27 June 2019 12:18
By Autosport's Adam Copper: For a relatively small country, Austria has a disproportionate presence in the Formula 1 paddock and influence on motorsport. Here are some of the reasons that the 'Austrian F1 network' became so strong
Does any other country punch above its weight in Formula 1 terms to a greater extent than Austria?
Consider the impact that former drivers such as Helmut Marko, the late Niki Lauda, Gerhard Berger and Alex Wurz have had long after they quit racing and took up other roles.
To them you can add other senior F1 figures such as Toto Wolff, Franz Tost and 'honorary' Austrian Gunther Steiner, from just across the border in Italy, while until a couple of years ago the championship had another Austrian team boss in Monisha Kaltenborn at Sauber.
Then there was Lauda's physio Willi Dungl, who changed the approach to physical preparation; that baton was taken up by people such his protege and countryman Josef Leberer, who worked with Ayrton Senna and is still in F1 with Alfa Romeo.
Austrian concerns run F1's Paddock Club catering, and provide security services to teams and F1 venues worldwide, while high tech companies Pankl and AVL supply both teams and engine manufacturers with components and simulation equipment.
"I think there is something Austrian in each and every car on the grid," says Wurz.
And then of course there's Red Bull's Dietrich Mateschitz, owner of two F1 teams, and promoter of this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix.
Given that the country has a population of just 8.8million, and is ranked 96th worldwide on that front, the extent of its involvement across the sport is remarkable.
"I've thought about it sometimes," says Berger. "And I didn't find an answer myself! Germany should have 10 times as many people [in motorsport], because it's 10 times bigger.
"So if we have 10 people, Germany should have 100 influential people in the business. One thing that's clear is that there are a lot of Austrians involved in important positions."
So why has it happened? There is no single explanation, but it can all be traced back to Jochen Rindt, whose rise to prominence in the late sixties created huge momentum and boosted media interest in his home country.
"If you look back at history for me personally, everything started with Jochen," says Tost. "In those days in Austria he was really a hero - he's still a hero - but this is not only related to Austria.
"If you look to other countries, if you want to increase the interest of the people in F1, then you need a national hero. And this was the case in Germany with Michael Schumacher, and in Spain with Fernando Alonso.
"We always had fantastic and very successful F1 drivers, starting with Jochen. Then Helmut Marko was driving F1 and winning Le Mans, Niki was winning the world championship three times, Gerhard was winning races. This means there was always a direct connection to F1 from an Austrian driver.
"In parallel to this all the races would broadcast live in Austria. That's a very important point. When I went to Germany in 1988, before Michael Schumacher came up, I wanted to watch an F1 race. I went through the channels, and nothing. Not even a summary in the evening. This was so disappointing."
Rindt's success propelled Austria out of the era of bumpy airfield tracks
In contrast Austrian broadcaster ORF had been a constant presence in F1 for decades, its coverage fronted for many years by Rindt's friend and biographer - the colourful Heinz Pruller (pictured below interviewing Rindt).
"In Austria we always had the live broadcast," says Tost. "And that's also important, that young people get interested in this sport.
"So for me there are two factors, the national heroes that we had in Austria, and that these events were broadcast live, and there was always a review on Monday and Tuesday, which meant that the interest that young people then have increases because you get really good information.
"These factors together has the result of all these Austrians working in F1. Heinz Pruller had a very big influence, and it was a special type of talking on the TV. He was really enthusiastic, and you could really feel this energy, it was fascinating to hear him. Even if someone was not so interested, just listening to Heinz he immediately got you excited."
Other key players acknowledge the role that blanket TV coverage has played over the years.
"I think it started with Jochen, who was so popular in Austria," says Wolff. "People got inspired and interested. Certainly the big names were Jochen, Niki and then Gerhard.
"They stood for F1, and ORF always showed F1 live, and it was permanently present. Every Sunday at 2pm you'd switch on the TV and F1 was on."
"I'm from South Tyrol, which was part of Austria before 1919," says Steiner. "And I grew up in a culture like Austria. I watched Heinz Pruller on Austrian TV, so that was my influence.
"There's a lot of people in F1 from a small population. My generation grew up watching Niki, and his success, and I think it was a country which was growing at the time.
"You can ask why Germany doesn't have all these people. It's a much bigger country and Schumacher was very influential, but they didn't do it. I have no idea why!"
Rindt's influence is incalculable. His success led to the creation of the Osterreichring and the Salzburgring, which both opened in 1969, propelling the country out of the era of bumpy airfield tracks.
Those venues also provided a home for racing schools that would help to create not just the next few generations of drivers, but also team bosses - Tost and Wolff are among those who passed through them as pupils and staff members.
Rindt had a significant impact on his close friend and racing contemporary Marko (pictured above in 1972), who one way or another has subsequently played a role in the careers of many who followed - either through his own racing teams, or latterly via his high profile role with Red Bull.
Marko is at the centre of a complex network of relationships among Austrian racing folk that has helped sustain the constant flow of key players into motorsport.
One way or another everyone is connected, and their success is boosted by friendships - and sometimes a sense of competition - with the others. The classic example was Marko and Lauda, friends for decades and yet at the same time rivals when they were in opposing camps at Red Bull and Mercedes.
Marketing guru Burkhard Hummel, who helped to promote the early careers of Berger and Roland Ratzenberger and now finds sponsors for Toro Rosso, has an interesting theory.
"It's a little bit [about] the Austrian mentality compared with Germany," he says. "We have the same language but we are a little bit different.
"I think our philosophy is 'when you can help, help each other'. Gerhard was a star in F1 with Ferrari, but he helped Roland with some small things. Roland was impressed by him, he told me this on Friday morning at Imola. He said, 'Your friend Gerhard was so nice yesterday.'
"That's why I say it's a little bit our mentality. When you ask Gerhard who was friendly to him in F1 in the beginning, it was Niki.
"We met him in the first race in Zeltweg with the ATS in 1984 [pictured above]. I told Gerhard, 'Go to him and ask when you need help.' All the young ones go to the older ones.
"This is also what I told to Roland, 'When you come into F1, you must respect the stars, don't wait that the people come to you, you must go there and ask for help, and you will see that most people will help you.' This is the Austrian quality a little bit."
"I think most get on with each other and have respect for each other," adds Wolff. "Not all! [But] because you have this bond of it being a small country, that links you, so maybe that is a factor.
"I went to see Gerhard before I made the final decision to invest into Williams. I saw him and spent some days with him on his boat. It was valuable experience, and he helped certainly to assess the situation."
"'The Austrians help each other', I'm not so convinced that this is always the case," says Tost. "But you can always learn from people like Helmut, like Gerhard, like Niki before. You ask something, and because of their experience they explain which direction could be the right one.
"It's always positive in F1, where most people talk in English, if you can talk to someone in German. If you ask questions where you have to find out which direction to go between the lines, it's always better to talk in your mother language."
"Niki brought me into F1 with Jaguar," says Steiner. "I had no connection with F1, I come from rallying. He asked somebody within Ford if they knew anybody, they gave him my name, and he called me up and said 'can we meet for dinner?'
"That's where it started. We had a good meeting and the next day he phoned me and said, 'You will be working for me.' I said, 'Alright, tell me what to do!'
"I also knew Dietrich Mateschitz, I was doing a rally programme in Austria, which was sponsored by Red Bull. That is always how it goes - once you get to know one, you get introduced to the other, and that is how you move on. There's a lot of motorsport industry in Austria."
"My dad met Hermann Tilke in a pub. He asked him for some help with some civil engineering. Hermann had nothing to do with racetracks at the time" Alex Wurz.
Berger credits Marko for boosting the careers of many drivers.
"In my case Helmut helped me a lot," says the former BMW and Toro Rosso boss. "Niki was also happy to help me, but I took the help of Helmut more.
"He was probably the best leverage for Austrian motorsport. When he stopped racing he helped Markus Hottinger, he helped Jo Gartner, he helped me.
"Helped is maybe the wrong word - he chose us, and brought us into the professional world. I would say he was the one with the widest range of leverage.
"Niki was much more steep, he was always open, but in general he was so much about himself, he was not wide like Helmut. But we've all been one way or another supported by Helmut or Niki, or both."
Berger makes an interesting point about Wurz, the man who replaced him at Benetton - first as a mid-season stand-in during 1997 nd then when Berger and Jean Alesi were switched for Wurz and Giancarlo Fisichella for '98 onwards. At the time there appeared to be some tension between Berger and Wurz, despite - or perhaps because of - their shared nationality.
"To be fair Alex maybe had the least support," says Berger. "Alex wasn't supported by Helmut, he wasn't supported by Niki, he wasn't supported by me, so he had to fight through himself.
"With him personally I didn't have a problem, I just didn't like his management at the time. But no bad feelings. Honestly I was never against him, but I never supported him a lot."
"I was not directly in their network," current GPDA boss Wurz says of his countrymen. "I went through one year of racing with Marko in his F3 team, but I have not been a Marko or Red Bull driver.
"I went my own way, it worked out, and I got my chance after the Le Mans victory when Flavio Briatore offered me a test. That was my entry into F1.
"It might appear to the outside that they all helped each other, but you can be certain that Gerhard and Helmut have a big rivalry.
"We don't all meet each other and make strategies, like who can we place where. It's an absolutely disconnected, disjointed environment in Austria, and we're actually quite competitive with each other. It's an absolute coincidence."
Wurz is the youngest of Austria's key "influencers", but his family played a little-heralded role in shaping modern F1 - by introducing German circuit designer Hermann Tilke, the man responsible for so many current venues.
"My dad got the order from the state of Austria to revive the old Osterreichring into the A1 Ring," he recalls. "And he set up the whole promoter company with my uncle.
"My dad met Hermann Tilke in a pub in Germany. He asked him for some help with some civil engineering.
"Hermann had nothing to do with racetracks at the time, but he started working with my dad. That and the Sachsenring were the first two projects for Tilke.
"As my dad didn't speak English well and he was busy, he didn't engage so much with Bernie Ecclestone. He asked Hermann, as his friend, to do that.
"Hermann understood his chance and then separated from my father and built up his own track business."
The great unknown is what Rindt might have gone on to do with his close friend and manager Ecclestone had he not perished at Monza in 1970. Many speculate that they would have owned an F1 team together, and that Jochen would have joined Bernie in building the championship into what it is today.
It didn't happen, but there's no doubt that Rindt imbued Bernie with a soft spot for Austria and its people. For decades his motorhome was run by restauranteur Karl-Heinz Zimmermann, and it was always a social hub for paddock VIPs. Ecclestone's love of Austria extended to owning a hotel in the country and spending his winters there, often in company with Max Mosley and other key figures from F1.
"I think we Austrians have a good way of hosting people and having fun and using it for business," says Berger. "It wasn't just Bernie, it was Max, it was Piero Ferrari, everybody was coming."
"Again that comes back to Rindt days," says Wurz. "They always went skiing, so Bernie started to like Austria. Around the Kitzbuhel event there's a lot of blue chip people and CEOs, so Austria becomes an event location where people make contacts and network."
"I think that may be a factor," says Wolff. "Downhill skiing is very similar to F1 racing. Most of the Austrians are skiers, and when F1 has a winter break many people end up in the Austrian mountains skiing in places like Kitzbuhel.
"I didn't know Bernie when I was investing in Williams, and the first time I met him was at the Kitzbuhel downhill race. I said, 'I'm the guy that bought a small share in Williams,' and he said, 'Let's have a coffee together.'"
Wolff has one other theory as why Austria has enjoyed such a strong influence: "Maybe it's because we are mountain people, and we are used to a rough climate and a rough environment - and F1 is a rough environment. We're more resilient!"