When it comes to taking our cars to extremes we’ve undertaken some pretty demanding live demo assignments over the years. Today, though, we took on one of the toughest challenges we’ve ever faced – hauling the RB7 high up into the Alps to the stunning mountain fastness of Kitzbühel.
We've done donuts on a helipad high above Dubai, we've blasted along the world's highest driveable road in India and we've driven hot laps on almost every kind of surface from dirt, to mud, to frozen lakes and sand. But attempting to power our trusty RB7 up a stretch of the fearsome Hahnenkamm mountain, home of the world's most daunting downhill ski races, with Scuderia Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen strapped in comes close to most.
After days of preparation, 3,500 astonished onlookers took to the mountain top on Thursday as the crew fired up the Renault RS7, Max dropped into first gear and blasted up the incline, showering spectators with a massive tail of snowy spray as the chains bit into the surface.
"It was something really special – not just driving on the snow but driving on top of the mountain," said Max. "The scenery was incredible, I enjoyed it a lot and I think all the spectators enjoyed it just as much as I did. I'd never driven any kind of car on snow or ice, never mind a Formula One car, it really was amazing."
It was something really special – not just driving on the snow but driving on top of the mountain.
"The main difficulty was what you'd expect – it was really slippery! But added to that was the fact that it was on a mountainside. You're on a slope, you don't want to start sliding, and you really don't want to make any mistakes. The guys did a fantastic job of designing a course and mapping out a track and that made it a bit easier, but it was still a big challenge. But that made it really interesting, making it more difficult for the driver somehow makes the whole thing better."
The Challenges Involved
The first challenge to overcome was simply – how to get the RB7 up to the mountain, the summit of which lies 1,700m (5,617 ft) above sea level. No problem, just ship it up in the back of a car transporter, right? Easier said than done, especially in the depths of winter and with the annual races set to take place in a little over a week. In the end we had to take the novel step bringing the car in by helicopter, a real first for the team.
The next challenge, of course, was how to provide the RB7 with enough grip to get it up the slippery slope of an Alp. The answer was simple. We turned to F1 tyre manufacturer Pirelli and leaned on their considerable expertise. The Italian company's solution was equally straightforward – two bespoke sets of spike tyres, specially designed claw into the icy surface and give Max all the grip he needed to complete the unique run.
But, in accordance with the old aphorism about best laid plans, the weather again refused to co-operate. The Hahnenkamm run is akin to an ice rink, a supremely high-speed surface perfect for World Cup ski racing and for which Pirelli's spiked tyres had been purpose-built.
So when fresh falls of snow occurred and the temperature rose to well above that expected, the surface changed completely, becoming softer, wetter and ultimately unsuitable for the spiked tyres so carefully designed for us.
It was a major blow, but thanks to some quick thinking and some remarkably quick fabrication, we had an overnight solution – snow chains built to fit the more standard tyres we moved to for the run.
Having adjusted the set-up of the car to cope with the new demands – via what we might call freestyle 'trimming' of certain elements – mapped out a course (right down to painting in kerbs), and put the finishing touches to a stunning new 'Snow Livery' promoting this year's Austrian Grand Prix, Max was finally ready to go.
Whetting the Austrian Appetite
To give the Austrian fans a first taste of F1 for 2016 ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring this July. Now, if that doesn't whet the appetite for what's to come in Spielberg then we don't know what will.
If you fancy joining us for our home race, tickets are now on sale from the Spielberg website.