The shortest circuit in terms of laptime on the 2023 calendar, Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring presents drivers with unique challenges but plenty of overtaking opportunities. Before that though, Qualifying could make or break a weekend and, as Sophia Floersch explains, thousandths of a second make a bigger difference than usual.
The PHM Racing by Charouz driver says that the Austrian circuit is one of her favourites and represents a home race of sorts. The actual layout of the track demands a lot of the driver and the car, despite the small lap distance.
“Even though it's in Austria, it's kind of a home track because it's around a three-hour drive from home so it’s the closest track we're racing on this year. The track has many overtaking possibilities compared to other circuits and the surroundings are awesome. I mean, you're in the mountains and the weather is beautiful so it’s very nice.
“Personally, I like it. It's pretty quick, the lap times are really quick as well, so Qualifying is gonna be a little bit messy. You have three DRS zones which makes it quite interesting in the races. The first three ‘proper’ corners let's say are really good for overtaking, especially Turn 4. You have different ways to enter the corner if you're outside of the corner or further inside, so that makes it really interesting. Then the middle and last sectors are pretty quick. You certainly need the right car balance because understeer can kill laptime, but it's always interesting.
Another potential differentiator will be how each driver can handle the tyres across the weekend. While temperatures are expected to remain fairly comfortable in the mid 20-degrees Celsius range, the new soft compound Pirelli tyres could potentially shake things up.
Having only sampled the red-walled tyres in Monte Carlo prior to this weekend, Floersch says that getting on top of the tyres in the single Free Practice session could pay dividends come Qualifying.
“It will be interesting to see how the softs are working around here. We had them in Monaco, but Monaco is a one-off track so it's difficult to really learn something from there. Then obviously you also have everyone in sequence and have to try to get a clean lap without traffic issues, which is always hard in Formula 3.
“But the car balance is crucial in order to nail everything in the end for that one Qualifying lap, that’s the most important thing here because it's so quick and such a short lap. It's always really close together in Qualifying, so it will come down to details in the end and that will make the difference. Tomorrow in Free Practice, we’ll be starting with the hards and then going onto the softs so that will bring a jump, we're gonna try and make the best out of it.”
As always around a track with such a short lap, traffic could also play a big role in how the grid takes shape. For Floersch, there isn’t much point waiting around for a tow though, with the potential to miss the ideal window for a flying lap such a costly error in Spielberg.
“You don’t want a tow, but you still want to be around three seconds or so behind someone, just to get a little bit of tow at least but so you're not too close in the middle and last sectors. That especially can kill your chances as well. I think you can lose more than you actually gain on the straights, so we'll see. We’re not gonna play games inside a team, we're just gonna see how it goes and take it how it comes. People can sometimes queue up anyways in the last two corners, so we'll see.”
Another feature of the Red Bull Ring is the three separate DRS zones which offer plenty of overtaking possibilities. While the initial DRS zone on the start/finish straight can get you close to the driver in front, it’s the second and third zones leading into Turns 3 and 4 respectively that offer the best overtaking opportunities across the lap.
Whether or not the weather plays a further role in either of the races remains to be seen but forecasts suggest we may get at least one wet session at some stage this weekend. Either way, Floersch believes that the racing will be fun wet or dry.
“With the new soft tyre this year we will see how it's gonna be in the races, but I guess there will be a little bit of tyre drop off if it stays dry. But even if it's wet, the track is fun to drive and normally lots happens in the races.
“Red Bull Ring always has really interesting and cool races just because you have the three DRS zones and proper overtaking possibilities, and it's going to be a lot more interesting than Monaco and Barcelona in terms of places to overtake. If it's wet or even if it stays dry, we’re going to have close races.
“I think if it does rain, there’s more chances than in the dry but in the end, it's the same for everyone. I don't want it to be that wet so we don't get to drive like in 2020 when it was pouring down, but it will be interesting. The forecast is always a little bit unpredictable because in the mountains, the clouds can stick there and so it cannot rain, so we'll see. But I'm confident and looking forward to it.”