Speedy in Styria: The Old Österreichring

Automobilista 2 Österreichring Spielberg F1 1986.png
Image credit: Sebastian Fastenrath

It is race week for Formula One again as the World Championship makes station at the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian Grand Prix. The track's comeback in 2014 was welcomed by many who remembered the race from its 1997 to 2003 stint on the calendar, and the Red Bull Ring sees some of the fastest lap times of the season - its predecessor, however, saw much higher speeds: Up until 1987, F1 raced at the fearsome Österreichring.

Despite the different name, the venue in question is the same: The Österreichring became the A1 Ring after its mid-1990s redesign, then was bought by Red Bull and renamed accordingly. While the latter two did not differ in its layout, the first iteration of the track may have looked similar, but it had a vastly different character compared to the later version of the Styrian track.

Automobilista 2 Österreichring Spielberg F1 1986 Bosch Kurve Grandstand.png

The Österreichring offered lots of beautiful scenery, but little in terms of safety precautions. Image credit: Sebastian Fastenrath

Exciting, but Dangerous​

Looking at a map of the layout, the Österreichring looks similar in shape compared to the Red Bull Ring, only with faster corners. That is only half of the truth, though: The former was also longer, allowing for much higher speeds that by the mid-80s were reaching over 340 kph (about 211 mph) heading into Bosch-Kurve. Coupled with barely any safety measures and a notoriously narrow main straight that repeatedly caused problems (the 1987 Austrian Grand Prix famously had to be restarted twice due to chaos as the lights went green), the departure of F1 was no surprise.

The circuit continued operations with some minor layout tweaks until 1994, then the bulldozers rolled in to remodel the venue over the next two years. When it reopened, F1 came back for the Austrian GP in 1997, and several other series followed suit. Parts of the old track had been incorporated into the new track, which had much slower and less flowing corners. Meanwhile, most of the first half of the lap on the old layout was left as not much more than an access road, which can still be clearly seen in aerial pictures of the track.

Red Bull Ring Aerial Shot Google Maps.jpg

Parts of the former Österreichring can still be seen today: Two of the blindingly fast turns are still there, visibile to the left of the current track in this aerial photo. Image credit: Google Maps

In its original configuration, the Österreichring did not feature any slow corners - it was only after Mark Donohue's fatal accident at Hella Licht in the warm up to the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix that the first turn was slightly reprofiled for 1976, then slowed down via a chicane for 1977. The rest of the track was usually taken in third or fourth gear at minimum in an F1 car - all while facing big elevation changes and banked corners with barely any run-off.

Automobilista 2 Österreichring Spielberg F1 1986 Hella Licht S.png

The Hella-Licht-S was the only slow section on the old layout - before 1977, however, it was another fast sweeper (as the original layout can be seen to the right). Image credit: Sebastian Fastenrath

Memorable Results & Crashes​

From 1970 to 1978, the track saw a number of iconic moments like the aforementioned three starts of 1987: In 1984, Niki Lauda took the only home win of his F1 career (and, in fact, the only F1 win for an Austrian at the track to date). In 1975, Vittorio Brambilla won in the pouring rain for the March team - only to lose control and crash as he crossed the finish line because he had taken both hands off the wheel in jubilation. In 1986, Gerhard Berger looked set to repeat Lauda's feat of two years earlier, but suffered electrical problems, leading to a dominant win by Alain Prost. And who could forget Andrea de Cesaris' 1985 crash that saw his Ligier roll four times and the Italien fired from the team as a result?


Reintegration of the westernmost part of the old Österreichring into the current track was strongly considered in 2016, but ultimately came to nothing. The old layout is still lost to time, but luckily, sim racing allows us to experience the blindingly fast circuit in all its glory even today.

Automobilista 2 features two official versions with and without the chicane at Hella Licht alongside the modern track, both under the "Spielberg" name. The first Automobilista includes both versions as well, and a mod version for rFactor 2 is also available.

Österreichring A1 Ring Layout Comparison.png

The old layout (gray) with the modern version laid over it. Corner names are from the A1 Ring era. Image credit: Arz on Wikimedia Commons, available for free distribution under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Taking a Group C machine or an F1 car from the monstrous mid-80s turbo era for a spin there is rather intense, but extremely good fun - even more so if you have opponents around you who are not afraid to race side by side cleanly and enjoy battling in the draft.

Your Thoughts​

In your opinion, how does the Österreichring compare to the current track? What are your favorite cars to race there? Let us know in the comments below!
About author
Yannik Haustein
Lifelong motorsport enthusiast and sim racing aficionado, walking racing history encyclopedia.

Sim racing editor, streamer and one half of the SimRacing Buddies podcast (warning, German!).

Heel & Toe Gang 4 life :D

Comments

Almighty track, discovered it with the GPC79 and been in love ever since. Fast, dangerous, exciting, and host of memorable racing, both real and virtual.
 
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I visited the old Österreichring a few times as a boy with my father in the early 1990's. Of course we never saw an F1 race there, but a lot of other series like Formula Ford, Trucks and Touring Cars. The concession stand ("Würschtlstandl") at the Hella Licht S had the best sausages (Krainer and Burenwurst) anywhere :)
 
Richard Attwood at the OLD O-Ring 1000km...

iu


“My other sports car race that year was the Osterreichring 1000 Kms, but Pedro Rodriguez did almost the whole race. I just filled in. I’d driven with Pedro quite a lot: he was a funny little guy, but what a constitution he had. The race was 170 laps, and he did 157 of them. After he’d done three hours they brought him in, put me in the car, he had a pee and a drink, rested for a few minutes and then he said, ‘I’m ready to get back in now.’ So they brought me in, and he drove to the end. We won by two laps.

“I was only given about five laps of practice for that race. That year I wasn’t in a car every weekend, and if you’re slower than your team-mate you feel pressure, because you feel you’re going to let him down, or let your team down. You’re more likely to throw it off the track if you’re struggling to get up to the other bloke’s speed. And the old Zeltweg was a scary place. Past the pits and uphill through that adverse camber right, with the barrier on the left — no way could I take that flat in the 917. I said to Pedro, ‘You’ve got to help me on this. How do you take that corner flat? “Easy’, he said, ‘You just take eet flat.’ That was the only help I was going to get from him! Pedro had such faith in that car, he’d driven it such a lot, and he had it set up with the minimum of downforce to take that corner flat and still maintain the speed around the circuit. So when the IN board was shown I risked John Wyer’s wrath by staying out for another lap, and managed to get within a couple of seconds of Pedro’s time. Then I relaxed: I was happy with that.

two legends going at it ...
 
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Mark Donahue's crash wasn't fatal immediately, but caused an undisclosed brain haemorrhage. So it was partly having less advanced medical care back then too. Although a marshal also died in the accident.

Wasn't there talk of reusing parts of the old track again, one day?
 
Almighty track, discovered it with the GPC79 and been in love ever since. Fast, dangerous, exciting, and host of memorable racing, both real and virtual.
it was also part of an older racing title where the developers tried to give each AI player different characteristics and if you got too close in the race they would "get mad" at you doing outrageous blocks and passes later. Very much enjoyed it there, but what was the game called? It was mainly GT cars, I think.Mmmmh.
 
The old one was wicked. I always went straight on at Hella the first lap I drove.
 
Premium
Had to look twice...Syria? What racetrack in Syria??

Yep, absolute fantastic track. Great flow and scenery, the modern version unfortunately just has the great scenery.
 
I visited the old Österreichring a few times as a boy with my father in the early 1990's. Of course we never saw an F1 race there, but a lot of other series like Formula Ford, Trucks and Touring Cars. The concession stand ("Würschtlstandl") at the Hella Licht S had the best sausages (Krainer and Burenwurst) anywhere :)
Krainerwurst...YUM!!! :thumbsup:
 
Motorsport seemed to be much more 'raw' back then. I know the birth of sponsorships and full liveries has been present for a long time now but things still seem so much more packaged to me now.
 
Glad to see a feature on this circuit. Yes, it was excellent in reality and is great to see recreated in a range of sims.

I was just thinking that the mid-late '90s GT1s could be a blast here.

Ironically, the improved (so they thought at the time) pit lane entry here for 1982 hemmed in the grid even more, and that seemed to kick off even more trouble on the starts.
 
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