Six talking points from the Styrian GP

27th June 2021
Damien Smith

That eighth Formula 1 world championship appears to be slipping away from Lewis Hamilton right now. At the Styrian Grand Prix on Sunday he and his Mercedes-AMG team were soundly beaten by Max Verstappen and Red Bull in the energy drink company’s own backyard, as the Dutchman did what his countryman failed to manage in the Euro 2020 football later that afternoon. Verstappen now holds an 18-point lead over Hamilton, which isn’t too much at this early stage of the season – but it was the manner of this defeat that will give the team behind the Black Arrows a nagging headache this week.


The Verstappen and Hamilton show

F1’s top two performers might as well have been in another mountain range compared to the rest last weekend. Thank God they have each other, because Verstappen and Hamilton are miles ahead in terms of performance. The trouble is, we’ve been spoilt this year by a run of thrilling battles between the pair – but this time it fell a little flat at the Red Bull Ring.

Verstappen beat Hamilton to pole position by three-tenths of a second on Saturday and on Sunday the Mercedes man simply couldn’t live with his rival in the Red Bull-Honda and the result was never in doubt. This was Verstappen’s second consecutive victory, his fourth of the season and Red Bull’s fourth in a row. How things have changed. We’ve seen nothing else like it since the hybrid era began in 2014 and remarkably Mercedes-AMG is currently on the ropes. To rub it in, the teams stay put this week for another run at the same circuit for the Austrian GP next weekend, and Hamilton must fear a repeat performance.

What can Mercedes-AMG do about it? We should never underestimate this record-breaking team, of course – but in a new era of strict budget caps, one thing the team can’t do is throw dollars at the problem.


Silver lining for Bottas

The only upside for Mercedes is that Valtteri Bottas won the battle of the number twos. The Finn was up against it in Austria after his odd spin in the pitlane during practice that earned him a three-place grid penalty. Starting fifth, Bottas undercut Sergio Perez at the pitstops, then held off the Mexican until Red Bull shook up his strategy. Perez stopped again, leaving him 20 seconds behind Bottas with 15 laps to go.

On fresher tyres, Checo closed the gap down, in an echo of what we have seen on a number of occasions in the battles between Verstappen and Hamilton. On the last lap he was almost on the Mercedes, but Bottas held on to claim a podium third behind his team-mate. There’s not much for Valtteri to be cheerful about right now, given how his season is turning out – but this at least was something and made a clear statement that he still has some fight still left in him. Every little helps right now.


Norris flies, Ricciardo fades

It’s a running theme this season. Lando Norris showed once again just how he has grown as a grand prix driver with an accomplished Styrian GP performance, both in qualifying and the race. Lining up third on the grid in his McLaren-Mercedes, the 21-year-old did all he could to hold off Perez and Bottas, but was fighting an unequal task. Another fifth place finish, as best of the rest behind the top two teams, was the optimum result in the circumstances.

In contrast, Daniel Ricciardo’s woes continue. He was puzzled by his lack of pace in qualifying that stopped him escaping Q2. But starting 13th, the Aussie made a scintillating start and rose as high as eighth – before a power issue cost him all the ground he had made up. Ricciardo finished a deflated 13th – back where he started.


Better from Ferrari

After a depressing French GP for Ferrari, the red cars needed a performance boost in Austria – and that’s exactly what Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc delivered. It didn’t look too hot after qualifying, but from 11th on the grid Sainz ran long on his medium tyres and once he had pitted grabbed sixth place from Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin to complete a strong afternoon’s work.

Leclerc’s race was much more eventful and started in the worst possible way when he made contact with Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri on lap one. Exit stage left for the Frenchman, while Leclerc pitted for a new nose and a set of hard Pirellis. He ran as far as lap 37 on the white-walled rubber, then re-joined from his pitstop down in 14th. Would this be a repeat of Paul Ricard? No. Leclerc went to work, passing Kimi Räikkönen’s Alfa Romeo and clipping the Finn’s front wing as he did so, then passed Antonio Giovinazzi, Sebastian Vettel, Yuki Tsunoda, Fernando Alonso and Stroll for a fine seventh place.

Both drivers should be going for wins and instead they are left fighting for scraps. But how they do so says much about their quality and depth of ambition.


Russell “hurt” by latest disappointment

Will George Russell ever score a point for Williams? He must be starting to wonder given the latest disappointment he suffered on Sunday. The Englishman only just missed out on making it to Q3 on Saturday, then followed it up with a terrific first stint in the race, running as high as eighth. But an engine problem cut him down, Russell pitting for a top-up of his hydraulics before calling it a day. He said this one “hurt” – but it must be an all too familiar feeling. Patience, George, patience… your time will come – but only when you get the drive your talent deserves.


Powell wins W Series opener

Last word this week to Britain’s Alice Powell, who picked up from where she left off in August 2019 by winning the W Series season opener on Saturday as the all-female single-seater series came after out of its Covid-19-enforced hiatus.

W Series will race eight times this year as an F1 support, and for Powell this is a big chance to boost a career that has flagged because of her lack of budget. She won the final round of the first season at Brands Hatch and now repeated the feat, winning from pole position in impressive style. Like F1, the series races again at the Red Bull Ring this coming weekend, then it’s on to Silverstone where Powell will be fired up to win in front of her home crowd.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Max Verstappen

  • Lewis Hamilton

  • Valtteri Bottas

  • Sergio Perez

  • Carlos Sainz

  • Lando Norris

  • George Russell

  • F1 2021

  • Formula 1

  • Red Bull Ring

  • f1-2021-austria-max-verstappen-sam-bloxham-mi-main-goodwood-05072021.jpg

    Formula 1

    Seven talking points from the Austrian GP

  • f1-2021-pre-season-testing-bahrain-red-bull-rb16b-max-verstappen-sam-bloxham-mi-main-goodwood-15032021.jpg

    Formula 1

    Has Red Bull "won" F1 testing?

  • f1-2020-abu-dhabi-max-verstappen-glenn-dunbar-mi-main-goodwood-14122020.jpg

    Formula 1

    Five talking points from the Abu Dhabi GP