2021 Styrian Grand Prix Blog
F1 made their first visit of the year to the Austrian Alps this weekend. It is fair to say the Red Bull Ring is a circuit that the teams and fans alike always look forward to. The scenery is simply stunning. Who would not enjoy watching F1 cars battle it out around this tight winding track?
Well, Mercedes for one. This is a circuit which favours the setup on the Red Bull and, after a disappointing result in France, the Silver Arrows would have been fearing the worst. Max Verstappen seemed in no mood to let his advantage slip, topping the charts in both of Friday’s practice sessions, before cruising to one of his more straightforward pole positions in Qualifying on Saturday. It was looking ominous for Mercedes, who were not helped by Valtteri Bottas being handed a three-place grid penalty for ‘dangerous driving’ due to a spin in the pit lane. Perhaps the weather could save them but when asked about the prospect of rain, Hamilton sounded worried, saying: “Either way, I need to bring my A game. End of story.”
Come Sunday and the race got underway in dry conditions. Verstappen was quick off the line, leading into the first corner but there was plenty of trouble in behind him. Piere Gasly bumped Charles Leclerc off the track at Turn 1. As the Ferrari re-joined, Leclerc tagged the left rear of the Alpha Tauri causing a puncture. Now with little control over his car, Gasly sailed on at Turn 3, knocking the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi into a spin. What followed was a kind of domino effect with Nicholas Latifi also caught up in the melee. Inevitably some cars fared better than others, with Gasly coming off worst. He pitted but was forced to retire due to damage to his suspension. Leclerc also had to come in for a new front wing.
One driver who did well to avoid all this was the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian had endured a terrible Qualifying session, starting in P13 whilst his teammate, Lando Norris, was in P3 on the grid. Daniel really needed a good start, and he got it, climbing up to P8 after just a couple of laps. Sadly all this was in vain as the McLaren suffered a brief loss of power a few laps later and he dropped back down to P13. Where he had started…
Reliability has not been a major issue so far this season, but with the higher altitude (800m above sea level), it was not too surprising to see some cars struggle. Our hearts went out to George Russell though who looked on course to score his first points for Williams. The young Brit was running in P8 for around a third of the race before a power unit issue came to light. Williams did their best to manage the situation, but to no avail, and they eventually had to retire the car. In his post-race interview, Russell said: “I’m just gutted for the team to be honest.”
Back at the head of the field and Max Verstappen was cruising in the lead. He was a comfortable 5s clear of Lewis Hamilton by Lap 25 and looked in no danger. Red Bull may be annoyed with themselves at how Sergio Perez’s race played out though. They choose to pit Perez first, but a slow (4.8s) stop, played havoc with this strategy because it allowed Bottas to pit one lap later and jump him into P3.
It was plain for all to see that Red Bull had the faster car, but with limited overtaking opportunities Perez was unable to re-pass Bottas and so the team decided to take a chance with a second stop, bringing him in for new medium tyres on Lap 54. This was by no means ‘Plan A’ but it made for an intriguing final few laps as the Mexican fought to close down his target. Ultimately though, he came up short, crossing the line just 0.527s behind Bottas.
So, Mercedes had two drivers on the podium, but they are a team who are used to winning and this will have felt like a loss. Toto Wolff summed up their feelings, saying: “A double podium with the second fastest car was the best damage limitation we could do today – we fought with everything we had but it wasn’t enough. Red Bull clearly had the quicker package this weekend.” Worrying times as we cannot see how they will be able to change that around in less than a week.
We should also mention Charles Leclerc, who left the track smiling having been voted ‘Driver of the Day’ for steering his Ferrari from the back of the field to finish in P7. The Monegasque passed Tsunoda, Alonso and Stroll in quick succession, reminding everyone that, in a good car, he is a force to be reckoned with.
We have the third leg of a ‘triple-header’ next weekend. The F1 teams will be relived to be staying in Austria and hopefully they can grab some R&R time before we do it all again for the Austrian Grand Prix.
After that, we have the small matter of Silverstone to contend with. The British Grand Prix will take place from 16-18 July, and we are delighted that a capacity crowd will be allowed to attend. With the very first ‘F1 Sprint Race’ also on the agenda, this looks set to be one of the biggest events of the season! If you would like to be our guests at the British GP this year, please contact us on +44 207 107 1640 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org