• The Inside Line

F1's rural fantasy

Kate Walker June 19, 2014
The Red Bull Ring provides an idyllic backdrop © Getty Images
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Styria is a beautiful part of the world. Rolling hills, snow-capped mountains, and the sort of scenery that makes you want to throw open some shutters first thing in the morning and let rip with your best Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music impression.

Last night, the sound of cowbells lulled me to sleep. Actual bells attached to real live cows. This Londoner thought such sights were the work of Hollywood CGI departments.

The Red Bull Ring can be found deep in the heart of this bucolic idyll, and very pretty it is too. It is one of only a handful of tracks on the calendar from whose press room the full circuit can be seen. And what a press room! Spacious, modern, and equipped with all the coffee you could care to drink. Plus the odd fridge packed with a certain energy drink which shares its name with a race team. Yup, those well-known tins of Ducati are everywhere…

But there is a very good reason why Formula One hasn't visited Styria in over a decade, and it has nothing at all to do with the remodelled track and facilities at the A1-Oster-Zelt-Bull Ring.

The problem - and this is a problem with a lot of the circuits located in F1's traditional European heartland - is that it's not the easiest place in the world to get to, no matter where you're coming from.

Bucolic idylls tend not to be served by multi-lane motorways that can be easily divided into lanes for race personnel, lanes for fan parking, and lanes for that guy who always wants to reverse his caravan just where it will cause the greatest possible obstruction. Instead, access to the likes of Spa, the Nurburgring, and the Red Bull Ring is along narrow roads with no shoulders than can be turned into extra lanes when needed.

On Thursday morning - usually the easiest day for getting to the track - fans, media, and team personnel alike were all stuck in traffic. After taking the best part of two hours to travel around two kilometres, tempers were frayed and many chose to park their cars where they stood, walking the rest of the way in. Which really helped the traffic situation.

If F1 wants to return to the tracks of the glory days out in the middle of nowhere, traffic planning needs to become a deciding factor

While a national holiday contributed to the chaos on the roads, it was a bad omen for Sunday, especially given that Red Bull (the company, not the team) were able to get permission to increase the maximum number of people inside the confines of the circuit - spectators, marshals, track personnel, and those working in the paddock - from its original limit of 40,000 to a reported 60,000. These roads are going to be coping with 50 percent more traffic than they've ever seen before.

If F1 wants to return to the tracks of the glory days out in the middle of nowhere, traffic planning needs to become a deciding factor when the commercial rights holder is deciding who gets put on the calendar. In 2012, Silverstone was forced to turn paying fans away after the car parks turned into swamps, and it reflected badly on both the circuit and the sport.

If the much-heralded return of the Austrian Grand Prix sees paying fans miss some or all of the race because they are stuck in interminable traffic jams for much of Sunday, it is Formula One - and not Red Bull - that will look bad.

Europe may have the passion and the fanbase, but if those fans are stuck in traffic when they should be cheering from the grandstands, F1 will once again have let down those who matter most - the people who make all this possible by paying huge amounts of money for the chance to hear, see, smell, feel, and taste the excitement of a grand prix weekend.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.