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Image by United Autosports on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Styrian Grand Prix, held a week ago, saw Max Verstappen & Red Bull emerge victorious, while Lewis Hamilton finished second, and Valterri Bottas 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 once more. Coming into this weekend, the top 3 in the Drivers’ Championship are: Verstappen (156 points), Hamilton (138 points) and Perez (96 points). The top 3 in the Constructors’ are: Red Bull (252 points), Mercedes (212 points) and McLaren (120 points).

For today’s race, the first 3 rows on the starting grid are as follows: Max Verstappen starts from pole, with Lando Norris alongside him. Row 2 sees Sergio Perez & Lewis Hamilton in 3rd & 4th, while Row 3 has Valterri Bottas & Pierre Gasly in 5th and 6th.

Ahead of today’s race, here are the potential storylines to watch….

The Circuit – Red Bull Ring

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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:

Overtaking

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.

George Russell

Can George Russell finally break his Williams points duck? The highly-rated Brit starts from 9th for tomorrow’s race, after reaching Q3 today. Last weekend, Russell started from 10th, and rose to 8th in the opening laps. However, that would be as good as his race would be. A slow stop saw him plummet down the order, before he ultimately retired with a power unit issue. Adding onto the list of many close-calls with points the Grove-based squad.

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 9th will certainly be of help for Russell to break his points duck.

Red Bull v Mercedes

Ahead of tomorrow’s race, Red Bull holds a slight edge over Mercedes; both cars will start ahead of both Mercedes cars. Verstappen starts from pole, with the McLaren of Lando Norris alongside him, while Perez will start from 3rd, with Hamilton behind him.

While Red Bull’s advantage at the start is nowhere as strong as a front-row lockout, starting ahead of both Mercedes can only help them in the championships. Verstappen will only need to concentrate on having a clean start, while Perez will only need to truly focus on blocking both Mercedes.

RED BULL – CAN THEY CONTINUE THE STREAK?

Last weekend’s Styrian Grand Prix victory meant that Red Bull had secured 4 wins in a row. The last time Red Bull 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.

Today, Red Bull celebrated it’s first hattrick of Poles since 2013. Can Red Bull make it 5 wins in 5 races, to further build it’s points lead?

Red Bull’s win streak now puts the team a full 40 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 third 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.

For the Styrian Grand Prix, these woes continued. Hamilton simply could not challenge Verstappen, while Bottas barely hung onto 3rd. For the Austrian Grand Prix, the struggle looks set to continue, with both Silver Arrows starting behind the Red Bulls…

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 the biggest weaknesses of the SF21.

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 tomorrow’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.

Ahead of tomorrow’s race, McLaren finds itself in another “mixed” situation. With 1 driver performing strongly, and the other struggling massively. Lando Norris is set to start in P2, while Daniel Ricciardo, is starting down the order in 13th….

Lando Norris – can he hang on for another podium or his maiden win?

Qualifying at the Austrian Grand Prix produced many happy surprises for the fans. From Fernando Alonso’s P3 in Q1, to George Russell reaching Q3 on merit in his Williams, and Lando Norris taking P2 in Q3.

In the closing stages of Q3, Norris had looked set to claim his first-ever pole. Max Verstappen struggled to improve on his initial effort in his first 2 sectors, but set the fastest final sector. Norris meanwhile, had set the fastest first sector, and improved on his initial effort in the second sector. Crossing the line, many wondered if Norris had done enough to secure his first pole. Alas, Norris fell just short, by 0.048 seconds.

However, it was still a herculean effort by the young Brit, who had beat the odds to place his McLaren on the front row. Ahead of the race, the big question looms ahead: Does Norris have the pace to fight for the win or to claim another podium?

Last weekend, Norris had started from 3rd. After qualifying in 4th. However, despite the blistering one-lap pace of the McLaren, it simply lacked the pace to stay in the top 3. At the flag, Norris finished 5th, 1 lap down on race winner Max Verstappen.

Unfortunately, data collected in Free Practice Race Simulations points to a disappointing “No”. While Mercedes has a marginal edge over Red Bull, McLaren is falling far behind the 2 teams, and behind Ferrari.

If Norris is to hold onto P2, or a podium spot, he will need to ensure a flawless race, with a good start.

Daniel Ricciardo – can Ricciardo bring an end to his struggles?

Prior to the French Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo had struggled in the previous 2 rounds in Monaco & Azerbaijan. A strong result at the French Grand Prix made many think that Ricciardo had gotten on top of his struggles.

However, as the Styrian Grand Prix proved, it was not to be. While Norris qualified 4th, Ricciardo failed to escape Q2. In the race, Norris finished in 5th, while Ricciardo struggled to claw his way through the field, finishing 13th. The exact same position he started in.

Ahead of tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix, the same situation has repeated itself again. Norris has qualified in 2nd. While Ricciardo failed to escape Q2, and will only start in 13th.

As it stands, Norris has scored more than double of Ricciardo, with a 52 point gap separating the pair. With the situation only proving to be damaging to his reputation. If Ricciardo is to turn around his situation, he needs to do so fast.

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, Sainz & FERRARI BEAT THE ODDS AGAIN?

For Ferrari, the results of the Styrian Grand Prix came as a pleasant surprise. Nobody had expected such a strong performance from the Scuderia. Certainly not on the back of the disastrous showing at Paul Ricard.

Leclerc started in 7th, and despite pitting on Lap 1 for damage, recovered to finish 7th at the flag. While Sainz clawed his way up the order to 6th from 12th on the grid.

A fine showing for the prancing horses, which defied all expectations. Ahead of the race, Ferrari had been expected to fall down the order; the SF21’s lack of horsepower, combined with the circuit characteristics, meant that a strong result or points was unlikely.

Ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix, the big question looms ahead: Can Ferrari pull off another strong performance in Austria again?

A note of consolation for the Scuderia is perhaps the apparent race pace of the SF21. Based on the data collected in Race Simulations, the team has the third-fastest car on long-run pace, ahead of McLaren. If Ferrari wish to close it’s points gap to McLaren, it will need to deliver, especially now that it seemingly has the tools to do so…

Battle for P5

Behind Ferrari and McLaren, a three-way scrap is forming for P5 in the Constructors. AlphaTauri leads the way, with 46 points, followed by Aston Martin and Alpine, who have 44 and 31 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…

For tomorrow’s race, the starting order between the 6 cars are as follows:
P6: #10 Pierre Gasly (Scuderia AlphaTauri-Honda)
P7 #22 Yuki Tsunoda (Scuderia AlphaTauri-Honda)
P10: #18 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin-Mercedes)
P11: #5 Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin-Mercedes)*
P14: #14 Fernando Alonso (Alpine-Renault)
P17: #31 Esteban Ocon (Alpine-Renault)

*3 Place Grid Penalty for impeding Fernando Alonso in Qualifying

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