For the second consecutive race weekend, Max Verstappen and Red Bull were dominant – taking the grand prix of Austria in dominant fashion.
Lewis Hamilton’s bid to win a record-breaking eight world title was dealt another solid blow today, as the Red Bull’s were once again flying. Max Verstappen was setting a blistering pace this weekend, earning pole position ahead of race day and never once looking back.
Lewis Hamilton had signed a fresh new two-year contract prior to the race, putting an end to any speculation that he may be considering moving away from the sport. For Valtteri Bottas though, the news out of his team was much less enthralling, as Mercedes announced that they would be considering whether to retain the services of Bottas or offering his seat to young George Russell, who has been a fantastic job pushing his Williams well beyond expectations. That decision won’t come until later in the summer, leaving both drivers with much to think about.
As the lights began to beam, the bright orange McLaren of Lando Norris, who was starting on the front row for the first time, was aimed towards the matte blue Red Bull of Max Verstappen, who in turn was facing inwards towards Norris. Both were giving off signs that they intended to come out fighting for the ever-important first turn lead. As the lights faded, it was Verstappen who had the slight edge over Norris, with Perez close behind in third. Next came the two Mercedes drivers, Bottas just ahead of Hamilton, as the action screamed its way down the track.
Meanwhile, it was a less than ideal start for Esteban Ocon, who found himself and his Alpine sandwiched between the Haas of Mick Schumacher on his left, and the Alpha Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi on his right. With nowhere to go, Ocon and Giovinazzi came together, causing the front right wheel of Ocon’s Alpine to snap forward, thus ending his race and deploying the first, and only, safety car of the day.
Once the safety car had come in, and racing resumed – there was a serious amount of action, and drama, just moments later. Once again, Sergio Perez was all over the rear of Norris and his McLaren, trying to give Red Bull a one-two punch going forward. Eyeing a maneuver that was never really there, Perez swung left and soared up the outside of the McLaren. A gutsy and risky move that on this occasion, didn’t seem to have any chance of paying dividends. With nowhere to go, Perez found himself drifting into the gravel and at the mercy of the pack that were bunched right behind the pair.
The two Silver Arrows drivers benefitted from the aggressive attack from Perez, as the Mexican dropped all the way down to tenth from his third place perch. Sebastian Vettel moved up into eight. Norris showed his willingness to go elbow to elbow and showed no jitters at all in defending against Perez. Meanwhile, Antonio Giovinazzi was under investigation for making a pass while under the safety car, and shockingly, a penalty was handed out to Norris as well. Verstappen, just seven laps in, was already starting to run away, opening up a three second gap between himself and second place Norris.
Perez now found himself in pursuit of a pack that contained Stroll, Vettel and Ricciardo – while Hamilton closing in on Norris, who is having none of it, and closes the door on the defending champion. Norris is doing a great job, and the McLaren looks to have great straight line speed. Hamilton locks up while attempting an overtake and the gap increases slightly. Bottas however, is beginning to drop back.
For Norris and McLaren, their battle is primarily with Ferrari, although any opportunity to finish ahead of the two leaders, Red Bull and Mercedes, is obviously huge. For the time being, both Scuderia were sitting just outside of the points, with Charles Leclerc running in eleventh and Carlos Sainz a close twelfth – both trying to hunt down the recovering Red Bull of Sergio Perez. With Yuki Tsunoda the first to pit, followed by Pierre Gasly, Leclerc moves in to attack Perez. Back and fourth they go, exchanging position, until finally Leclerc makes the pass stick, and moves in to seventh, Perez into eighth as they pass the two pitting cars. Sainz moves into ninth and Russell into the final points slot, in tenth.
Verstappen’s lead is now seven seconds over Norris, who is having defend heavily against Lewis Hamilton. Time after time, Hamilton tries to find a way past Norris, and each time is unsuccessful, as Norris is really showing his true potential. Daniel Ricciardo has an easy time getting by Vettel, who immediately pits for fresh tires. Hamilton then finally does find his way around Norris, on turn four of the twentieth lap, but seems to have caught fire to his rear brakes. Verstappen is now a full ten seconds ahead of second place Hamilton.
On lap thirty-one, Norris pits for new tires and Bottas follows suit. McLaren have to serve their five second penalty before they can service Norris, which gives Bottas the advantage – and fresh rubber, as Mercedes usurp the McLaren on pit lane. Leclerc isn’t able to take advantage though, as Norris emerges just ahead of the Ferrari in fifth position. Pit lane is a buzz, as car after car begins to enter for new tires. Hamilton comes in on lap thirty-two, for a rapid 2.2 second stop, followed by Verstappen the next lap who has enough of a lead to emerge still in first place.
Perez and Leclerc both pit, with Perez exiting just ahead in tenth place. Russell earns a spot over Lance Stroll, as Verstappen extends his lead to fourteen seconds over Hamilton. Leclerc and Perez, now both on fresh tires, are having quite the battle, as Leclerc constantly looks to find a route around Perez. Leclerc makes an opportunistic attempt to go round the outside of Perez, in a move that is almost a carbon copy of the one Perez tried on Norris, and the result too, is practically identical. There is nowhere for Leclerc to go but into the gravel. As was the case earlier, Perez too has been given a five second time penalty.
Just ahead, Ricciardo is battling Gasly for sixth place, with Perez right on Ricciardo’s tail, looking for any mistake and a chance to pounce. Gasly wards off the Australian, and Perez alike. Gasly sensing that he can’t hold off Ricciardo much longer, instead opts to pit for new rubber. Leclerc has brought his Ferrari back within striking distance, and goes for the same move that earned him an off-road trip last time around, and again, Perez resists and leaves Leclerc with nowhere to go but back into the gravel. It’s hard but fair racing, but has again come under investigation from the stewards. Resulting in another five second penalty for Perez.
Meanwhile, team orders are given preventing Bottas from attacking Hamilton, who seems to have damaged his floor along the way, by ridding the curbs too harshly. Sainz finally pits, having rode his hard compound tires for an impressive fifty laps. Mazepin has the black and white flag waived at him, for exceeding track limits, while a change of heart at Mercedes has now given the green light for Bottas to race Hamilton – and he makes quick work of it, moving past Hamilton into second place. Norris too, is rapidly approaching the wounded Hamilton.
On lap fifty-four, the gap between Norris and Hamilton is small enough that Norris can try to go around the outside, Hamilton resists but the persistence of Norris pays off, as he moves past the Mercedes on the inside and back into a podium position. McLaren has steadily been showing greater pace and progress, while Norris continues to impress with sharp decision making and clever driving. Hamilton pits, leaving Norris to put further distance between them.
Gasly pulls off the fastest lap of the race, but Verstappen soon betters it. Leclerc seems agitated by his interactions with Perez and nearly careens into the rear of Ricciardo, missing a collision by mere millimeters. Ricciardo fends off his advances, and retains his position. That couldn’t have been any closer without contact. Russell, now tenth, is feeling the pressure from Alonso, as he tries to hang onto the final points position – which would give Williams their first point since Kubica finished tenth in 2019.
Verstappen is so far ahead, that he is able to pit and still emerge with a nine second lead. Norris is just 1.3 seconds behind Bottas and looks like he is going to challenge the Finn for second before this race is one for the history books, and Leclerc comes close to hitting Ricciardo for a second time. Action galore. Time and time again, Alonso tries to put the moves on Russell, who is struggling to keep his slower car ahead of the Alpine. It is a valiant effort, but surely just a matter of time before he is beaten for that ever so important final point.
Ferrari feel that Sainz has better pace, and team orders see Leclerc allowing Sainz past to pursue Ricciardo – and with Perez’s penalties, there is a chance Ferrari can squeeze by the Red Bull too if they can reduce the gap to less than ten seconds. Even though Verstappen is long gone, the jostling for position and points is far from over. Again, Alonso attacks and again Russell is able to defend. Sainz is right on Ricciardo’s tail now, and he gets by with relative ease.
Finally, the former world-champion Alonso has found his way around Russell, and the veteran Raikkonen too looks to get by the Williams too. There’s contact, as Raikkonen’s front wing clips the rear tire of Russell. Raikkonen comes away worse for ware and unable to catch the Williams.
The crowd erupts with cheer and orange smoke, as Max Verstappen comes home to win the grand prix of Austria. Yet the final lap still had some action, and a crash. Vettel saw a gap on the inside of his long-time former teammate and friend, Kimi Raikkonen who seemingly wasn’t expecting the pass, and turns into the rear of the passing Aston Martin, sending the both of them spinning off the track.
Verstappen wins. Bottas is second, Norris third. Hamilton holds on for fourth, with Sainz in fifth – edging Perez whose penalties land him in sixth. Ricciardo seventh. Eighth for Leclerc. Gasly finishes ninth while Alonso earns the tenth and final points position. The grand prix of Austria had a little bit of everything, and was exciting from start to finish.
The 2021 grand prix of Austria will be remembered for great racing action but also for the abnormal amount of penalties that were handed out – some of those controversially. Early on, Lando Norris and Carlos Perez had a good battle going, when heading into turn four, Perez tried to go around Norris on the outside and found himself with nowhere to go but into the gravel. There was no contact between the two drivers and nothing to really earn a penalty. Perez surely came off the exchange worse for wear, as his off-track excursion dropped him down the grid several places, but that is the gambit you run when trying to pass another car on the outside of a corner. Still, the stewards felt Norris has impeding Perez, although he wasn’t ahead of the McLaren, and slapped the young Briton with a five second time penalty.
Later in the race, Perez found himself on the other side of an almost identical piece of action, when Charles Leclerc tried to put his Ferrari round the outside of Perez, and the result was the same – Leclerc bit the dust and had no place to aim his Scuderia but into the gravel. Perez too, was given a five second penalty as a result, and like the penalty given to Norris, probably shouldn’t have been anything more than a fine bit of racing. Leclerc was able to keep close enough to Perez to try an overtake again a few laps later, and surprisingly tried the exact same maneuver. Like the first, his outside pass attempt was shutdown and he drifted into the gravel. Perez would earn a second five second time penalty as a result.
Then, there were two identical penalties handed out to rookie Yuki Tsunoda, for crossing the white line on pit lane entry. To earn one, is bad enough as it is a very amateurish penalty to take – especially given that he and everyone else on the grind raced this same course seven days prior – and we aren’t even counting the practice and qualifying sessions either. For it happen again later in the same race, is baffling. Tsunoda has had moments of brilliance in his debut season in Formula One, and has also made some poor decisions too. We’ll put it down to a learning experience, but it surely was an odd pair of penalties to take.
And then there were the black and white flags that were waived at Kimi Raikkonen and rookie Nikita Mazepin. Antonio Giovinazzi also earned a five second reprimand for overtaking under a safety car. Lance Stroll gets caught speeding in the pit lane, earning a five second penalty. The race stewards sure were busy, although the penalties to Norris and Perez were perhaps a little bit on the harsh side. As much as it is important to clean a fair and level playing field, so to speak, there needs to be room for racing maneuvers too.
Verstappen increases his championship lead
The outcome of the race weekend in Austria, means that Max Verstappen has extended him lead over Lewis Hamilton to — points. The flying Dutchman’s victory also adds a little cushioning to Red Bull Racing’s lead over Mercedes in the Constructors championship, too, with teammate Sergio Perez also scoring eight points from sixth place. Mercedes added to their tally, with Bottas coming in second and earning eighteen points and Hamilton putting up twelve points with his fourth place finish.
The win means that Verstappen now has his 50th career podium in Formula One, and is well ahead of rival Lewis Hamilton in his hunt for his first career World Championship. Red Bull too stay ahead of Mercedes, who have been dominant in the Constructors championship in recent years – and more worrying for Mercedes, is that they still don’t seem to have a response to the pace that the Red Bull’s are out-putting.
Formula One now heads to England, for the British grand prix on from July 14th to 16th, 2021.