Back to back race weeks? Yes please! After a nail-biting race at Paul Ricard last week, the world’s top racers and their teams had another race full of twisty tales at the homeland of Red Bull. The F1 championship had its eighth leg of the 2021 season on Sunday at the Red Bull Ring in Styria, Austria.
Well, if you thought you had enough share of speed for the month at the French GP, man, the Styrian GP was just another treat of a race. Max Verstappen extended his championship lead over Lewis Hamilton to 18 points after comfortably beating the Mercedes driver to victory at the Steiermark Grand Prix. The Dutchman was in full control throughout the Sunday race and did not surrender his lead at any point, not even once. Also, the Haas guys did not finish last this time. Nope, we are not making this up, you can check the highlights for yourself. Or wait! Let us take you through it team by team.
Let’s begin with the man of the moment. Max Verstappen had a great run at Steiermark Grand Prix, where he maintained his French GP lead to extend his title gap with the other contender and 7-time World Champion, Sir Lewis Hamilton. The Dutchman looked calm, composed and dominating the whole time at a circuit where he had triumphed earlier as well, in both the 2018 and 2019 Championship. Verstappen’s victory was his fourth victory this season and also a fourth consecutive win of Red Bull, a run it will be hoping to extend to five next week when the circuit hosts a second F1 race, the Austrian Grand Prix.
Max will also be looking forward to converting his two consecutive wins into a hattrick at the same RBR home circuit on July 4. He is clearly enjoying what is by far the most successful season of his career, and so is his team Red Bull which have also further increased their advantage in the constructors’ table, now leading Mercedes by 40 points. But it was not Max Verstappen all alone, not totally, as his teammate Sergio Perez also had a good run at the Styria GP and finished at P4 after rare delays at a Red Bull pit stop for the Mexican driver. Checo made an extra pit stop for fresh tyres, holding the fastest lap point (which Hamilton claimed back later) and raced back to the second Mercedes driven by Bottas, but fell short by one second and so stayed fourth.
Right behind the second RB16B, Lando Norris finished the race comfortably in fifth place and extended the grid’s only 100 per cent points-finishing record in the 2021 Championship. The British driver also moves back into fourth in the drivers’ tally. Sunday’s race was like mixed day for him and next week he will most likely try his best to repeat his Austrian GP podium from 12 months ago.
On the other half of the table, his teammate Daniel Ricciardo had a dry run of points on the Sunday afternoon, as the Australian racer crossed the chequered flag at the 13th position even after enjoying a fantastic start, jumping up the order in the early laps itself. However, an inconsistent power supply on his MCL35M led to a blue flag on the race day. Overall he looked out of the main action the whole time throughout the week.
Pierre Gasly was one of the stars of the weekend qualifying at Red Bull Ring, where he claimed a superb sixth on the grid for AlphaTauri. However, his chance of converting that position into another big haul of points was over just after little more than a corner. The French driver was out of the race on the very first lap, after a contact with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc that damaged his left rear. His RA621H suffered a puncture around Turn 2 and came to a big stop after tagging Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo into a spin, as well as nudging the Williams of Nicholas Latifi. The Frenchman was declared retired out of the race after the pit crew confirmed a suspension damage.
For his teammate Yuki Tsunoda, the Japanese came to rescue the team on the Sunday afternoon after Gasly’s early retirement. The one-man army who started at P8 did his best and crossed the chequered flag at P10 with one point. The rookie looked calm and disciplined on the Sunday race and picked his battles wisely.
It wasn’t just Alpha’s Gasly who suffered from the hit by Leclerc’s Ferrari. Antonio Giovinazzi, even not being the direct party to the crash, was punted into a spin on the first lap by the out-of-control car of Gasly. And that was it for the Italian’s challenge at the Red Bull Ring as he never managed to climb up to the upper half of the table. Giovinazzi finished in the same spot where he began the race, at P15.
Kimi Raikkonen finished right above his former Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel at 11th after a great comeback from his starting P18 slot. A spirited performance from the Finnish racer who just missed out on a point at Red Bull Ring. But what a drive! It will be fun to watch him return to the same circuit for the next race.
Mick Schumacher – P16, Nikita Mazepin – P18. Nope, not a typo. Schumacher crossed the chequered flag at the 16th position while his teammate followed him in the pursuit just two-position back, at 18th. However, this result has less to do with their performances and is more of an outcome of other’s disasters, Gasly’s and Russell’s to be precise. But it’s good to have a change in their usual table positions. We hope the Haas boys will find some motivation out of this result, especially Mick with that good lead over Latifi’s Williams, and will give a tough fight to some of the other racers, if not all, on July 4, at the very same circuit.
Considering the Red Bull Ring is a power track of all sorts, the Silver Arrows were the team to beat, but quite possibly, Bottas’ heroics in the pits stopped them from thrashing the competition. Lewis lined up in P2 with teammate Valtteri in P5 after his three-place grid drop.
The lights went green, both the drivers had good getaways, but not as good as the leader. What should’ve been yet another classic race of this amazing 2021 season, was a dud in the opinions of many. However, that didn’t stop Lewis complaining about his tyres and setting the fastest laps. Although somewhere around lap 25 he had a huge moment after he stepped onto the gravel and was about to spin allowing Max to increase his lead even further.
Bottas, on the other hand, was right there with Sergio when the Mexican decided to pit, but a slow stop for him meant Valtteri could pass him when he made his stop the very next lap, which he did! Soon, it was Lewis’ turn to come in, but with Max’s pace, there was no way he could catch him for the win, and so he pitted again in the dying stages of the race to set the fastest lap and gain that one additional point. Damage limitation.
It could’ve been better for Valtteri had he not spun in the pitlane, but he must be relieved to finish in P3 after Perez was on a late charge as he pitted again for fresh rubber. Hamilton finished in P2. “We need to find some performance, we need an upgrade of some sort, we need to push,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know whether it’s just the rear wing or whether it’s the upgrade in the engine, whatever it may be, but we’ve got to find some performance.” Visibly astonished, as this is his fourth race in a row without a victory.
Three for the trivia: for the first time in the turbo-hybrid era, Mercedes have gone winless for four consecutive races. Valtteri Bottas scored his 6th podium at the Red Bull Ring, more than any other driver. Speaking of his podium, all of his podium finishes have been for P3.
Sure, the race in France was a disaster for the Scuderia as they didn’t even manage to score a single point. In Austria, it was the opposite. Charles Leclerc started the race in P7 with teammate Carlos Sainz in P12, but as soon as the race started, so did Charles’ battle with Gasly and as a result, the Monegasque clipped Pierre’s left-rear, resulting in a front-wing damage for the Prancing Horse driver. He came into the pits, switched to the Hard compound, and made his way up to the field.
On Carlos’ side, he ran a long first stint on his Medium compound and was battling with Lance Stroll for P6, the same position he finished in. The Spaniard has now scored 13 times in the last 15 races. Leclerc was awarded the Driver of the Day as he hailed his Styrian GP performance as “one of my best performances in Formula 1 today”. He finished in P7. A respectable amount of points for the team.
Since the midfield is this close, posting that one ideal lap can sometimes be a challenge, something Sebastian Vettel now knows. The German started his race in P14 but was making steady progress. However, with those on front only marginally quicker, he found it difficult to stay inside the top 10, and as such, came home in P12, after having been overtaken by Kimi’s Alfa Romeo in the dying stages of the race because of the tyres. Fortunately, we race here again this Sunday so there’s still a chance. And did I mention that this Saturday, Quali Day, is Seb’s birthday?!
Lance Stroll lined up on the grid in P10, and since he started on the Softs, he ran very long until he made his one-and-only pitstop around lap 30, if I remember correctly. He battled with Carlos Sainz and then Charles Leclerc for P6 and P7, respectively, but since the Ferrari boys were a bit quicker, had to settle for P8. Still, P8 is the best result of Stroll for Aston Martin.
Undoubtedly the talk-of-the-town. Williams’ George Russell once again showed what he’s capable of as he lined up on the grid in P10 (due to Yuki’s penalty), in front of a McLaren, Ferrari, Aston Martin, and an Alpine. Mr. Saturday indeed. He was well on course for a P8 finish, on a genuine pace, until he wasn’t…
Several mechanical issues related to the power unit became worse as the race went on meaning Russell had to pit again, and again, and again. Finally, the team decided to retire his car. Gutted. “And I think P7 was probably possible, ahead of Alonso and there are four or six points, is massive. It’s the difference probably between P8 and P10 in the championship”, he said.
Latifi, on the other hand, yet again raced like he usually does – ahead of the two Haas drivers and behind his teammate. He started the race in P16 and ended in P17.
Over at Alpine, it was a boon for Nando but a bane for Ocon as the French driver couldn’t start in the top 10. As a matter of fact, he was nowhere near the drivers after he began his race in P17. Come the end of the race, he would take the chequered flag in P14.
On Alonso’s side, he started in P9, finished in P9. He says the reason for his recent gains is due to understanding the tyres better. With that in mind, he scored for his team for the third consecutive race.
The Styrian GP is over, with Max Verstappen’s clean sweep. But all the teams will be returning to the same venue for another leg of the 2021 Championship within a week. It means the racers have to face the same challenges again, provided we don’t get to see a change in the weather’s mood. So, this leaves the underperforming teams on a very tight schedule to make the required improvements to their cars, as the first day of practice sessions of the Austrian GP will be returning in just the next four days, on Thursday. Till then, we will jog our F1 memories while these teams will jog their cars.