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F1’s return to Austria bucks the trend of global expansion

Jun 14, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

AUTO-PRIX-AUSTRIA-FILES Getty Images

For the first time in over ten years, Austria will play host to a Formula 1 grand prix next weekend as the Red Bull Ring gets set to welcome the sport back to Europe after a weekend away in Canada.

The Austrian Grand Prix has enjoyed a sporadic history within F1. Next weekend’s race will be the 28th running of the event, having first been held in 1963 at Zeltweg Airfield. It moved to the Osterreichring in 1970, and remained on the calendar until 1987. The race returned at the same circuit in 1997, now called the A1 Ring, but was cancelled once again for 2004.

The A1 Ring had become run down and fallen into disrepair, and stopped hosting motorsport altogether in 2004. Four years later, though, a buyer was found in the form of Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz. As part of the brand’s penchant for not only F1 but also other forms of motor racing, to have its own circuit was a big coup.

Renamed the Red Bull Ring, it welcomed a number of top racing series including Formula 2 and the DTM (German touring car championship). However, F1 coming back to Austria was rarely considered by those outside of Red Bull, making the announcement last July something of a surprise.

The surprise wasn’t that a new grand prix was being held, but instead that it was a European race. F1’s expansion has focused on taking the sport to the four corners of the globe, primarily away from Europe.

In recent years, the new arrivals in F1 have mainly been in Asia. Bahrain, China, Abu Dhabi, Korea, India and Singapore have all joined the fray since Austria’s last grand prix. It is a very different sport to the one we had in 2003.

Of course, under normal circumstances, the Austrian Grand Prix would not be returning this year. Ordinarily, races are brokered in two ways: via private investment, or through government backing. Very few of the new races have been a true success. Korea and India both dropped off the calendar for 2014, while Bahrain has struggled with attendances and civil unrest. However, Singapore has been a huge hit and a tourist hub, with the government happy to pick up the bill.

Austria’s return has been brokered by the track owner: Red Bull. Dietrich Mateschitz has seen all of this success on track for his team, but is yet to see them race at a home grand prix. Much like the team, this is a project that he has the money to make happen. F1 is happy, he’s happy, the fans are happy.

There has been a lot of talk about Formula 1 returning to Magny-Cours in France in the next few years, but without significant investment, it is unlikely to happen. There is more money to be made further afield.

It will be interesting to see just how long the Austrian Grand Prix remains on the calendar, but so long as Red Bull can assure Mr. Ecclestone that a race will go ahead and they will pay up, it could yet become a mainstay in the sport once again.

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