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Formula 1 Austrian/Österreich Grand Prix
Circuit: The Red Bull Ring
I tell you what, that track looks suspiciously like the track that hosted the Styrian Grand Prix….
Duncraig Dan 2021, Chapter 9: Austria, capital of the Netherlands
On the same weekend that Sergio Perez racked up his 200th Grand Prix start, Duncraig Daniel Ricciardo turned 32, and Sebastian Vettel turned 34, it was a case of same track, different week as last week’s Stryian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring was followed up by the more traditional Austrian Grand Prix, and this weekend meant the sport had finally come full circle, as this weekend marked a full year since Formula One kicked off the 2020 season and the beginning of the Pandemic era at the Red Bull Ring, and in all, this was the 26th race in the 52 weeks since then.
I enjoyed reading a line from Helen Paradyce in the Red Bulletin when she discussed that absurd number:
“If you are constantly fed a diet of caviar, eventually you see it for what it is – slimy, salty fish eggs.”
Last weekend saw the welcome sight of grandstands being partially filled, which served as a precursor to this weekend, because for the first time in some 2 years, it was a FULL HOUSE for a Grand Prix in mainland Europe, as fried out Kombis, caravans and tents lined the Styrian hills, and as they have done in recent years, the Dutch fans arrived in full support of Max Verstappen and turned the place Oranje!
Lando Norris would joke after the race that it was great to see so many fans in orange supporting McLaren:
The major storyline following Verstappen’s superb Styrian GP win is that following Lewis Hamilton saying Mercedes needed an upgrade of some kind to stop Red Bull, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff made the somewhat gobsmacking claim that the Silver Arrows didn’t have any upgrades planned for the W12 for the remainder of 2021 due to focusing on the 2022 machine, a statement that was contradicted by James Allison on F1 Nation confirming the team had something planned for Silverstone, as Toto was forced to perform the biggest backflip since Dick Frosbury at the 1968 Olympics and admit they did, in another case of the boy who cried Wolff.
In more positive news for Mercedes, and every broadcast rights holder in the sport, Lewis Hamilton ended any speculation about his short term future in F1, and re-signed with the 7-time champions for another 2 seasons, leaving Mercedes free to drag Valtteri Bottas and George Russell along for as long as possible while deciding the second seat for 2022…
Formula 2 championship leader Guanyu Zhou also drove for Alpine during FP1 in place of Fernando Alonso, giving the Chinese driver his proper debut on an F1 race weekend, and becoming the first driver from the PRC to take part in an F1 weekend since Ma Qinghua drove for Caterham at Shanghai back in 2013.
In addition to a prototype tyre test in FP1, As had been planned weeks ago, Pirelli’s tyre allocation for this weekend was Softer than it was for the Styrian Grand Prix, featuring the C3 Hard tyres, which were Mediums last week, the C4 Mediums, which were last week’s Hards, and the grippiest tyre in their current range, the C5 Soft.
With the Oranje army watching on and lighting flares as if their national team was still in the Euros, Max Verstappen completed a hat-trick of pole positions for Red Bull-Honda by only 0.048s, while Lando Norris went one better than starting 3rd last weekend and gave McLaren their first front row start since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, which was Lewis Hamilton’s last race for the team!
By planting his Red Bull in 3rd place, Sergio Perez ensured this was the first race in which Mercedes haven’t had a car start in the Top 3 since the 2017 Singapore GP, which worked out well for the Mercs as Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Verstappen wiped each other out on Lap 1 and Hamilton won the race.
On that note, Hamilton and Bottas started from 4th and 5th, as Lewis admitted a win was out of the equation, Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda planted both AlphaTauri cars in the Top 10, but just about everyone was overshadowed by ‘Mr Saturday’ George Russell, who got into Q3 on merit for Williams for the first time as he started in 8th, on Medium tyres, ending the team’s Q3 drought that stretched back to Lance Stroll starting 10th at the 2018 Italian Grand Prix!
On that note, I’m perplexed as to why Sky F1 would want to nickname a driver Mr Saturday.
It’s like nicknaming an AFL player ‘Mr August.’
The other major story was Fernando Alonso being blocked by Sebastian Vettel at Turn 10 at the end of Q2 while the Alpine was on a flying lap, which apparently wrecked Alonso’s weekend, and Vettel, thanks to his engineers not letting him know another car was coming, was dropped from 8th to 11th as punishment.
The race director’s notes this weekend warned drivers about driving slowly through the penultimate corners of the track, which led to Valtteri Bottas (Who overtook Vettel on his outlap) and Carlos Sainz also being investigated by the stewards, but Vettel would be the only driver punished for the simple fact that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, because the stewards can’t be bothered penalising everyone at once, as shown with the double waved yellows in Baku.
That promoted Russell, Stroll and Sainz to complete the Top 10, Charles LeClerc started 12th as Ferrari didn’t have a car in Q2, Daniel Ricciardo’s birthday was turning to crap as he started 13th once again, Alonso was dunked to 14th thanks to the blocking incident, then it was the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen, Esteban Ocon couldn’t get out of Q1, Nicholas Latifi started 18th, then came the Haas drivers Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin to bring up the rear.
Unlike Germany at Wembley on Tuesday night, Mick wasn’t second best in a two horse race.
Race (71 Laps)
With the rain staying away yet again, only 4 cars started the race on Soft tyres – The AlphaTauris of Gasly and Tsunoda, plus the Aston Martins of Vettel and Stroll, with the Softs only expected to last up to Lap 15, meaning the four drivers were at something of a disadvantage with everyone else around them on Mediums or Hards and running long, with the only drivers to start on the White banded tyre being Sainz and Raikkonen.
Once the lights went out, Verstappen covered Norris up the inside into Turn 1 and held the lead from the McLaren, Perez covered off Hamilton as the cars travelled through the smoke from the orange flares, and before the field reached the end of Lap 1, the Safety Car was deployed as Ocon’s rotten weekend ended when he was caught in a sandwich and made contact with Giovinazzi at Turn 3, instantly busting the front right suspension and leading to the French driver stopping next to a service road on the run to Turn 4.
During the opening lap, LeClerc moved into the Top 10, Ricciardo was into 11th after going off the track at Turn 1 (Earning the ire of Fernando Alonso) and pulling a 2 for 1 move at Turn 6, Russell’s points hopes took an early hit as he fell to 12th after a slow start, and Sainz lost 3 places to go down to 13th, leaving him with a bit of work to do early on.
The Alpine was quickly removed and the race resumed on Lap 4, and instantly Perez was forced wide at Turn 1 after getting a run on Norris, Hamilton narrowly avoided losing his front wing trying to range up to the Red Bull, Checo then tried going around the outside at Turn 4, but Norris understeered into the corner, and Perez was left with nowhere to go except the gravel trap, dropping down to 10th in the process!
You’ll notice straight away that they didn’t make any contact, and Perez pretty much hung himself out to dry, but Norris’ actions raised the regular issue of drivers having to leave a car’s width, which flared up when Max Verstappen made his race winning pass on Charles LeClerc at Turn 3 in 2019, and even though Red Bull boss Christian Horner said on Sky F1 this incident was a racing incident, the stewards would agree to disagree.
Ricciardo had also cleared LeClerc and was now into 9th place behind Vettel, Norris held his own against Hamilton, which allowed Verstappen to build up a very handy lead, Perez was now hinged onto the DRS train that has become a staple of midfield fights in Austria, while Giovinazzi was handed the first 5 second penalty of the afternoon for overtaking while the Safety Car was deployed, a fact made more embarrassing by the fact that he had to pit due to damage during the SC.
While Verstappen was setting purple sectors for fun, Norris was still matching it with Hamilton, and the McLaren pit wall, thinking Norris wouldn’t be able to last much longer against the mercs and that 4th would be a best case result, noted that Gasly in 6th was lapping around the 1.10.4s, almost a second slower.
Norris simply replied, “Yeah I don’t care.”
He was right.
The Soft tyre runners were starting to fall off the pace by Lap 13, and it showed when Tsunoda had to stop at the end of that Lap 13, and that was even after a Safety Car, and it turned out Yuki made the rookie error of crossing the white line at the pit entry at Turn 9, which would earn him a 5 second penalty.
It was a mistake Yuki managed to repeat later in the race,
Gasly stopped at the end of Lap 14 to go onto Hard tyres, but a slow stop dropped him behind Tsunoda, and that stop also started uncoupling the DRS train that was now being led by the Aston Martins, who would soon be joining the AlphaTauris.
In what would turn into a running saga throughout the race, on Lap 15, Perez and LeClerc had some good clean, as LeClerc first tried pulling a Checo and going down the outside into Turn 4, but Checo braked deep and stayed ahead, only for Charles to perform a classic switch move and take what was 7th place on the road!
Stroll stopped at the end of Lap 16, leaving Vettel as the last Soft tyre runner still to stop, which also left him exposed to Ricciardo, who got the pass done under braking at Turn 4 on Lap 17, opening up his race with clean air as Vettel pitted at the end of the lap.
The Norris-Perez incident from Lap 4 was still under investigation some 15 minutes after the incident, and the verdict finally arrived on Lap 20, and to the bewilderment of those of us with slight biases, Norris was given a 5 second penalty for forcing Perez off the track!
And to cap it off, the news arrived right as Hamilton made a move for 2nd place!
Still, Norris had lasted 15 laps with a modern day knight applying the blowtorch in a better car, and Hamilton complimented his younger compatriot by remarking on the radio “Such a great driver, Lando.”
As Hamilton moved into 2nd, Verstappen’s lead blew out to 10 seconds before the 1 stop strategy window opened up for the Medium tyre runners, and the first to move was Ricciardo at the end of Lap 29, and he emerged behind Gasly, but ahead of Latifi and both the Aston Martins, and importantly, it cut off any thought of Ferrari playing the undercut with LeClerc.
Norris and Bottas stopped at the end of Lap 30, with Bottas taking 3rd as Norris served the penalty, but crucially, Lando was back ahead of the yet to stop LeClerc, Hamilton stopped at the end of Lap 31, right as Verstappen was about to arrive behind a pack of backmarkers, but Red Bull decided not to lose any time and stopped Verstappen at the end of Lap 32, and his 13 second lead was never in any danger.
Perez also stopped on the same lap to try an undercut on LeClerc, and despite a slightly slow change on the left rear, Perez emerged in clear air a few seconds behind Ricciardo, which would help make it work by the time LeClerc stopped at the end of Lap 34.
Russell’s chance of points was back on when he got past Stroll for 13th place on Lap 37, and he was within 5 seconds of Tsunoda in 10th, who had to serve a penalty when he stopped again, because his Hard tyres wouldn’t reach the end of the race.
The Raikkonen stop also robbed Gasly of a cheap DRS opening against Ricciardo, who needed to have a really good run on the AlphaTauri to pass, because he would be exposed against Perez directly behind, who also had to deal with the threat of LeClerc.
Things boiled over when LeClerc tried a move at Turn 4 on Lap 40, and Perez ironically now found himself defending on the inside, but it was a bit more forceful than the Norris clash, because the Red Bull and Ferrari banged wheels, forcing LeClerc into the gravel, and if the Norris move was a penalty, so was that, and RACE CONTROL AGREED – 5 second penalty for Checo!
One of the few examples of consistent stewarding you’ll ever see in Formula One.
Meantime, Sainz was still going on the Hard tyres after 45+ laps, which was lighting up his race with the chance to let rip on Medium tyres for the final 20 laps against the one stopping stragglers, while Bottas was closing up rapidly to Hamilton, and it turned out for very good reason, because Hamilton had suffered floor damage at Turn 10 just before his pit stop on Lap 30, which cost him an estimated 6 to 7 tenths per lap from a loss of downforce, at least according to data from Mercedes.
There was also this incident over the sausage kerbs at Turn 1, which apparently didn’t cause the damage, but definitely wouldn’t have helped:
Ricciardo was getting closer and closer to Gasly, and following a failed move at Turn 3, Gasly had to stop again on Lap 46, leaving Ricciardo in 5th, while LeClerc was once again on the back of Perez after he was done cracking the shits over the radio with Checo, and on Lap 47….
LECLERC TRIED GOING AROUND THE OUTSIDE AT TURN 5, AND ONCE AGAIN, THEY BANGED WHEELS, AND LECLERC DIPPED INTO THE GRAVEL!
“Oh come on, this guy is a ****ing dickhead, get out of the ****ing way!”
Perez did not seem to hear LeClerc’s radio message, and the stewards had no other choice but to hit the Mexican with another 5 second time penalty, bringing him up to 10 seconds worth of time penalties, which meant Perez really had to get his arse into gear.
Sainz finally stopped on Lap 49 for a fresh set of Medium tryes, but he came back out behind the AlphaTauri of Tsunoda, albeit with DRS in clean air, and he was ahead by Turn 4.
Bottas was originally told not to overtake Hamilton, who had a damaged car and was 20.8 seconds behind Verstappen, which was inviting Norris to close back up, however, on Lap 51, the Mercs backflipped and allowed Valtteri to race Lewis due to the threat of Lando, although Mercedes pretty much swapped the cars and allowed Bottas ahead at Turn 3 on Lap 52, which also allowed Bottas to briefly set a fastest lap with the DRS advantage, but Norris was now within DRS range of Hamilton, and he was about to even the score.
First, Norris tried an audacious run into Turn 4 on Lap 53, but Hamilton covered up the inside, however Norris stuck to it, cut back for the inside run to Turn 6, and the McLaren driver was into 3rd place!
With 4th place pretty much welded on, given the damage to his car, Hamilton stopped again with a 32 second gap to the now 5th placed Perez, who had passed Ricciardo on Lap 52, and needed to pull up 10 seconds in the final 20 laps to hold on to 5th, while Ricciardo’s new immediate concern was LeClerc making huge lunges under braking into Turn 4, in an attempt to try and stay within DRS range, without wiping both cars out of the race.
After stopping again, Stroll was given a 5 second penalty for speeding in the pits, and Tsunoda copped yet another penalty for crossing the white line when he made his second stop, ending whatever miniscule hope they had of scoring points.
Showcasing his dominance over all creation, Verstappen was still setting fastest laps on old tyres and pulling out over a second per lap on Bottas, while Sainz was on fresh tyres and catching his teammate + Ricciardo at a rate of knots, but he was seemingly going to get lapped by Verstappen with only 10 laps to go, although his worries were ended when Verstappen pitted again due to cuts on his tyres on Lap 61, returning comfortably in clear air with a 9 second lead to Bottas, which also allowed him to secure the bonus point with absolutely no worries.
Just to emphasise that line, Verstappen set the fastest lap on Lap 62 with a 1.06.200… it was 1.5 seconds faster than the next best driver, which was Sainz with a 1.07.762.
Right as LeClerc kept making his brakes squeal into Turn 4, further behind, Alonso was all over the now 10th placed Russell fighting for the final point, with George hanging on for dear life on used tyres as Alonso tried a brave move into Turn 5, but the Williams gave him enough room to avoid the fate of Perez and Norris, in what was some fantastic wheel to wheel racing to watch, because there was nothing dirty, they gave each other plenty of room & respect and George really made Fernando work for it.
Eventually they had to both let Verstappen through, which appeared to briefly give Russell a lead before he lost it all when he was shown the blue flag, reigniting the fight for a few more laps.
Enterting the final 10 laps, Sainz has closed to within a second of LeClerc, and it made too much sense for Ferrari to swap the cars, and Sainz would take 7th place for LeClerc on Lap 65, with LeClerc pretty much parting the Red Sea, and if Sainz could get ahead of Ricciardo, which seemed like a given with their tyre quality, he could take 5th in the process, because Perez still needed to find 3 seconds in the final 6 laps!
Meantime, the Alonso/Russell stoush reached it’s conclusion, as Alonso had been saving up his battery for a run down to Turn 4, and after Russell gave the 2-time champion everything he had, the Spaniard finally took 10th place down the outside on Lap 68, and there was a shot of the Williams mechanics in the garage looking utterly crushed, as if they’d lost a football match thanks to an injury time goal.
They said George Russell was the future of Formula One, but this young Alonso fella is pretty good.
Russell was also left exposed to Raikkonen making a late charge in the final, and they even banged wheels at Turn 4 as Russell moved under braking, which almost resulted in a left rear puncture, and Raikkonen calling him a “****ing idiot moving on the left every time!”
Sainz got within DRS range of Ricciardo with 3 laps to go, and Daniel did what he could to maintain 6th, but it seemed the McLaren finally ran out grip on the penultimate lap, and the much faster Sainz took 6th on the run down to Turn 4 on Lap 70, and he was within 10 seconds of Perez, which made that move a 2 for 1 special!
However, everyone was sniffing the pleasant smelling rear of Max Verstappen, who crossed the the line to complete a winning hat-trick, complete with bonus point, by 17.9 seconds to Bottas, with Max also completing his first career Grand Chelem – Pole Position, Fastest Lap, the Race Win, and he lead all 71 laps!
Norris took Driver of the Day honours and his third podium of the year, 2 seconds behind Bottas, which makes you think he absolutely could’ve finished 2nd were it not for the penalty, a damaged Hamilton was off the podium in 4th, Sainz was able to stay within 10 seconds of Perez to move up to 5th, Ricciardo was never truly threatened by LeClerc on the last lap and did take 7th after starting 13th, Gasly was the last car on the lead lap in 9th, finishing just 0.7s behind LeClerc, and Alonso just had to rip out poor little George Russell’s heart out, didn’t he?
While everyone crossed the line, there was one last incident, as Kimi Raikkonen made another lunge at Russell to try and take 12th at Turn 4, which allowed Vettel to make a run up the inside at Turn 5, but Kimi obviously forgot right hand mirrors exist, because he didn’t see Seb coming, and the former teammates had a heavy collision!
Vettel was classified down in 17th despite being unable to finish the final lap, Raikkonen received a 20 second penalty for the incident and would’ve stayed 16th, but as it turned out, several drivers, including everyone from 5th through to 9th, were investigated for allegedly not respecting double waved yellow flags, although the points finishers were all cleared after providing evidence, and the only drivers who were found to have not lifted sufficiently were Latifi in the Williams, who had a stop and go penalty converted into a 30-second time penalty, dropping him to 16th, while Nikita Mazepin was given the same penalty, but it made no difference as he finished 19th.
Once the stewards were done sorting through the many incidents, Norris was given 2 penalty points on his Super License for the Perez incident, moving his tally to 8 by the time we get to Britain, leaving him with little wiggle room in avoiding a race ban before November, Perez copped 4 for the LeClerc incidents, Giovinazzi got 2 for his SC infringement, Tsunoda got 2 for crossing the white line twice, Raikkonen received 2 for hitting Vettel, and Latifi and Mazepin received 3 each for not respecting the yellow flags, leaving the running penalty table as this:
Under the current 12 point penalty system introduced in 2014, no driver has been suspended for a race, with Romain Grosjean in 2012 being the last driver to be banned for a race, although the way some of these miscreants are tracking, we might break that run.
So it was Red Bull’s 70th Grand Prix win, Max’s 4th win at the Red Bull Ring, giving him the outright lead for the most wins at the circuit after being tied with Alain Prost on 3 wins, it was his 15th Grand Prix win, tying the Dutchman with 2009 champion Jenson Button, and he also tied JB for career podium finishes, as this win was Max’s 50th podium finish, becoming the 17th driver to reach the milestone, and the youngest by a full 2 years (23Y 277D, beating Sebastian Vettel who was 25Y 327D).
One more win and he’ll tie Sir Stirling Moss, one podium and he’ll tie Mika Hakkinen.
Keeping up the run, Max also became the first Honda-powered driver to achieve a hat-trick of wins since Ayrton Senna for McLaren-Honda in his final title year of 1991, and the race was also Red Bull-Honda’s 5th consecutive win, marking the first time Honda powered cars have won 5 consecutive races since the epic year of 1988, when the McLaren MP4-4 won the first 11 races of the season in the hands of Senna and Prost, on it’s way to winning 15 out of 16 races that year.
Max’s Drivers’ Championship lead is now 32 points over Lewis Hamilton (182 vs 150), Red Bull’s Constructors’ lead over Mercedes is now 44 points (286-242), aka a 1-2 finish + fastest lap, and unless Mercedes’ Silverstone upgrades magically find 2 seconds improvement, they’re probably going to have those rabid British fans tearing down the garage doors wondering why Lewis got thumped by Red Bull again.
Finishing off, putting on my metaphorical Green & Gold coloured glasses, it was pleasing to see Daniel Ricciardo string it together on Sunday and do what he does best, after it looked like he was on for another miserable weekend following the events of Qualifying, and the only thing stopping Dan from a 6th place finish was Carlos Sainz nailing his tyre strategy, and I say 6th because he just didn’t have enough tyre life to stay within 10 seconds of Perez to take what would’ve been a superb 5th, although McLaren did put another 7 points on Ferrari in this struggle for 3rd in the Constructors, which is slightly less captivating than Ferrari vs McLaren duels of decades past.
Who knows what the former RAF Airbase will dish up.
Next Race: The British Grand Prix in a fortnight!