts predict a high risk of rain over the weekend...
In the championship, Felix's third place has come despite the drive shaft failure which forced him to retire from the concluding race of the weekend at the Paul Ricard season-opener. Experienced F3 racer Roberto Merhi continues to lead the title chase in what is now his third year in Formula 3 Euro Series - 23 points ahead of second-placed Marco Wittmann (who won the classic F3 race on the streets of Pau two weeks ago), and 33 ahead of Felix. It remains exceptionally close, though, with Felix's team-mate and current GP3 leader Nigel Melker just one further point adrift and waiting to capitalise on every potential mistake from the top trio.
As per usual, the weekend kicks off with free practice on Friday morning, before qualifying - which might just turn out to be slightly less important than normal due to the relatively good overtaking opportunities at the Red Bull Ring - commences a few hours later. Felix Racing's live commentary feed will once again take you through all the action in qualifying and the races as it happens at www.felixracing.se, where you will also find the latest pictures, news and reactions to motor racing's long-awaited return to Spielberg.
Formula 3 Euro Series - Red Bull Ring
TIMETABLE (local time - GMT+02:00)
FP: 09.50-11.55 (60 min - 5 min pause - 60 min)
Felix on the Red Bull Ring (mp3)
Calendar and championship points structure
Follow Felix Rosenqvist on Facebook
The allocation of starting grid positions:
Race 1: Second-fastest lap from qualifying.
Race 2: Based on Race 1 results. Top eight drivers reversed for Race 2 grid.
Race 3: Outright fastest lap from qualifying.