The Austrian GP served as the season opener for the 2020 F1 Season. The high-speed circuit, nestled in the town of Spielberg, and surrounded by the hills of Styria, produced a race of attrition that saw only 11 drivers complete the race in 2020. In 2021, the Austrian GP completed the first of the triple-headers of the season and the second of the two back-to-back weekends at the Red Bull Ring.
The week leading up to the Austrian GP weekend saw Andrew Alessi jump ship from Red Bull to Aston Martin to become the "Head of Technical Operations". Callum Ilott, reserve driver and part of the Sauber Junior Team ( Alfa Romeo ) and Guanyu Zhou, a member of the Alpine Driver Program, got the chance to drive for their respective teams in Free Practice 1.
Hamilton renewed his contract at Mercedes, the reigning World Champion staying with the team till the 2023 season.
Pirelli opted for a more aggressive tyre choice that hinted at a two-stop race on Sunday. Pirelli also provided teams with a new version of rear tyres to try on Friday, which, if successful, would become a standard-issue from Silverstone. The prototype featured a "greater level of robustness and integrity".
Verstappen and Red Bull had extended their lead in the Championships, while Mercedes, for the first time, failed to win for four consecutive race weekends in the Turbo Era. They needed a quick turnaround of fortunes to reduce the deficit.
How did the teams fare in the second bout at the Red Bull Ring? Time for a recap!
Williams Reserve Driver Roy Nissany, like Ilott and Zhou, got the chance to participate in FP1 instead of Russell.
FP1 got underway and cooler track temperatures made turn three a challenge as Ricciardo ran wide, and Mazepin inadvertently ended in Hamilton's path. While Tsunoda had a trip through the gravel at turn four, Stroll put a wheel wide at six, which sent him through the grass. The latter then suffered a spin at the final corner and narrowly avoided hitting the barriers. Turn one saw the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers and Norris have offtrack moments while the Alpha Tauris complained about traffic on their flying laps.
Verstappen topped the timesheets from Leclerc and Sainz, followed by Bottas, Tsunoda and Raikkonen, who completed the top 6. 7th was the best that Hamilton could manage, with Perez, Norris and Gasly completing the top half of the field.
Ocon and Ricciardo were 11th and 12th, followed by Stroll and Zhou, who set their best times on medium tyres. Vettel was 15th in the other Aston Martin, with Ilott 16th for Alfa Romeo. The Williams of Nissany and Latifi split the Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin at the back of the field.
Traffic became the bone of contention during Free Practice 2. While Verstappen got held up at turn one, Alonso avoided rear-ending Schumacher at the pit entry. There was a train of cars forming up at the penultimate corner, which created a safety issue. Alonso suffered again, this time, due to Raikkonen and made his displeasure known over team radio. Meanwhile, Stroll had communication issues with his engineer while Norris suffered from a spin at T1 and flat-spotted his tyres. The Mercedes drivers and Leclerc had offtrack moments on their race simulation runs.
Nevertheless, Hamilton and Bottas were the quickest at the end of FP2, with Verstappen two tenths adrift. The Aston Martin duo of Stroll and Vettel was 4th and 5th, followed by Tsunoda and Gasly for Alpha Tauri. Alonso, Norris and Giovinazzi completed the top 10.
Perez was P11 in the other Red Bull, with Ocon and Sainz a second slower than Hamilton's time. Raikkonen suffered from lap time deletions and had his best time set on medium tyres in P14. Ricciardo was 15th for McLaren, followed by Leclerc and Russell, while Latifi split the Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin at the back.
Less than a second separated the top 12 drivers in both the practice sessions. Mercedes seemed to have made progress with their setups, but Red Bull still looked the better car in race trim. Ferrari had a mixed showing on Friday while Alpha Tauri looked strong again. The threat of rain remained as seen in the drizzle during FP2.
The Final Practice Session ( FP3 ) saw teams continue to sample the prototype tyres provided by Pirelli. Tsunoda suffered from a spin at turn nine while the Ferrari drivers had offtrack moments at five and ten. Mazepin, on the other hand, had a trip through the gravel trap at turn four.
It was Verstappen who went the quickest, from Bottas and Hamilton. Gasly and Giovinazzi were 4th and 5th, while Sainz went 6th fastest for the works Ferrari. Perez was P7 in the other Red Bull, followed by Alonso, Leclerc and Vettel, who completed the top 10.
Stroll was P11 ahead of Tsunoda, Ocon and Russell. The McLarens of Norris and Ricciardo were P15 and P16, followed by Raikkonen, while Latifi split the Haas cars at the back.
Once again, less than a second separated the top 12 drivers in FP3 and with the track temperature rising, Qualifying promised to be an even closer affair.
The stands had a sea of fans in orange cheering on Verstappen for Qualifying.
The FIA had communicated to all the drivers that they could get investigated if they went too slow on their out-laps at turns nine and ten.
The Haas cars were the first to set representative laps in Q1. The Alpines and the Williams stayed put until later in the session. Meanwhile, Gasly suffered a lap time deletion for exceeding track limits at turn nine. Everyone, bar the Aston Martins and the Alpha Tauris, chose the softs for their first runs.
Verstappen, Norris, Alonso, Hamilton, Bottas and Sainz were the top 6, with Latifi, Ocon, Gasly, Schumacher and Mazepin in the drop zone with 6 minutes remaining. 1.1 seconds separated the top 17 drivers as Leclerc was the next driver to suffer from a lap time deletion for exceeding track limits.
The top 5 drivers chose to stay put while the rest of the field exited the pits with soft tyres. Q1 ended with Verstappen, Norris, Alonso, Hamilton, Bottas and Sainz as the top 6 and Raikkonen, Ocon, Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin getting eliminated. A lap time deletion for Ricciardo resulted in the Australian scraping through to Q2 by three-hundredths of a second.
Q2 got underway, and Perez was the first driver out on the track with medium tyres. The Mexican set a competitive banker lap but had fuel for another run. Meanwhile, his teammate Verstappen, the Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren drivers also opted for the mediums for their first runs of Q2. Verstappen, Norris, Perez, Vettel, Hamilton and Stroll were the top 6, with Bottas managing only the 8th quickest time at the end of the first runs. Sainz, Leclerc, Alonso, Ricciardo and Giovinazzi were facing elimination.
The final minutes of Q2 saw Verstappen, Russell, Hamilton, Bottas, Leclerc and Sainz, choose a fresh set of medium tyres. Giovinazzi suffered a lap time deletion on his final attempt in Q2.
Alonso ( on the soft tyres ) set personal best sector times when he got massively impeded by Vettel on the penultimate turn. Vettel, on the other hand, failed to cross the finish line before the end of Q2.
Alonso was livid since his lap would have gotten him a place in Q3. The incident got flagged for investigation post-session, and Vettel got a three-place grid penalty for his infringement. Bottas and Sainz also got summoned to the stewards for allegedly going slowly between turns nine and ten. The duo, however, escaped penalties.
Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Gasly, Norris, Perez, Vettel, Tsunoda, Stroll and Russell were through to Q3, while Sainz, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Alonso and Giovinazzi bowed out of Qualifying.
Less than a second separated the top 14 drivers at the end of Q2. Russell and Williams were into Q3 for the first time in 2021!
Softs were the tyre of choice for the ten drivers competing for pole position in Q3. Russell opted to limit his Q3 participation to a single lap, while Verstappen went the quickest, three-tenths clear of Norris and Hamilton on his first attempt.
The final minutes of Qualifying saw everyone on a fresh set of softs in the quest for pole position for the Austrian GP. Norris went the quickest in sector one, while Verstappen went purple in three. Meanwhile, Hamilton and Bottas failed to improve on their final runs.
Verstappen took pole position from Norris by four-hundredths of a second! Perez, in the other Red Bull, improved to P3, finishing two-tenths adrift. The Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Bottas were P4 and P5, followed by Gasly. Row four got taken up by Tsunoda and Vettel, but the latter's penalty dropped him out of the top 10 to P11. Russell got promoted to P8 with Sainz accompanying Stroll on row 5, albeit with a free tyre choice.
The orange brigade was overjoyed, and celebrations broke out in the stands after Verstappen bagged pole position for Sunday. The Dutchman had scored a hattrick in 2021! Red Bull had both its cars in the top 3 and could use Perez as a rear guard ( if needed ) in the race. It was "advantage Red Bull" on Sunday. Verstappen, however, felt that he could have gone faster had he had a tow like the others behind him. McLaren's front row start with Norris was the team's first since the Brazilian GP in 2012. Ricciardo, however, continued to struggle with balance issues, qualifying a second slower than Norris. Norris lost time to Verstappen at the final turn and could have bagged P1. Nevertheless, McLaren was in a better position than immediate rivals Ferrari for Sunday.
Hamilton admitted that it was damage limitation day on Sunday and didn't have an answer for Red Bull's newfound pace. Bottas had fallen away in the title fight, but Mercedes still needed him to bring home results for the Constructors'. The Mercedes were slower than Red Bull in straight-line speed and needed an aggressive strategy to make inroads. It was a great day for Honda power, with Alpha Tauri, Red Bull's sister team, having both its cars in the top 7. Gasly and Tsunoda needed to outscore the Aston Martins to extend their lead in the battle for P5. The Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel weren't far behind, and considering their superior race pace and better tyre management, it promised to be a close affair on Sunday.
Russell continued to impress in his Williams, and his first Q3 appearance ensured that he had a great chance to score points on Sunday. Teammate Latifi's performance was mediocre, but the Canadian had the opportunity to turn it around on race day. Ferrari was going through a resurgence of sorts, but the choice of using medium tyres in Q2 was a questionable decision. Sainz and Leclerc had a free tyre choice for Sunday but needed a superior strategy to ensure a double-points finish in a tightly contested midfield.
Alpine and Alonso got denied a Q3 appearance due to the impeding by Vettel. Alonso believed he had the pace to break into the top 6. The Spaniard remained the stronger of the two drivers at Alpine, with Ocon going through a lean phase and facing a long afternoon from P17. Alfa Romeo failed to replicate the form shown in Free Practice and seemed better than only the Haas cars. However, the car was better in race trim, as seen during the Styrian GP, and Alfa hoped to make it back into the top 10. The learning curve was steep for the Haas rookies, and the team seemed destined to remain at the back of the pack.
132,000 was the attendance on Sunday as the stands got packed to capacity for the race.
The track temperature was much lower than that on Saturday afternoon, with a slim chance of rain. C3, C4 and C5 were the tyres available for the race, with Pirelli going one step softer than those used for the Styrian GP weekend.
Sainz and Raikkonen opted for the hard tyres, while the rest chose the mediums outside the top 10.
The five red lights went out, and Norris had a slightly better start than Verstappen. However, the Dutchman led into turn one. Meanwhile, Hamilton pressured Perez for P3, but the Mexican fended off the challenge. Further down the field, Ocon got sandwiched between Schumacher and Giovinazzi, and the latter clipped the right front tyre of his Alpine. The tie rod broke, and Ocon retired due to suspension damage. The Safety Car got deployed at the end of the opening lap. As a precaution, Alfa Romeo pitted Giovinazzi, switching him to the hard tyres.
Raikkonen and Schumacher had made up places into P14 and P16, respectively, while Russell fell back to P12, Alonso to P15 and Sainz to P13.
The Safety Car peeled into the pits on lap 4, and it was a clean getaway for Verstappen. Bottas got past teammate Hamilton only for him to reclaim the position a couple of corners later. The battle for P2 hotted up with Norris initially fending off Perez. The duo continued the squabble into turn four, and Perez tried an overtake on the outside. The Mexican ran out of space with Norris not yielding, ended up in the gravel trap and lost places in the process. Perez was down to 10th and complained over team radio about being pushed off track. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Norris got a five-second time penalty for forcing another driver off the track ( verdict on lap 20 ). Ricciardo got past Leclerc for P9, and further down the field, Alonso and Raikkonen were sparring over P14, only for the latter to retake the place after losing it on the restart. Meanwhile, Latifi got past Schumacher for P16.
Giovinazzi incurred a five-second time penalty for overtaking before the Safety Car line at the restart. Nevertheless, the Italian got past Mazepin and Schumacher and was up to P17. DRS got enabled on lap 7, and Verstappen went about setting blistering lap times as he extended his lead at the front.
Sainz got past Russell for P12 on lap 12, while Tsunoda was the first driver to pit for hard tyres on lap 14. His teammate Gasly followed suit a lap later, rejoining in P18. Stroll also pitted for the hard tyres on lap 15 while on the track, Leclerc went wheel-to-wheel with Perez and took P8 from the Mexican. In the battle for P2, Norris managed to rebuff Hamilton, and the latter asked the team for more engine power. While Gasly got past Mazepin for P16, Tsunoda got flagged for investigation for cutting the white line at pit entry on his way to the pit stop earlier. The Japanese rookie incurred a five-second time penalty for the infringement.
Ricciardo got past Vettel for P5, and the latter immediately pitted for hard tyres on lap 19. Gasly continued his charge up the field with an overtake on Schumacher for P14, while the Aston Martin cars of Stroll and Vettel got past Mazepin for P17 and P18, respectively. Tsunoda relegated Schumacher to P16, while Vettel got past Stroll for P17 on lap 20.
Hamilton finally got past Norris for P2 on lap 20, but Verstappen had built a 9.5 seconds lead by then. Hamilton was appreciative of Norris' talent and his defensive skills up until the overtake. Further down the field, Vettel got past Schumacher for P16.
Verstappen, Hamilton, Norris, Bottas, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Perez, Sainz, Russell and Raikkonen were the top 10 at the end of lap 21.
Stroll got past Schumacher for P17, while Gasly overtook Giovinazzi and Latifi to move up to P12. Verstappen was the fastest man on track on lap 26. It was time for those on the medium tyres to go through with their pit stops, and Ricciardo switched to the hard tyres on lap 30. The Australian rejoined in P12, behind Gasly. Giovinazzi also pitted, albeit for the 2nd time, for a fresh set of hard tyres.
Mercedes instructed Bottas to mirror Norris' strategy and pit at the same time as him. The duo pitted on lap 31, and Bottas jumped Norris for P3 after the latter served his time penalty in the pitstop. Russell also pitted for hard tyres, rejoining in 16th.
Hamilton and Verstappen pitted on laps 32 and 33, respectively, and Verstappen maintained his lead in the race. Perez and Alonso were the next to switch to hard tyres on lap 33, rejoining in P10 and P16. Meanwhile, on the track, Tsunoda got past Latifi for P11. Verstappen had built a lead of 14 seconds to Hamilton, and Mercedes discovered that Hamilton's car lost aero performance on the rear after going heavily over the kerbs and suffering damage. Leclerc pitted on lap 35 for hard tyres, but Perez managed to undercut him. Russell relegated Stroll to P14 on lap 38, while Raikkonen switched to the mediums and rejoined in P15.
The battle for P6 was hotting up as a train of cars formed up behind Gasly. Ricciardo, Perez and Leclerc had closed in on the Frenchman for fresher tyres. Leclerc, who had lost track position to Perez, pressured him for P8, and Perez sent him through the gravel at turn four, much like the earlier incident with Norris. The clash got flagged for investigation, and Perez got a five-second time penalty for forcing another driver off the track.
Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Norris, Sainz, Gasly, Ricciardo, Perez, Leclerc and Tsunoda were the top 10 at the end of lap 45.
Bottas was honing in on Hamilton in the battle for 2nd. Hamilton was losing lap time due to the loss of aero performance, and it soon became evident that the reigning World Champion wouldn't be able to hold onto the podium places. Gasly made his 2nd stop, switching to a fresh set of hard tyres and rejoining in P12 ( lap 47 ). Leclerc closed up on Perez in the battle for P7, getting pushed again onto the gravel, this time at turn six. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Perez was the driver at fault again. The Mexican got a 2nd five-second time penalty in the race.
Alonso got past Stroll for P13 before the latter pitted for hard tyres again on lap 48. Bottas was within striking distance of P2, but Mercedes asked him to hold stations and not pressure Hamilton. Meanwhile, Hamilton didn't feel confident about the tyres making it to the end of the race. While Mercedes kept debating about allowing Bottas to race Hamilton, Norris closed in and was a second adrift of the Mercedes duo.
Sainz, the only driver who was yet to stop, switched to a used set of medium tyres on lap 50 and rejoined in P9. The Spaniard quickly relegated Tsunoda to P9 on his out-lap and began his charge up the field. Meanwhile, Giovinazzi got past Gasly for P15, while Mazepin got a Black and White Flag for exceeding track limits multiple times. Vettel made his 2nd stop on lap 51, switching to a fresh set of hard tyres for his final stint.
Mercedes finally allowed Bottas to race Hamilton, and the Finn bagged P2 on lap 52. Verstappen and Bottas exchanged the fastest laps of the race as Tsunoda pitted for the second time, switching to the hards and rejoining in P14. The Alpha Tauri driver repeated his mistake of cutting across the white line at pit entry and incurred another five-second time penalty. Stroll was another driver to receive a similar punishment for speeding in the pit lane during his stop a few laps earlier!
Hamilton was unable to stay in touch with Bottas and fell into the clutches of Norris. The McLaren was past Hamilton for P3 on lap 54. Mercedes immediately pitted Hamilton, switching him to a fresh set of hard tyres to bag the point for the fastest lap. The plan seemed to have worked before Verstappen reclaimed the crown by setting blistering times on laps 57 and 58.
Leclerc was pressuring Ricciardo for P6, and Alonso was closing in on Russell in the battle for P10. Raikkonen got a Black and White Flag for exceeding track limits at turn ten, and the Finn was livid with his team for not informing about the infringement sooner. Verstappen pitted again on lap 61 for a fresh set of hard tyres. Red Bull notified him that they had discovered a cut on his previous set and allowed him one chance to push for the fastest lap of the race. Meanwhile, his teammate Perez drove hard to extend the gap to Ricciardo to more than 10 seconds to cover off his time penalties.
On lap 65, Alonso began to exert more pressure, but Russell rebuffed the challenge to hold onto P10. The battle for P6 saw Sainz close up on the duo of Ricciardo and Leclerc. Ferrari allowed Sainz to swap positions with Leclerc, and the Spaniard was P7 on lap 66, free to chase Ricciardo for P5. Despite his stoic defence, Russell failed to hold onto P10 as Alonso got past with the assistance of DRS. Perez extended the gap to Ricciardo to more than 9 seconds on the penultimate lap.
Sainz, with DRS assistance, got past Ricciardo for P6 on the final lap and was within 10 seconds of Perez. Meanwhile, Raikkonen had closed in on Russell in the battle for P11 but unable to overtake despite a few attempts. The Finn complained about Russell moving under braking, which got reported to the stewards. On the final lap, Vettel joined the fray. Raikkonen locked up at turn four, which opened the door for Vettel to make an overtake. The German got ahead, but Raikkonen failed to see him and cut across, which led to a collision and sent them both into the gravel. Raikkonen limped across the line, but Vettel returned to the pits and retired.
Verstappen took the Chequered Flag and Victory at the end of 71 laps. Bottas came home in 2nd for Mercedes, with Norris completing the podium places.
4th was the best that Hamilton could manage with the challenges he faced. Perez crossed the line in 5th but failed to build a gap of 10 seconds to Sainz, which relegated him to P6. Ricciardo was P7 in the other McLaren, followed by Leclerc, Gasly and Alonso, who completed the top 10.
Russell and Williams missed out on another points-scoring finish in 11th. Tsunoda was 12th, followed by Stroll and Giovinazzi. Latifi was 15th in the other Williams, followed by Raikkonen, who limped home in 16th. Vettel, despite the collision, got classified 17th, followed by Schumacher and Mazepin.
The results stayed provisional as Raikkonen and Vettel got summoned to the stewards for the collision. Shortly after, Russell got the call for allegedly moving under braking. The stewards then discovered that Sainz, Perez, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Gasly, Giovinazzi, Latifi and Mazepin had failed to adhere to double-waved yellows on the final lap.
Post investigations, Raikkonen got 20 seconds added to his race time besides getting two penalty points on his license. Russell got a let-off for his movement under braking. Latifi and Mazepin got 30 seconds added to their race time ( equating to a 10 seconds stop-go penalty ) and three penalty points each on their license for failing to obey double-yellow flag conditions. The other drivers in question got the "all clear". As a result of the penalty, Raikkonen and Latifi's positions got swapped in the final classification. Norris got two penalty points on his license, which took his tally to 10 in 12 months ( for the incident with Perez ). He was now two points away from a race ban. Meanwhile, Perez's tally went up to 8 after incurring two points each for his two incidents with Leclerc.
In an incident-packed and penalty-strewn race, Verstappen remained flawless, comfortably taking the win and the maximum haul of points from the weekend. His lead at the front got extended to 32 points, while Red Bull outscored Mercedes for another weekend. The Dutchman could have won five consecutive races had it not been for the tyre delamination in Baku. Red Bull and Verstappen were the favourites for the crown. His teammate Perez got compromised after the incident with Norris, and in his quest to charge back up, got entangled with Leclerc and suffered punishments. Nevertheless, the Mexican finished in P5, which was enough to help Red Bull extend their lead to 44 points in the Constructors.
Hamilton and Mercedes had no answer, and the former struggled to stay in touch, especially after the damage on the rear of his car. Bottas was the stronger of the two teammates and bolstered his chances of retaining his drive for 2022. As for Mercedes, they have never had five race weekends without a victory in the Turbo Era. It was back to the drawing board before they line up for their home race in Silverstone.
Norris produced a stellar drive to take the final podium place, while teammate Ricciardo charged up the field to finish in P7 to ensure that McLaren outscores immediate rivals in Ferrari. Although Ricciardo couldn't hold off Sainz on the final lap, the Australian displayed a strong race pace and recovered well from the disappointments on Saturday. Norris remained the stronger of the two teammates, bagging his 3rd podium of 2021. Consistency was key for McLaren as they extended their lead to 19 points in the Constructors.
Ferrari had a double-points finish, with Sainz and Leclerc finishing in P5 and P8, respectively. Tyre management and an appropriate strategy call allowed Sainz to extract the maximum from the weekend. Leclerc got denied a better finish by Perez, who pushed him onto the gravel on two occasions. The Monegasque wasn't impressed by his tactics and had to settle for P8. Nevertheless, Ferrari stayed in touch with McLaren in the battle for P3.
Gasly ensured that Alpha Tauri outscored rivals Aston Martin and Alpine. Tsunoda made two rookie errors which cost him a shot for P10. The Japanese driver needed to iron out these mistakes if he wanted to justify his appointment and help Alpha Tauri stay P5 in the Championship. As for Aston Martin, Stroll finished in P12 while Vettel retired on the last lap after a clash with Raikkonen. The team didn't look as strong as they were on the previous two weekends but hoped to turn things around in the home race at Silverstone.
Alonso was the saving grace for Alpine yet again. The Spaniard could have scored more points had it not been for the impeding by Vettel in Qualifying, which cost him a top 10 race start. Ocon, on the other hand, was the victim of an unfortunate accident. The Frenchman was in a lean patch and needed to step up his game. Alpine still trailed Aston Martin by 12 points, and it was yet another weekend of "what could have been".
Alfa Romeo flattered to deceive again, and a rare mistake by Raikkonen on the final lap ended a disappointing race for the team. Giovinazzi was the stronger of the two on Saturday, but Raikkonen stepped up to the challenge on race day. The strategies adopted by the team were highly questionable, and they cannot afford slip-ups such as these in the face of a resurgent Williams.
Russell came very close to breaking his scoring duck with Williams. The Briton got denied by Alonso, who was appreciative of the talent that Russell possessed. The former F2 World Champion has been schooling his teammate Latifi, be it Qualifying or the Race. Latifi cannot afford mediocrity if he hopes to retain his drive for 2022. As for Haas, the rookies Schumacher and Mazepin remained at the back of the pack. It seems highly unlikely that Haas would manage to score any points in 2021.
The teams and drivers now get a two-week break before the battle resumes at the British GP in Silverstone. The circuit will also feature the new format of a race weekend as proposed by the FOM earlier in the year. The Grand Prix will also be the home race for seven teams, and they would be hoping for a strong showing in front of their supporters.
Will Hamilton be able to use the home advantage to reduce Verstappen's lead at the front? Time will reveal all! Until then, Verstappen and Red Bull are on Maximum Attack and offering No Second Chances!