Just another day at the races

It’s quiet at the Red Bull Ring, a big difference to the same day last year when most people spent a lot of time in traffic jams. The word is that the numbers are down this year, which is not really surprising given that Red Bull is not likely to be in a starring role. It is also overlooked that last year the race was on an Austrian holiday weekend – Corpus Christi – and this year it is not and maybe that makes a difference too.

Anyway, I didn’t feel any great rush to get to the Red Bull Ring and so after blasting down the autobahn from Munich, I turned off into Salzburg and went up the hill into the Salzkammergut, one of the loveliest parts of Europe. If I say that they filmed The Sound of Music there, you’ll get what I mean. Not far from the city is the Salzburgring, hidden away in a valley. Back in the 1980s I went there to report European Touring Cars. I seem to remember catching a bus from Salzburg and staying in a grotty gasthof. If I was lucky I’d get invited to have dinner at the very fancy Schloss Fuschl, where the big teams used to stay.

To be quite honest, I didn’t recognise much, as there seems to have been lots of real estate development in fields where the ETC drivers used to get up to no good in their road cars. I vaguely recall angry farmers with shotguns and policemen looking for unidentified drivers (some quite famous).

The Schloss Fuschl remains the same solid presence, perched on a headland, overlooking the picturesque Fuschlsee.

A little further down the lake is Fuschl itself, best known today as the world headquarters of Red Bull. I imagined it would be a pretty grand place but the company employs remarkably few people at base, so it was rather underwhelming. It’s funny that such a modest place can generate so much cash and have such an impact. Complain though he might, however, Dietrich Mateschitz has got a lot out of F1. Sponsors are almost always transients in F1 so if he goes, he goes. It happens to all the people to whom F1 is not a core business. It would be nice if he does quit to do so gracefully, not dumping on F1, but saying publicly just how much it has done for Red Bull…

From Fuschl it was on to the magnificent St Gilgen, with its spectacular views of the Wolfgangsee, which is as pretty as it was when I went there on a family holiday in the 1970s. The celebrated White Horse Inn in St Wolfgang is visible from across the lake. It is a hotel which is so famous that it has an opera named after it… not to mention having been there for more than 600 years.

Eventually one gets to Bad Ischl, a charming spot where Austrian Emperor Franz Josef used to take the waters. The valley of the River Traun runs south from there and one passes signs to exciting places like the Toplitzsee, where rumour has it that there are tons of Nazi gold somewhere in the lake, along with millions and millions of counterfeit pound sterling notes (it’s a long story).

I worked my way across country into the Steiermark, otherwise known as Styria, birthplace of Arnold Schwarzenegger and home of the Red Bull Ring… I was by then on a mission. Accommodation is a big problem in Austria, because there really isn’t the infrastructure required for a Grand Prix. If it wasn’t for all the Red Bull money the race would have been declared impossible, along the same lines as Magny Cours. Last year we stayed so far away from the track that it took more than an hour – and we weren’t hanging about… This year there was a closer choice (at a higher price). All I knew was that it was a kind of guesthouse but without wireless Internet… I was told that there was an Internet line and I wanted to see if I could stitch a little wireless transmitter into the system to make life easier during the weekend. The old boy running the place spoke about three words of English and my German is none too special but we found a way… He was keen to show me pictures of the great and glorious, who had stayed there in the past. The pictures on the walls revealed an impressive roster including Graham Hill, Niki Lauda, Jackie Stewart, Eddie Irvine, Bobby Rahal and, rather incongruously, Princess Anne, the UK’s Princess Royal. It seemed an odd story but there was a picture… He rummaged in a draw and pulled out a programme from the 1970 Austrian GP and cheerfully pointed out his name amongst the list of officials. I didn’t understand the job title so he mimed waving a flag and said “chequered flag”.

Just another day at the races…

36 thoughts on “Just another day at the races

  1. This post reminds me to suggest to you a variance in Canada (future). I love the hubbub of the Vieux Port de Montréal… but this year we stayed some 40 minutes away in Saint Denis sur RIchelieu. Peaceful; wonderful food; lovely accommodations; easy drive / metro to the track. As in Eze to Monaco?

  2. The Salzburgring was a favourite with us in F2 (with P4 Racing) and the Schloss Fuschl was (and I guess still is) a great place to stay..as we did. An old fashioned bowling alley and shooting range downstairs and the only place we ever found a desert called a ‘Salzburger Nockerl’. Look it up, it is delicious. Stayed there each years for the next 25 or so. We often went to the Toplitsee lake and made some good friends around the place and we were given 5, 10 and 50 pound UK banknotes. All forgeries and raised from the lake by the locals. I still have them now. Tries to have them valued once and was told “can’t do that, they are forgeries”! Beautiful country. Many stories…too many to relate here.

  3. Fantastic story to daydream about whilst sitting in an office cubicle. 😦

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. So if you are seen spending a bunch of old ‘white fivers’ next time you are at Silverstone, we’ll know what you were really up to this weekend …

  5. Love these tales as nothing can beat a road trip, especially to a grand prix. Your discription gets my imagination going and I quickly picture you driving, but what?
    From your narative you give me no clues as to what you are driving if indeed it is always the same car.
    Is it a humble hatchback which after all can cover ground pefectly briskly, economically and in reasonable comfort?
    Being based in France, have you caught the patriotism of comfy Renault, Citroen or Peugeot?
    Or the real French dream of a Mercedes Benz?
    Or is it something older, might even say classier such an 80s S Class, or an earlier 911, while leaving the Smart at home for the short trips around Paris where parking is so at a premium?
    Maybe it is the white goods route with you jumping into whatever anyone has lent you.
    Pray do tel us.

  6. I’d love to go to Austria. It looks beautiful. And this track is still picturesque even if it has been chopped about a fair bit.

    I’m not so sure why people are so down on Red Bull. The sport is hardly commercially viable from a sponsor related perspective. If Red Bull go who’d blame them? I’m just glad they have supported the sport for about 20 years, when most other companies don’t bother.

    So good on him, and he has been massively successful to boot.

  7. Dear Joe,

    Your item ‘Just another day at the races’ reminds me that in the 1980s Helmut Marko ran his team on the Salzburgring in the ETC with a Mercedes 190 based in Gratz and with my son , Tim , as his chief engineer. Now Tim has been at WilliamsF1 for many years and Helmut Marko is also in F1. It’s a small world of people in motor sport moving from team to team.

    Enjoy your weekend

    1. I was with Marko and many others in Formula 3 in 1983 and 1984. Then in touring cars and assorted other events between 1985-1988 and F1 since then!

  8. I just love these pre-GP articles, please keep these prescious stories coming Joe as they absolutely make my day!

  9. Were those pound notes the ones forged by POWs. (there was a US film about it, but many years earlier a UK tv series Private Schultz)

    1. Possibly. It was an attempt at economic warfare, flooding the market with money and devaluing it!

  10. Sounds like a lovely way to start a GP weekend. I live on a small island and the concept of being able to drive across several borders to watch a GP in a different country sounds quite wonderful. I appreciate there are probably a lot of not so fun realities that can happen, but driving from France to Austria for a weekend of motor racing sounds quite grand.

    I have a pretty reasonable understanding of the roles the two countries played opposing each other in European history – can’t begin to imagine the landmarks that you must pass on the way. Of course I have made the assumption that you traveled direct from France, via Munich, apologies if this assumption is poorly made.

    One day I hope to take in a handful of Euro GP’s with the TDF squeezed somewhere amongst them.

      1. Good suggestion. Had planned to get Le Mans in there, but had not considered Manx TT – great event. Bucket List.

  11. Just love it when you write this travel stuff, makes my day in the office a bit better and a bit shorter. Thanks!

  12. Ah, Joe, I was looking forward to the travelogue. Maybe it’s an idea to include some of the more outrageous stories in GP+ issues?

  13. Arrivabene to be fined for J walking or stupidity? If not why not? He could have caused a huge accident if Massa had swerved to avoid him and crashed into the garages.

    1. Putting the seriousness of the matter and risk to other parties to one side for a moment,it’s potentially self policing, Darwin Award style.

    2. I suppose these things happen so quickly one slight glance the wrong way and Robert est ton oncle, so to speak.

  14. Great reading Joe, feels like im
    there, any chance of a threat to the 3 pointed star this weekend?

  15. Joe,
    I stayed in Obdach about 25 mins from the track in april this year. Nice little town, really cheap and the hotel had good internet. I found it through expedia the same day. But I believe on the grand prix weekend it would be a lot more expensive! have fun

  16. I went to that race in 1970 and camped beside a little gasthaus within walking distance of the track. Seems more than the track has changed in the intervening decades.

  17. I had to laugh at Suzy Perry’s joke about McLaren’s penalties meaning that they should have started back in Canada! It’s become a joke now – OK, it’s Honda’s problem but at this rate we’ll never see Jenson or Fernando racing again. It’s time to re-think this aspect of penalties.

  18. These are the stories I really enjoy.

    Regurgitated takes on statements from whichever big head is shouting loudest do nothing but annoy me.

  19. Great post about a part of the world I visit often.
    I do love the Salzburgring. I’ve never driven there but I have rollerbladed several laps of the track during a festival there years ago. I remember a long, banked, sweeping downhill righthander being a particular challenge with a lot of Austrians sweeping past me, speed-skater style at a tremendous speed! Great memories!

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