Image by United Autosports on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The French Grand Prix, held a week ago, saw Max Verstappen & Red Bull emerge victorious, while Lewis Hamilton finished second, and Sergio Perez rounded off the podium. Verstappen’s victory ensured he continued to lead the Drivers’ standings while extending his lead over Lewis Hamilton.
This weekend, we return to Speilberg, for the first of 2 races to be held at the Red Bull Ring. Coming into this weekend, the top 3 in the Drivers’ Championship are: Verstappen (131 points), Hamilton (119 points) and Perez (84 points). The top 3 in the Constructors’ are: Red Bull (215 points), Mercedes (178 points) and McLaren (110 points).
For today’s race, the first 3 rows on the starting grid are as follows: Max Verstappen starts from pole, with Lewis Hamilton alongside him. Row 2 sees Lando Norris & Sergio Perez in 3rd & 4th, while Row 3 has Valterri Bottas & Pierre Gasly in 5th and 6th. Bottas qualified 2nd, but has been demoted to 5th due to a 3 place-grid penalty for losing control of his W12 in the pitlane.
Ahead of today’s race, here are the potential storylines to watch….
The Circuit – Red Bull Ring
The Red Bull Ring serves as the venue for this weekend’s race. The 4.318 km long track is one of the shortest on the calendar, beaten out by just 4 circuits for the shortest lap. With it’s straights and high-speed corners, engine power and top speed are critical at the circuit. Carlos Sainz Jr holds the lap record for the circuit overall, a 1:05.619 set in the 2020 Styrian Grand Prix.
A circuit with a rich history, the Red Bull Ring has gone through several names and layouts. First built in 1969, the track hosted it’s first F1 Grand Prix in 1970, as the Österreichring. The circuit would undergo it’s first layout change in 1977, with the introduction of the Hella-Licht chicane. The chicane replaced the Voest-Hügel corner, formerly the fastest corner on the circuit. This change turned the fastest corner on the circuit into the slowest corner.
Throughout the circuit’s time as the Österreichring, it would be the sole change in the circuit’s layout. In 1995, amidst mounting safety concerns, the track underwent a large-scale redesign by Hermann Tilke. The track also became renamed as the A1-Ring, in deference to the Austrian telecommunications company’s financial contribution towards the track’s redesign.
The redesign saw large sections of the track abandoned, with the 5.941 km circuit trimmed to 4.326 km.
Following the redesign, Formula One returned to the circuit in 1996, with the Austrian Grand Prix being held at the circuit till 2003. Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz acquired the circuit in 2004 with plans to build an extension. In preparation for the expansion, the pits and grandstands were demolished, while an access trench was dug through the main straight, cutting the track in two.
Unbeknownst to many, this action would cause the circuit to lay dormant for years. In response to a campaign by local residents, Austria’s Environmental Senate blocked the proposals in December 2004. Citing that the project violated noise & pollution regulations, work was immediately stopped.
With no pits, grandstands alongside a hole in the track, it was impossible for any motorsports activities to take place. Several parties attempted to revive the circuit, but to no avail. However, Mateschitz eventually decided to bring racing back, as part of a wider project to support the local Spielberg economy.
As part of ‘Projeckt Spielburg’, Red Bull invested heavily in the circuit. A vehicle dynamics facility, off-road area, and go-kart track, were added alongside two hotels and a country club. The track reopened in May 2011, as the Red Bull Ring.
3 DRS Zones are available on the track. These are located on the start/finish straight, on the run up the hill between Turns 1 & 2, and on the back straight between Turns 2 & 3.
Things to Watch:
For fans who want to see some overtaking and wheel to wheel action, you’re in luck. Among the tracks on the 2021 calendar, the Red Bull ring is arguably one of the easiest to overtake at. The three DRS zones located on the main straights effectively cover half the circuit length.
Beyond the DRS zones that provide additional overtaking opportunities, the circuit is already littered with overtaking spots. Turn 1, Turn 3, Turn 4 alongside Turns 9 and 10 are prime overtaking opportunities. While the straights, most notably the long run up to Turn 3 also provide overtaking opportunities without DRS.
Can George Russell finally score his first points with Williams? The highly-rated Brit starts from 10th for today’s race, benefiting from a grid penalty incurred by Yuki Tsunoda. This is the highest grid position the Brit has started from with Williams.
Thus far in his 3 seasons with the Grove-based squad, Russell has come close to points with the team, but has never managed to do so. In his rookie season, he came close on 2 occasions, coming 11th in the rain-soaked German Grand Prix & 12th in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Then in his sophomore year, he came close on 5 occasions, most painstakingly at Imola, where he crashed out late under the safety car…
The FW43B has proved to be more competent than it’s predecessors, and starting from 10th will certainly be of help for Russell to break his points duck.
Red Bull v Mercedes
Ahead of today’s race, Red Bull holds a slight edge over Mercedes; both cars will start ahead of at least 1 Mercedes. Verstappen starts from pole, with Hamilton alongside him, while Perez will also start from 4th, with Bottas behind him.
While Red Bull’s advantage at the start is nowhere as strong as a front-row lockout, splitting the Mercedes can only help them in the championships. Verstappen will only need to concentrate on having a clean start, and fending off Hamilton, as opposed to both Mercedes. In addition, Bottas starting behind Perez means the Mexican will not risk becoming stuck behind the Finn at the start, helping Red Bull to maximise its constructor’s haul.
Red Bull – can they continue the streak?
Last weekend’s French Grand Prix victory meant that Red Bull had secured a hattrick of wins this season. The last time this happened, was in 2013, prior to the Turbo Hybrid era. When Sebastian Vettel wrapped up his 2013 title in style, with a hat-trick of hat-tricks.
Red Bull’s win streak now puts the team a full 37 points ahead of Mercedes. With the tremendous amount of recent success, comes the price of pressure of leading both Championships. Adding to that, is the expectations of the crowd.
For just the second time in 2021, fans will be allowed to attend the race live. And the Styrian/Austrian Grand Prix happens to be the team’s “home race”. While the circuit’s proximity to The Netherlands has led to the race becoming an unofficial “home race” for Max Verstappen.
mercedes – can the silver arrows turn things around?
Having dominated the turbo-hybrid era with infrequent opposition, Mercedes has been synonymous with winning in this era. But for 2021, Mercedes finally had a true challenger in Red Bull. And while the team’s double title defence started off well, it has evidently faltered in the recent races.
In Monaco, both Silver Arrows were forced to start mid-pack, due to the Red Flag in Q3. With the tight, narrow and twisty roads of Monte-Carlo, it was unrealistic for either car to reach the podium. So the focus was rightfully on coming home with a double-points finish. But instead of a double-points finish, Mercedes had to retire an otherwise healthy car, due to a pit-stop mishap.
Then in Azerbaijan, both Silver Arrows struggled in Free Practice, before a setup switch for Hamilton allowed him to qualifying in P2. Bottas however, continued to struggle, and only qualified in 9th. On race day, things didn’t get better. Bottas continued to struggle, and ultimately fell back in a attrition filled race. Hamilton meanwhile, performed solidly initially, until the pressing of a wrong button caused his brakes to overheat, locking up at turn 1 and falling to the back of the pack.
In France, meanwhile, an early mistake by Verstappen, meant that Hamilton led the race early on. Mercedes appeared to have a realistic chance at taking a 1-2, which would have aided them in both Championships. However, it was not to be, as the Silver Arrows wound up being outfoxed by Red Bull strategically.
Red Bull had chosen to run it’s drivers on alternate strategies, with Perez on a single stop, and Verstappen on a two stop. Mercedes opted to run both drivers on a single stop, apparently ignoring the concerns of the drivers. In radio conversations mid-race race and post-race, it was suggested that they had expressed concerns regarding tyre degradation, and their preferences for a 2 stop strategy. The requests of both drivers were denied.
McLaren v Ferrari
Ahead of today’s race, it should be said that McLaren holds a significant advantage over Ferrari. Grid position aside, the Red Bull Ring’s characteristics (high-speed corners and long straights) are hugely in favor of McLaren. With the Mercedes powerplant at the back of the MCL35M, neither of these traits are an issue. However, the same cannot be same for the SF21. With a lack of horsepower from the Power Unit, these characteristics are easily biggest weaknesses of the SF21.
Ferrari’s situation is also made worse by how easy it is to overtake at the Red Bull Ring. Almost half the track consists of DRS Zones. With the cars lacking horsepower, a combination of long straights and DRS Zones could see both Ferrari’s slide down the order in the race. As seen in France & Azerbaijan….
Mclaren – Can Mclaren build upon it’s momentum
After a string of poor races from Spain to Azerbaijan, McLaren finally managed to turn in a strong result in France. Granted, Paul Ricard did suit the MCL35M more compared to Monaco, but the poor results in Spain and Azerbaijan came as a surprise. Ahead of today’s race, McLaren will be seeking to extend their lead in the constructors’ over Ferrari. And it looks likely that it could well happen, as we outlined earlier.
For today’s race, McLaren start with a hint of déjà vu, with Norris starting in third – Norris had secured his first podium at the track last year. However, it is not all sunshine and roses ahead of the race, as the second McLaren of Daniel Riccardo failed to escape Q3, starting in 13th. The Australian’s troubles at McLaren have become well documented in recent races, most notably at Monaco, where he was lapped by teammate Lando Norris.
Fortunately for both McLaren and Ricciardo, the Red Bull Ring has a reputation for being easy to overtake at, meaning the Australian could find himself in points-paying territory fast.
ferrari – can leclerc & ferrari beat the odds again?
Last weekend, at Paul Ricard, Ferrari had an absolute disaster of a race. Carlos Sainz Jr started from 5th, and Leclerc from 7th. But by the chequered flag, both had dropped out of points-paying territory. Sainz crossed the line in 11th, while Leclerc crossed the line in 16th.
While it was always expected that the team was to struggle at Paul Ricard, nobody expected this extent. In subsequent interviews, both drivers stated that the struggles were due to tyre issues with the SF21.
Like McLaren, Ferrari come into the race feeling mixed. On one had, there’s a hint of déjà vu; on the other disappointment. Leclerc starts in 7th, the same position he started at for the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix, before finishing in 2nd. But then there’s also Sainz starting in 12th after failing to make Q3…
And unlike McLaren, it is clear that the SF21 is out of it’s element, which means the overtake-friendly nature of the Austrian circuit is far from good news for the Prancing Horses…
Battle for P5
Behind Ferrari and McLaren, a three-way scrap is forming for P5 in the Constructors. AlphaTauri leads the way, with 45 points, followed by Aston Martin and Alpine, who have 40 and 29 points respectively.
Between the three teams, their seasons have progressed differently. AlphaTauri started off relatively strong, with a car capable of fighting for third in the constructors. However, the team lost ground to Ferrari and McLaren, due to a lack of double points finishes. Aston Martin started off strongly in testing, but consistently failed to deliver the expected results. Alpine started off slow, but began showing consistency and pace after Bahrain.
It has been a tight fight between the 3 teams, but Alpine has fallen behind Aston Martin & AlphaTauri in recent races. At the present, Aston Martin appears to have the most consistency among the 3, while AlphaTauri appears to have the fastest car among the 3. ….