Seven talking points from the Austrian GP

04th July 2021
Damien Smith

We thought he looked good last week, and dropped in that Max Verstappen might be about to spoil Lewis Hamilton’s bid for an eighth world title. This week there’s no ‘might’ about it. Verstappen completed resounding back-to-back wins at his Red Bull team’s home track in Austria on Sunday, scoring his fourth victory in five races and the first ‘grand slam’ of his career: pole position, leading every metre, victory and fastest lap to complete the perfect set. We’re only nine races in with 14 still to go, but even so – Hamilton knows he is facing the challenge of his life to claw this one back, and it might already be beyond him.


Verstappen’s perfect day

There was never a moment’s doubt that Verstappen had this one under control. An early safety car for Esteban Ocon’s stricken Alpine – broken wheel following a pincer movement out of turn three by Antonio Giovinazzi and Nikita Mazepin – gave Verstappen a safety car restart to negotiate. He did so by backing the pack up to questionably extreme lengths, but it was the only hint of a cloud on a perfect day for the Dutchman, in front of his beloved orange army. Yes, the fans were back en masse for this one, a total of 132,000 turning up for the weekend and the vast majority having travelled in from The Netherlands. The smoke flares to match the sea of orange shirts made for a wonderful spectacle we’ve missed and ensured a party atmosphere that drove Verstappen on – even if cheeky Lando Norris suggested they were all dressed to honour his orange McLaren.


Norris takes on Mercedes

Norris was the star of this race, as the fan vote for driver of the day confirmed. The 21-year-old qualified a sensational career-best second on the grid, but voiced his doubts about hanging on to a podium in the race given the presence of Sergio Perez’s Red Bull and the two black Mercedes-AMGs of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas breathing down his neck.

As it turned out and to his and McLaren’s pleasant surprise, Norris not only lived with the Mercedes pair, he led Hamilton superbly for 20 laps and finished just two seconds off Bottas in third place. “Such a great driver, Lando,” said Lewis over the team radio after following Norris for so long without being able to get past – and you sensed he really meant it.

As he acknowledged himself, it says much that Norris was actually disappointed with his third podium finish of the season. He felt certain he should have been second without the penalty for pushing Perez into the gravel at turn four following the safety car restart. The Mexican had gone for the outside line and wasn’t fully alongside the McLaren, which perhaps could have given the Red Bull a little more room. But the five-second penalty, served at his pit stop and which dropped Norris behind Bottas, was judged harsh by most– including Christian Horner. Given how impressively close Lando finished behind the Finn’s Mercedes, his assertion on where he should have finished stacks up.


Misery for Hamilton

Once Hamilton was past Norris, Verstappen was 10 seconds up the road, but Lewis looked set fair for a safe second place to minimise his points loss in the title race. But the seven-time champion’s day unravelled when floor damage, suspected by his team to be self-induced from running over the kerbs at the final corner, combined with heavy tyre wear to cut his pace. He fell back towards Bottas and Norris and after some discussion on the radio, he was forced to cede to his team-mate and then pit for a second time, pushing the McLaren back past him. Hamilton started fourth and finished fourth. Not one he will care to remember, especially as he’s now 32 points – more than a victory – behind his title rival.


Perez apologises to Leclerc

After his own gravel moment with Norris, it was somewhat surprising that a man of Perez’s experience should then commit the same crime – not once, but twice. On both occasions his ‘victim’ was Charles Leclerc, whose Ferrari was hit by the defending Red Bull at turn four, then was nudged into the turn six gravel a little later on. The precedent already set, it was no surprise that ‘Checo’ picked up a pair of five-second penalties for his driving, although he was big enough to apologise to Leclerc afterwards and admitted he was “not comfortable” with his own actions. The Azerbaijan GP winner has been driving extremely well of late, but he blotted his copybook on this occasion.


Sainz grabs fifth off Perez

The most entertaining battle of a race that was hardly a thriller played out between Pierre Gasly, Daniel Ricciardo – in recovery mode again after another poor qualifying – the delayed Perez, Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. Gasly faded to ninth by the flag, while Sainz’s alternative tyre strategy – he ran a mammoth 48 laps on the hard compound – left him with a yellow-walled medium Pirelli advantage in the closing stages.

Along with his Perez-induced troubles, Leclerc struggled to find a way around Ricciardo’s quick-in-a-straight-line McLaren, leading Ferrari to order Sainz by in the closing stages as the Spaniard’s tyre advantage kicked in. On the penultimate lap, the #55 Ferrari swept by Ricciardo on the run to turn four and he closed in on Perez to such an extent that when the Red Bull driver’s twin five-second penalties were taken into account, Sainz found himself fifth. Not bad from 10th on the grid.


Räikkönen collides with Vettel

There was a strange side-story to the race’s conclusion when old friends Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen came together on the run out of turn four. The Aston Martin driver appeared to take the Alfa Romeo man by surprise as he slid past, Kimi then collecting his old team-mate in clumsy fashion. A sour ending to a difficult day for both.


Alonso spoils Russell’s day

Ricciardo finished seventh from 13th on the grid, behind Perez and ahead of Leclerc and Gasly’s AlphaTauri, while Fernando Alonso broke Williams hearts by stealing the final points-paying place off George Russell after a long and spirited battle. The veteran two-time champion has openly voiced his respect and admiration for Russell this season and admitted to feeling “bad” for George, who brilliantly made it into Q3 – but has still yet to score a point for Williams. Perhaps his day will finally come at the next one, his home race at Silverstone. Yes, it’s the British GP next on 18th July, with a capacity 140,000 crowd for the weekend expected to top what the orange army managed in Austria. It’s going to be epic.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Formula 1

  • F1 2021

  • Austria

  • Max Verstappen

  • George Russell

  • Fernando Alonso

  • Kimi Raikkonen

  • Sebastian Vettel

  • Carlos Sainz

  • Charles Leclerc

  • Sergio Perez

  • Lewis Hamilton

  • Valtteri Bottas

  • Lando Norris

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