Mercedes Have Some Work to do! F1 2021 Season Review - Styria
Race 1 of two held in Austria this year has been completed, and here is the review.
For the second year in a row, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted Austria to host two Grand Prix at the infamous Red Bull Ring - with this weekends Styrian Grand Prix being the first of two back-to-back events. Max Verstappen took a flawless victory ahead of Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton this afternoon, leaving Mercedes with a lot of work if they want to catch up in the title fight next weekend.
Welcome to the DriveTribe F1 2021 Season Review series, where I review every Grand Prix weekend - let's rewind time back to yesterday's qualifying session to see exactly where the weekend started.
Q1 for the Styrian Grand Prix saw the surprise elimination of Esteban Ocon for the Alpine team, who was unable to put his French-themed car any higher on the grid than 17th. Behind him saw Kimi Raikkonen for Alfa Romeo, followed by Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin rounding out the grid. Nicolas Latifi would be the closest driver to Q2, putting his Williams in 16th place and only missing out by 0.033 seconds on the second session. Antonio Giovinazzi and George Russell once again impressed, making it out of the bottom five.
Q2 was a tough session for Daniel Ricciardo, who was only able to put his McLaren into 13th place just 24 hours after ending FP2 in second place. The Australian was unable to pinpoint exactly what happened, but claimed that the car didn't feel as quick when it returned to the track on Saturday morning. Behind him would be Sebastian Vettel in an underwhelming 14th place, followed by Giovinazzi in 15th. Carlos Sainz would also have a disappointing qualifying, only being able to put his Ferrari in 12th place, and also being out-qualified by a storming George Russell, who missed out on Q3 by just eight-thousandths of a second in what was a superb effort for the young Briton.
The third and final session in qualifying went perfectly for Max Verstappen, who set a pole time almost two tenths faster than his nearest rival - Valtteri Bottas. The Dutchman set the fastest banker time and didn't improve upon his final lap, but still did enough to put his Red Bull ahead of everyone else. Valtteri Bottas would set a time good enough for second place after a scruffy end for Lewis Hamilton, but was demoted to fifth place for the final race as a result of a grid drop received for spinning in the pitlane on Friday.
Hamilton would only set a time good enough for third place, after a mediocre banker lap and a ruined final lap of the Q3 session. Traffic started to build ahead of the champion's final run and Hamilton opted to overtake all of them in an attempt to find some free air and have enough time to set a lap. This cost the Briton a lot of time; and a mistake at the penultimate corner would seal the fate of Hamilton's slower lap.
Lando Norris put an excellent effort in to put his McLaren in fourth place, ahead of Sergio Perez in fifth. Hamilton, Norris and Perez were then promoted one place as a result of Bottas' penalty. Pierre Gasly would have another good session, putting his Alpha Tauri in sixth, ahead of Leclerc in a disappointing seventh, Tsunoda in eighth, Alonso in ninth and Stroll in tenth. Tsunoda would also receive a three-place grid drop for ignoring blue flags, promoting Alonso and Stroll up one position, and George Russell into the top 10.
Now that we are all caught up with qualifying, let's move on to the race.
As the five red lights went out for the Styrian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton received almost identically getaways - despite Hamilton being on the side of the track with more rubber, meaning more grip. As the pack headed into Turn 1, Verstappen was able to maintain position as the dirty air and some eagerness on the throttle saw Hamilton lose the back end for a second, preventing an attack up the hill and into the braking zone of Turn 3.
Behind them, Sergio Perez runs Lando Norris wide into Turn 1, but the McLaren driver is able to hold the position as they run up the hill. Norris defends the inside line in the braking zone for Turn 3, but Perez follows the line of his leading teammate to swoop around the outside of the number 4 driver. Norris then gets into the slipstream along the back straight and is able to retrieve third place following a great move around the outside of the Mexican at Turn 4.
On the run up to Turn 3, chaos followed the leaders of the race when Leclerc clipped his front wing into the rear-left of Pierre Gasly's Alpha Tauri. Gasly slows as a result of the puncture and catches the rear-right of Giovinazzi's car in the braking zone of Turn 3, spinning the Alfa Romeo around. Nicolas Latifi then takes to the escape road to avoid the spinning Italian, but also catches the front-left of Gasly's car, puncturing his tyre too. The end of the first lap saw Leclerc pit for a new wing, as well as Nicolas Latifi. Pierre Gasly would have to retire as his rear-right suspension snapped as a result of the damage and would put an end to what was a great opportunity for points.
Several laps into the race, Daniel Ricciardo drops a handful of positions and claims that the car is losing power, but the engineer claims shortly after that the issue seems to have resolved itself. Ricciardo had a difficult race following this, getting stuck behind some of the midfield cars and failing to make the undercut strategy work - resulting in him finishing 13th with no places gained at the end of the race. Tough times for the McLaren driver.
Lap 10 sees Sergio Perez make an incredible dive up the inside of Norris in the braking zone at Turn 3 from a huge distance back, before being counter-attacked by the papaya-coloured car. Norris tried to run his car around the outside of Perez at Turn 4, but had to yield and drop out of the podium position. A lap later and Valtteri Bottas would overtake Norris in a relatively easy fashion at the Turn 3 hairpin, demoting the 21-year-old to the 'best of the rest' position, where he would finish at the end of the race in what was a great performance.
On lap 26, George Russell pits from an impressive eighth place on merit, but has a slow stop as a result of a technical issue with his car. The Briton would be released from the pitlane at the back of the pack, but would eventually retire the car as a result of more problems - a cruel bit of luck for the Williams driver.
Sergio Perez pits on lap 27 to switch his Soft tyres for a set of Hards, and Bottas responds by pitting a lap later to replace his Medium tyres for the same compound. A slow stop for the Mexican allows Bottas to jump Perez and stay ahead of the second Red Bull for the majority of the race. Perez pits again on lap 55 for a set of Medium tyres to try and catch up to Bottas and set the fastest lap of the race, but is unsuccessful in doing so. Perez finishes in fourth place, behind Bottas who took the final podium spot.
Hamilton tries to avoid a repeat of France by attempting an undercut on Verstappen on lap 29, fitting a set of Hard tyres, but is unable to jump the number 33 as the gap had already become too big. Verstappen responded a lap later, fitted the same tyres and maintained the lead for the rest of the race. Hamilton came into the pits on the penultimate lap to fit a set of Soft tyres and set the fastest lap as a form of damage limitation. The 7-time champion was able to set the fastest lap, reducing the extension of Verstappen's championship lead by one point.
The man of the race, however, was Charles Leclerc, who unlocked a lot of performance in his Ferrari and returned to the points following his early race drama. Leclerc would finish in seventh place, one spot behind teammate Carlos Sainz (who had driven an equally impressive race from 12th on the grid) to bring home some good points for Ferrari. There were a few manoeuvres where Leclerc made contact with the opposing driver, with Raikkonen being one of these examples on lap 42 - but the drive was exceptional regardless.
Max Verstappen would cross the line in first place on lap 71 to win his third consecutive race, while Mercedes were left with the maximum amount of points they could hope for. Some upgrades to the W12 package are needed if the defending champions want to continue fighting the Red Bull team for championship - who are currently in better form. The full race results can be found below:
Overall, I would rate the Styrian Grand Prix a 6 out of 10. While there were good overtakes during the race, the Red Bull Ring didn't quite bring the same drama that we saw in last years race when the midfield were battling it out for 'best of the rest'. Let's hope to see more racing action next Sunday at the Austrian Grand Prix...
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