The most interesting part for back-to-back races at the same circuit with no changes to the layout is that the second one is more competitive as teams incorporate lessons learned from the previous weekend. With that preconception in mind, we expected Mercedes-Benz to be closer to Max Verstappen who had smoked them in the Styrian GP and, hopefully, a better result for Sergio Perez as well.
The team that made the biggest gains from the previous weekend was McLaren, especially in the hands of Lando Norris. The young Brit has already shown great pace around the Red Bull Ring, especially in 2020. While he had to concede his track position to Perez and Valtteri Bottas just a week before, he had the pace this weekend to fight for a podium spot. The MCL35M had found an edge over the Mercedes cars in the fast sections with more straight-line speed. But this package still wasn’t enough to catch the in-form Verstappen.
Max had a rough session in Q3, running out in front for the final run, but was able to keep Pole position by just under 0.04 of a second. He was joined on the front row by Lando who’d just scored his career-best qualifying result. Sergio started third on the grid, two-tenths slower than his teammate and shared the second row with Lewis Hamilton who still hadn’t broken into the 1:03s at the Red Bull Ring this year. Bottas was a few hundredths slower to start fifth. It’d been a great qualifying result for AlphaTauri with Pierre Gasly who placed himself sixth on the grid again and Yuki Tsunoda was seventh fastest. Sebastian Vettel seemed to have found some pace and qualified eighth fastest while teammate Lance Stroll was tenth fastest. But the second-biggest qualifying story was of George Russell who had broken through to Q3 for the first time in a Williams and was ninth fastest. Since Vettel picked up a 3-place grid penalty for impeding Fernando Alonso which allowed Russell to start from the fourth row.
All the front runners had a good start to the race and avoided any incident into the first corner. Gasly was fighting Bottas and Hamilton was putting pressure on Perez on the opening lap. However, the action had to be paused even before the first lap could be completed as the Safety Car had been deployed. The cameras cut to the parked Alpine of Esteban Ocon with damage to its front suspension. The Frenchman had gotten sandwiched at the exit of Turn 3 and the impact of Antonio Giovinazzi’s rear left tyre against Ocon’s front right was enough to break the suspension entirely. It was just another unfortunate weekend for Ocon and the second Austrian F1 weekend in a row where a French racer had been retired on the first lap.
The race resumed on Lap 4 with Perez getting a lot closer to Norris for P2. Checo went wide around Turn 1 driving alongside the McLaren and their battle had allowed both Mercedes drivers behind them to close in as well. Norris had a better run into Turn 3 down the inside with Perez opting for the slower, wider line to get a better run into Turn 4. The Red Bull driver had gotten ahead on the wider line but was still very much alongside the McLaren on his right. Sergio took the risky option of staying alongside, on the exit and unfortunately found himself being run wide and into the gravel by Lando. The Mexican was able to keep enough momentum but dropped down to P10 as he got back on track.
THIS incident has been the most controversial one of the season so far. Had this happened on the actual Lap 1 of the race, it might have gone unpunished. However, this was Lap 4 even though this was a race restart. It was immediately obvious to most F1 fans that Norris would be given a penalty for the incident as per the current regulations that dissuade drivers from forcing others off track. Is it a harsh ruling in cases like this? Yes. But is still fair and by the book? Absolutely. Unfortunately, most of the English-speaking F1 coverage is from British personnel who have an unashamed bias in favour of British drivers and so the coverage was entirely against the ruling once Norris was handed a 5-second penalty for the incident. While Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, a Brit himself, thought that it was a racing incident in his eyes as well, it was a clear-cut case in the eyes of most non-Brit F1 fans.
Here are some of the details as observed from this incident which are being overlooked in the name of “hard racing”:
- They did not make contact.
- Perez did not lose control as he rounded the corner on the outside.
- Norris did not attempt to leave room for the car that was significantly alongside, instead let his car drift wide.
- Perez stayed clear of Norris to avoid making contact which could have resulted in a dangerous accident.
- Perez’s race was significantly affected as a result of Norris forcing him off track.
- Had the roles been reversed with Lando in the gravel on the outside, he and the Brits would have been crying foul as well.
All these points clearly indicate that within the current frame of rules, Lando Norris was fairly penalised (not including the license points but that’s a different issue altogether) for the incident. You can share your thoughts on this matter in the comments below.
The Perez and Norris incident had set the mood for the rest of the Austrian GP. Only one man would remain unaffected by all this commotion, a man who was driving in a beautifully balanced racecar and in a league of his own, far off in the lead: Max Verstappen.
Of course, Norris would have to serve his 5-second penalty when he would pit for a fresh set of tyres. With Perez out of the picture, Mercedes were clear to attack for another double podium result. However, the reigning champions could not have anticipated how quick the McLaren-Norris package was as Hamilton struggled to get past even with the DRS advantage. The MCL35M was just that quick in the straights. Also, nearly all of the main contenders for points were using Medium compound tyres for their first stint so that sort of nullified any tyre advantage from qualifying.
It was finally on Lap 20 that Hamilton managed to get past Norris for P2 with Verstappen nearly 9 seconds clear of them both. Bottas had dropped off, again, and was cruising in P4 around 3.5 seconds behind his teammate. Perez had made climbed up to P7 by then as those who started on the Soft tyres had pitted and had the challenge of Leclerc and Daniel Ricciardo ahead of him with Sainz not far behind.
Lando was the first of the top four to pit for a set of new Hard tyres at the end of Lap 30. But due to his penalty, Bottas was able to pit at the same time and get past into P3. Hamilton pitted the following lap and Red Bull responded by putting Verstappen onto fresh tyres right afterwards. Perez had pitted at the end of Lap 32 and his revised rival for the day, Leclerc, pitted a couple of laps later. Ricciardo’s early stop was good enough to keep him ahead after Checo and Charles’ pitted too.
But it wasn’t long before Perez and Leclerc had caught up with Daniel who was defending for his life. This three-way battle meant that Perez found himself under attack from Leclerc while being held up by the McLaren ahead. Orange was certainly proving to be Checo’s unlucky colour that Sunday. On Lap 41, Charles tried to pass Sergio around the outside of Turn 4 and this time the Red Bull man dished out what he’d received earlier that afternoon. He pushed the Ferrari wide on the exit and into the gravel, this time making contact as well. However, since the field was spread out and thanks to Leclerc’s skill the car returned to the tarmac without losing too much time. Just like the Styrian GP, the Ferrari was quite racey in race trim with the Red Bull Ring being one of Charles’ better tracks. This scuffle had given Ricciardo some breathing room before the two drivers would be on his chuff again.
On Lap 47, Charles was sticking his front wing under Sergio’s rear wing yet again as the Mexican chased the McLaren in front. Leclerc took the outside line for Turn 4 yet again but was smarter about it, setting himself up for a better exit to make a cutback overtake but it wasn’t enough. Perez had the inside line for the next corner as well with Leclerc alongside him. This time Perez got a bit sideways on the exit of Turn 5 which was enough to send Leclerc for a second ride through the gravel tap around the outside. Sergio had racked up a 10-second time penalty for these incidents, 5-seconds each which was just as fair as Lando’s penalty from Lap 4. After the two run-offs, Leclerc seemed to have lost some grip and steam and had to settle into his position for the rest of the race.
Sainz’s exceptional drive had gone under-the-radar as usual with all the drama going on around him. The Ferrari driver had qualified 11th fastest and was able to start on the Hard tyres, an opposing strategy to his teammate. But he was able to do a 48-lap stint on those tyres and was running comfortably in P5 before pitting for the Mediums. Even Gasly, who’d switched from the Soft to the Hard tyres on Lap 14 made his second stop for another set of tyres before Sainz had completed his first stint. The strategy worked out well as Carlos was able to rejoin the race in P8, ahead of Gasly, and on much quicker tyres for an aggressive second stint.
While this whole thing was going down, the trio of podium contenders was pulling away from the pack. Norris had stayed within view of Bottas by being only a couple of seconds behind, keeping the pressure on Mercedes. Hamilton had picked up some floor damage from the kerbs and was being reeled in by both of them while Verstappen’s lead stood at around 20 seconds. By Lap 51, Bottas cleared to overtake Hamilton for P2 and the move was completed the following lap. Norris also overtook Hamilton for P3 on Lap 53. Mercedes responded by pitting their ailing car at the end of the lap for a fresh set of tyres and Lewis rejoined comfortably in P4.
On the same lap, Perez finally got past Ricciardo into P5 and had less than 20 laps to pull a 10-second lead to avoid losing his track position by the end of the race. In the clean air, the RB16B was finally showing its true pace which could have made a big impact in the championship had Checo not put himself at unnecessary risk on Lap 4.
Red Bull decided to use Verstappen’s comfortable lead to pit him a second time on Lap 61, a safeguard against any tyre risk in the closing laps. This also allowed the Dutchman to secure the extra point for the fastest lap.
While Perez was distancing himself to outrun his time penalty, Sainz was making his way up the order. The Spaniard got a clean pass to get ahead of teammate Leclerc on Lap 65 and finally passing Ricciardo on the penultimate lap. Carlos cut into Sergio’s lead in the final lap and was able to move up a spot in the final classification.
Verstappen ended his race nearly 18 seconds clear of Bottas despite having made a second pit stop. There were no burnouts for the chequered flag but the man had certainly made a mark with back-to-back dominance at his team’s home Grand Prix. Norris put in a great drive to finish P3 despite the penalty and had kept up with Bottas till the very end. The difference was just over 2 seconds which suggested that the McLaren driver had the pace to finish a career-best P2 had it not been for that time penalty which he served in his pit stop.
Hamilton did not make any gains after his second stop and instead had fallen back further which suggested that the floor damage had affected his car’s performance quite significantly. Even though he was being caught by Perez towards the end of the race, the Mexican driver’s time penalty would still place Lewis fourth in the final classification.
With his penalty, Checo classified P6 as Sainz was moved up to P5. A disappointing result for the second Red Bull driver who was enjoying good form over the last 4 to 5 races. He’ll have to dig in and make up for the mistakes in the Austrian GP over the next three races. Red Bull need Perez in top form to keep putting the pressure on Mercedes and Hamilton in their battle for the world titles.
Daniel Ricciardo managed to score crucial points for McLaren with a P7 finish after starting 13th on the grid. Thanks to a bit of help from Perez, he was able to hold Leclerc at bay who finished P8 while Gasly crossed the line in P9.
The battle for P10 was perhaps the best one of the race, fought between Fernando Alonso and George Russell. Unlike most battles in the first half of the 2021 Austrian GP, these two drivers kept it clean and respectable. Alonso’s tyres were a couple of laps fresher than Russell’s but the pace difference was apparent. Russell was fighting tooth and nail to hang on and score his first championship point for Williams, something that had eluded him for over two seasons. But on Lap 68 of 71, the two-time champion was able to place his Alpine down the inside of Turn 4 and make the move stick. It was great to watch and even though George lost out, he earned the respect of many for his racecraft. Alonso continued his string of strong race day performances with another point-scoring finish despite starting P14 after his Q2 run was impeded by Vettel.
Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen’s race came to a very unexpected end on their final lap. Kimi was right behind Russell as they headed into Turn 4. Vettel made a late move down the inside as his former teammate exited the corner and was about to overtake him. At the last second, Kimi turned in too tight towards Turn 5 and his front-right made contact with Sebastian’s rear-left, spinning the Aston Martin around as both cars skidded across the gravel. It was a poor result for both drivers who were competing for P12 at the time of the incident. Raikkonen had started 16th on the Hard tyres while Vettel was hurt by the grid penalty and tyre management issues. Since the crash was at the end, both drivers still classified as finishers with Kimi in P15 and Seb in P17.
Yuki Tsunoda’s race was peppered with time penalties as well, picking up two for the same mistake (exceeding the pit-entry line before coming in). Despite his strong qualifying, he finished P12. Lance Stroll was unable to score points either as he crossed the line in P13.
There is finally a week’s gap between races after this triple-header as F1 goes to Silverstone for the next round of the 2021 season. It’ll also be the first of three races this season that will feature the Sprint Qualifying format which we will discuss in more detail in an upcoming story soon.
After a difficult Austrian GP for Hamiton and Perez, Red Bull stand 44 points clear of Mercedes in the Constructor Standings. Meanwhile, Max has extended his lead over Lewis to 32 points. However, this season can still go either way with more than 10 races to go and reigning champions have a history of performing much better in the second half.
In 2020, we had two races at Silverstone with Max and Lewis winning one each. With the new sprint qualifying format in play, this seems like a track that would favour the Mercedes and McLaren more than it would the Red Bulls. Share your predictions for the 2021 British GP podium in the comments below and don’t forget to subscribe for plenty more automotive content and follow us on Twitter & Instagram (@autoloons).
- M. Verstappen Red Bull Racing Honda — 1:23:54.543
- V. Bottas Mercedes +17.973
- L. Norris McLaren Mercedes +20.019
- L. Hamilton Mercedes +46.452
- C. Sainz Ferrari +57.144
- S. Perez Red Bull Racing Honda +57.915
- D. Ricciardo McLaren Mercedes +60.395
- C. Leclerc Ferrari +61.195
- P. Gasly AlphaTauri Honda +61.844
- F. Alonso Alpine Renault +1 lap
- G. Russell Williams Mercedes +1 lap
- Y. Tsunoda AlphaTauri Honda +1 lap
- L. Stroll Aston Martin Mercedes +1 lap
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 lap
- K. Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +1 lap
- N. Latifi Williams Mercedes +1 lap
- S. Vettel Aston Martin Mercedes +1 lap
- M. Schumacher Haas Ferrari +2 laps
- N. Mazepin Haas Ferrari +2 laps
- E. Ocon Alpine Renault DNF