All GIFs/Images from Formula One Management/Liberty Media
Circuit: The Red Bull Ring
The Red Bull Ring began life as the Österreichring, then it became the A1-Ring after being redeveloped in the 1990s to the shorter layout you see above, before Red Bull purchased the once decrepit track and reopened it in 2011, and the current 4.326km layout still retains much of the original layout of the Österreichring that hosted the Austrian Grand Prix from 1970 to 1987, with the key exceptions of the long run between Turns 1 and 3, and the downhill drop between Turns 9 and 10.
Duncraig Dan 2021, Chapter 8: Styria, one of Spielberg’s box office bombs
Barely a week after the events in the south of France, it was off to the Styrian Mountains for the Steiermark/Austrian Grand Prix double header at the Red Bull Ring, the very track where Formula One was able to roar back to life this time last year after the pandemic shutdown, and it feels like we’ve been racing at least every second week since then.
There were a couple of key changes to the World Championship calendar this week – The Turkish Grand Prix is back on for the first weekend of October in place of Singapore, the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi is being modified for the first time in it’s history, the Turn 9/10 corner modifications at Albert Park for the Australian Grand Prix have been ticked off by the FIA, and the biggest change for the future is that the Russian Grand Prix will move from Sochi to Igora Drive near St Petersburg in 2023, also making it the closest thing the Finns will have to a home Grand Prix, given it’s 150km from the Finnish border.
The other major story this week is that the FIA used safety, and absolutely not the whining of several teams, as an excuse to issue Technical Directive 224 on pit stop speeds, effective from the Hungarian Grand Prix, in order to slow down pit stops and reduce the chance of a driver returning to the track with a wheel not fastened to the car, a directive that will apparently be achieved by a series of delays during tyre stops.
It seems to be a change primarily focused at one particular insanely brilliant pit crew sponsored by an Austrian energy drink who fire out 2 second tyre changes thanks to years of practice, and if the governing body really cared about unsecured wheels, they would’ve done this back in 2018 when unsafe tyre releases were happening seemingly every second race weekend, especially when that Ferrari mechanic had his leg turned into a right-angled triangle in Bahrain.
Have a look at this line from the Racefans article… it’s as if the FIA have forgotten the fundamental concept of F1 is to be as fast as possible:
“Under the new directive, mechanics’ reactions must also be above a minimum time. If a mechanic reacts to the completion of a stage of the pit stop process in less than 0.15 seconds, the sensor must register this as invalid, and require them to repeat their action to ensure it has been completed.”
“Under the revised technical directive, 0.2 seconds must elapse between the final signal being given and the drivers being given the all-clear to leave the pit box, again to prevent anticipation.”
Just because Mercedes’ mechanics are so incompetent that they can’t perform a tyre stop without putting the wrong set of tyres on a car, or by shearing a bolt onto Valtteri Bottas’ car that took 48 hours to remove, doesn’t mean that the likes of Red Bull and Williams should be punished for their success.
Finally, if you want to have a mild laugh, Haas team principal Guenther Steiner decided to help Nikita Mazepin somewhat embrace the ‘Mazespin’ meme, so he gave the Russian a spinning top “The Mazespinner” as a present, because in Guenther’s words, it’s better than spinning the car.
Valtteri Bottas probably feels like the lord himself has taken a dump on him this year, and it got even better when the Finn tried to leave his pit box in 2nd Gear during Free Practice 2 on Friday, and promptly pulled off the rare achievement of spinning in the pit lane, forcing the McLaren mechanics to help him point straight again, and that piss-up earned Bottas a 3-place grid penalty for potentially dangerous driving.
Come Saturday, championship leader Max Verstappen gave Red Bull their first pole position at their home track, and their first consecutive pole positions for the first time since Sebastian Vettel at the end of the 2013 season, with Max the only driver to set a time below 64 seconds around the Red Bull Ring.
Bottas did qualify 2nd fastest to start 5th at what has long been his best track, promoting Lewis Hamilton onto the front row, with Lando Norris matching his career best starting position of 3rd, Sergio Perez was 4th and unlike the Top 3 started on the Soft tyres, Pierre Gasly had another Top 10 start for AlphaTauri, Charles LeClerc 7th, Yuki Tsunoda had qualified 8th, but was hit with a 3 place penalty for impeding Bottas in Q3, promoting Fernando Alonso onto the 4th Row, Lance Stroll started 9th for Aston Martin, and George Russell, who missed Q2 by a mere 8-thousandths of a second for Williams, moved into the Top 10 on a free tyre choice, and his long run pace in Practice gave Williams half a reason to be optimistic of a points finsh.
However, it is Williams.
Outside of the Top 10, the notable stragglers were Esteban Ocon failing to break out of Q1, Sebastian Vettel starting 14th for Aston Martin, Carlos Sainz was down in 12th in the Ferrari, while Daniel Ricciardo’s painfully awful season continued when he could only manage 13th in the McLaren, a performance made to look even worse given what his teammate achieved, and for the fact that Daniel was 2nd in FP2 on Friday.
For reference though, that FP2 time (1.05.748) would’ve only put him 18th on the grid, so in that sense, the Aussie did find time, but it was nowhere near enough compared to other drivers.
Race (71 Laps)
On a warm Sunday afternoon in Spielberg, which shouldn’t have surprised the Sky F1 team because it is a European Summer, Verstappen comfortably led into Turn 1 from Hamilton as the lights went out, Perez pushed Norris wide but the Brit forced his way into 3rd, while the opening lap chaos began when LeClerc went through the motorcycle penalty loop while tussling with Gasly, and during LeClerc’s attempt to merge into the slipstream behind the AlphaTauri, the Ferrari clipped Gasly’s left rear and caused an instant puncture + damage to his own front wing:
That wasn’t the end of it, because while Gasly limped up the hill towards Turn 3, Antonio Giovinazzi in the Alfa tried going around the outside and got turned around, and further to it, Gasly managed to clip Nicholas Latifi’s right rear tyre after the Canadian tried going via the mountains, and caused a puncture for the Williams!
While LeClerc and Latifi made it back to the pits, Gasly’s left rear suspension collapsed at Turn 8, and after starting from 6th, the AlphaTauri was out on Lap 1.
So thanks to that bit of carnage, Stroll was running in a good 6th, Russell was up to 8th, while Ricciardo had a very good start and was up in 9th on the Medium tyre, out of the trouble of the DRS train behind, which appeared to be setting up his race quite nicely.
In the lead, Verstappen had already cleared the Hamilton DRS window by Lap 3, Norris was still holding his own from Perez, Bottas sat back and took notice, with the Top 5 clearing right away from everyone else, while Stroll’s sensor saw him wildly fly between 6th and 19th on the timing monitor.
On Lap 7, Ricciardo had worked his way onto the back of Russell, but right as it seemed he’d line up for a pass with the DRS + Slipstream, his afternoon was instantly rooted when his McLaren suddenly dropped into low power mode for 25 seconds, in which time he fell back to 13th, and what was looking like a good salvage job turned in to the full stop on his shit sentence of a weekend.
It also appeared Daniel was having temperature issues, as he was having to get out of the slipstream behind Kimi Raikkonen, which was just a problem on top of another problem.
In the tussle for 3rd, Perez closed up to Norris and made the pass at Turn 3 on Lap 10, and Norris did leave the door wide open for Checo to get the job done, probably because McLaren accepted it was a pointless exercise keeping the faster Red Bulls and Mercs behind, and they they needed Lando to save his tyres so he could run their own race.
This would also explain the Bottas move the next lap, as the Finn got the pass for 4th completed right as he hit the braking marker for Turn 3:
As the race settled down and the midpack DRS train picked up a few carriages and a caboose (It started with Alonso in 7th down to LeClerc in 15th), Verstappen noted the wind was picking up, and himself and Hamilton seperately noted they were beginning to struggle with the handling of their cars.
That’s usually a sign that they’re alright, as Verstappen set a new fastest lap on Lap 22, and a few laps later, Hamilton had a huge moment at Turn 4 when he picked up the throttle and almost went spinning around, but he managed to countersteer and save the car, despite putting two wheels in the gravel in the process.
George Russell had run a textbook race in 8th, despite Williams telling him to go to “Plan B for reliability” during his opening stint, a comment from the pit wall that appeared to explain itself when Russell pitted on Lap 26, when the mechanics had to top up his car with pneumatic pressure, and it would spell a shattering end to Williams’ latest chance to break their point drought as Russell had to stop several more times for top ups.
Checo stopped on Lap 27, and an issue with the left rear change cost him an extra 2.5 seconds in stationary time, and that issue would also cost him 3rd to Bottas after Mercedes realised what had happened and stopped Valtteri next lap, which was the moment that ultimately decided the final spot on the podium.
Hamilton stopped on Lap 29, Red Bull covered and stopped Max next lap, Norris pitted on a boring 5th on Lap 31 and had a brief encounter with Raikkonen, and despite Max complaining about Brake By Wire due to the kerbs, the leaders would comfortably retain the status quo, as the race really needed a Safety Car to become interesting.
In a similar situation to Monaco last month, Ricciardo was simply unable to pass Raikkonen until Kimi pitted at the end of Lap 36, although it appeared McLaren were planning on Daniel undercutting the Finn before he pulled in, because there was a broadcast message of “Box to overtake Raikkonen” from Tom Stallard, but that was obviously changed at the last moment when Alfa Romeo blinked first.
Just behind Ricciardo, LeClerc stopped for the 2nd time on Lap 39 to go back onto Medium tyres, a move which helped save his afternoon, and within a few laps Charles had caught up to Raikkonen, and despite Kimi putting up a good fight, LeClerc pulled ahead on the downhill to Turn 4, and almost caused himself a right rear puncture when drifted in and cut part of Kimi’s front wing.
Russell’s once promising afternoon also came to end at the same time LeClerc stopped, as Williams accepted routinely topping the car with pneumatic pressure wasn’t worth it in the long run, and they retired the car.
Sainz and Ricciardo were the last drivers to stop when they came in on Lap 42, and running long for Sainz worked out by coming back in 7th, thanks in part to Verstappen lapping Alonso right as he re-emerged, while Ricciardo was down in 15th, on Hard tyres, and making no time at all on Ocon.
It also didn’t help Ricciardo that Tom Stallard called him Darren…. again.
The only thing of note that happened in the laps after that seemed to involve Ferrari, because Sainz overtook Stroll for 6th, while LeClerc was just about the only driver on track who was able to overtake anyone, frist passing Giovinazzi for 11th on Lap 45, then he was back into the points after overtaking Vettel on Lap 50, despite getting a major blast of turbulent air from the Aston Martin, which was so violent even the onboard camera picked it up:
I believe they call that Dirty LeclAir.
With 20 laps to go, there were dark clouds hovering over the mountains that overlook Turn 3, while Verstappen had now lapped everyone up to Norris in 5th place, Red Bull had to make a gamble with Checo fighting for 3rd (Even though Checo was only 1.6 seconds behind Bottas), and stopped the sister Bull for Medium tyres with 16 laps to go, possibly to take the fastest lap in the process, and to give Mercedes fits, because there was every chance he could reel in the 20 seconds deficit by race end.
LeClerc eventually rounded Tsunoda to take 9th at Turn 4 on Lap 55, then he rounded Alonso into Turn 4 on the next lap, as the Monegasque left just enough space to avoid wiping himself and the Spaniard out of the race.
Completing the overtaking exhibition, LeClerc comfortbaly took Stroll for 7th at the same corner 4 laps later, and the Ferrari was back to it’s starting position, after a wild journey getting there:
Sainz was also catching Norris on much fresher tyres, trailing by only 8 seconds with 13 laps to go, Perez did take the fastest lap on Lap 57, and he was charging at Bottas at a rate of 2 seconds per lap, helped by Bottas being unable to get close enough to lap Ricciardo, who had just passed Giovinazzi for 13th.
Checo had cut the gap down to 12 seconds with 10 laps to go, then he cut the gap below 10 seconds with 7 laps to go, Bottas still didn’t have the pace to get blue flags on Ricciardo and lost even more time, while Sainz was so strong late in the race that he was able to pass Hamilton, although he was still a lap down.
With Perez now within 6 seconds, Bottas finally got close enough to enact blue flags on Lap 67, although he now had the immediate problem of Raikkonen and Vettel racing each other, and there was the other problem of Perez now being within 4 seconds with 3 laps to go!
With Verstappen extending his gap to Hamilton out to 17 seconds in a crushing display, and with a 28 second gap back to Bottas, Mercedes decided to use the free pit stop to help Hamilton take back the fastest lap and soften the points loss, which he was comfortably going to do on a set of Soft tyres on the last lap in clear air.
So with his nearest rival accepting his fate, Max Verstappen made it 3 wins in 4 years at the Red Bull Ring, winning by 35.7 seconds even as he eased down just before the finish line, and pissed off Michael Masi by performing a burn-out in front of the team, not for the fact that he did it while cars were crossing the line, but for the fact that he didn’t do it in a safe area… like the McLaren pit box.
Half a minute later, Hamilton finished 2nd and comfortably set the fastest lap in clean air (1.07.058, some 8 tenths faster than second best), while Perez closed to within half a second of Bottas on the last lap, but the Finn held on to complete the podium!
Another lap and Valtteri was in more trouble than Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.
Only the Red Bulls and Mercs finished on the lead lap, partly the result of no safety cars, and the best of the lapped runners was Norris to take his seventh Top 5 finish in 8 races, Sainz and LeClerc turned Ferrari’s race around after it looked like a cup of hot fat with a hair in it on Lap 1, Stroll always ran in the Top 10 and finished 8th after being as high as 6th, Alonso finished 9th for Alpine, and Tsunoda completed the Top 10 for AlphaTauri, keeping the Italian team’s points scoring streak going in 2021!
Four race wins in a row for Red Bull, which also makes this the longest winless run for Mercedes since the Turbo Hybrid era began in 2014… Yep.
That was Max’s 14th career Grand Prix victory, tying him on the all-time winners list with three multiple World Champions; Graham Hill, Sir Jack Brabham and Emerson Fittipaldi, and he now leads Hamilton by 18 points in the Drivers’ Standings.
By finishing 2nd, Hamilton also tied another of Michael Schumacher’s old records – It was his 43rd instance of finishing in 2nd place, with both drivers six clear of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen in a tie for third on 37, although you’d think Lewis will take that record in the not too distant future.
During the celebrations, Red Bull’s head of driver development Helmut Marko made a rare appearance on the podium to accept the Constructors’ trophy for Red Bull, as this weekend marked 50 years since he made his Formula 1 debut at the ’71 Austrian Grand Prix in a BRM at the Österreichring, and fun fact, that race also marked the debut of his compatriot and future World Champion Niki Lauda!
Now to put on my green and gold coloured glasses, and to put it simply, Danny Ric’s race was all but destroyed by that brief period of low power, which led to him losing all his progress from the opening lap, which had the knock-on effect of ruining his tyre strategy, followed by the apparent case of cooling issues that apparently meant he couldn’t properly use the slipstream, then the overcut attempt was just never going to work with the state of his tyres.
Unfortunately it looks like France last week was a massive outlier, and that this horrible season is just going to keep on going with no light at the end of the tunnel.
And I thought the first couple of races at Renault were bleak.
Now for the AUSTRIAN Grand Prix this weekend!