The Red Bull Ring was the season opener in the truncated 2020 F1 Season. The circuit in the hills of Styria and the town of Spielberg hosted back-to-back race weekends in the first triple-header of 2020. In 2021, the track returned to become the second and third races of the first triple-header. The first weekend got christened as "The Styrian GP" and the second "The Austrian GP".
The circuit had been a regular feature of the F1 calendar since 2014, and it also had the shortest lap time of the season. The track also has the second-highest elevation change on the F1 calendar.
The Turkish GP, which got cancelled earlier in the year, made a return, getting hosted on the dates of Singapore GP weekend, bringing back the tally of 23 races in 2021. The FOM announced that the Russian GP would shift to Autodrom Igora Drive from 2023 onwards, a track to the north of St Petersberg.
The FIA decided to slow down pitstops from the Hungarian GP, citing safety concerns. A "minimum reaction time got imposed, a move that invited mixed reactions from the F1 paddock.
More details about the changes here : https://www.motorsport.com/f1/news/fia-to-slow-down-formula-1-pitstops-from-hungarian-gp/6604158/
Dan Fallows, head of aerodynamics at Red Bull, jumped ship to become the Technical Director at Aston Martin Racing ( at the end of his contract ).
In Austria, Mercedes enjoyed more success than Red Bull but were running 2nd best this year. The reigning World Champions got outfoxed and outpaced more often than not and needed to reduce the deficit to Red Bull. As for Red Bull, cooler track temperatures helped their car perform better, and in Perez, they had found an equally competitive driver to Verstappen. The weather forecast depicted thunderstorms for the weekend, which promised to add to the excitement and drama. Meanwhile, McLaren had extended their lead in the fight for 3rd, while Ferrari ate humble pie in France.
How did the teams fare in Styria? Did Hamilton reduce the deficit to Verstappen? Did Bottas reenergize his title aspirations? Time to revisit the events from the weekend!
Track limits got enforced at turns 9 and 10, and there were a few lap time deletions on Friday.
Robert Kubica, Alfa Romeo Reserve Driver, got the nod to take part in Free Practice 1, with Raikkonen sitting out the session.
FP1 got underway, with Sainz reporting throttle issues to his team. The Spaniard then suffered a spin at turn one, blocking the pit exit and holding up Bottas. Giovinazzi complained about Bottas on team radio for pushing him onto the grass, while Gasly expressed his displeasure after being held up by Sainz. Verstappen got held up by traffic on his flying lap, while Perez suffered a spin at turn four, which ruined his soft tyres.
Verstappen topped the timesheets at the end of FP1 from Gasly and Hamilton. Bottas was 4th in the other Mercedes, followed by the Alpha Tauri of Tsunoda. The Alpines of Alonso and Ocon were 6th and 7th, with Stroll, Giovinazzi and Leclerc completing the top 10.
Sainz was 11th quickest in the other Ferrari, followed by Ricciardo and Perez, who could only manage 13th. Vettel was 14th in the other Aston Martin, with Norris splitting the Williams of Russell and Latifi in 16th. Schumacher, Kubica and Mazepin completed the rear of the field.
A sensor issue on the Power unit denied Gasly participation in FP2.
Rain clouds gathered over the circuit at the start of FP2, and there was an 80% chance of rain. The drivers quickly commenced their Qualifying and Race simulations. While Sainz and Mazepin suffered from spins at turn five after putting a wheel in the gravel, Hamilton managed to keep his Mercedes facing the right direction. Turn three saw Hamilton and Verstappen run wide, while Leclerc had to take correcting action after taking too much of the inside kerb.
Latifi was yet another driver to suffer from a spin at turn 6, but the most shocking incident was in the pit lane. Bottas pitted for the hard tyres, and as he exited his box, he lost the rear of his car, resulting in a spin and going sideways through the pit lane. The McLaren mechanics helped the Finn in getting him turned around. Although Bottas laughed it off, McLaren reported it to the FIA, and consequently, post-session, Bottas suffered a three-place grid penalty for the race along with two penalty points. Hamilton went to the top of the timesheets, only to have his lap deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 10.
Verstappen was the fastest at the end of FP2 from Ricciardo. Hamilton split the Alpines of Ocon and Alonso in 4th, while Norris was in an Aston Martin sandwich of Vettel and Stroll in 7th. Perez was 9th in the other Red Bull, followed by Giovinazzi, who completed the top 10.
Sainz was 11th for Ferrari, followed by Bottas and teammate Leclerc. Raikkonen was 14th in the other Alfa Romeo, with Tsunoda and Russell slotting in in P15 and P16, respectively. The Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin were 17th and 18th, with Latifi 19th and Gasly failing to set a time in FP2.
Red Bull and Honda power seemed to have an edge at the end of Friday running, but Hamilton and Mercedes' lap time deletion due to track limits masked their actual pace. The penalty meted to Bottas didn't help matters, and the Finn continued to struggle with balance in both sessions. Alpine had a strong showing, and it seemed that they could bridge the gap to those ahead in the midfield battle. Less than a second separated the top 17 drivers in FP1 and 15 in FP2; this meant that Qualifying would be a close affair come Saturday afternoon.
Alpha Tauri fitted a new MGU-K on Gasly's car after discovering a data anomaly that forced him to sit out FP2.
FP3 got underway under clear skies, and the teams took their time before sending the drivers on track. Bottas exited the garage and had to take avoiding action from hitting Gasly, who got released into his path. Mazepin suffered a spin at turn one, while Russell was the fastest man on track early in the session, with Verstappen and Bottas taking over the reins after their low fuel runs. However, it was Hamilton who ended FP3 the fastest, two tenths clear of Verstappen and Bottas. Perez was 4th in the other Red Bull, followed by the Alpha Tauris of Tsunoda and Gasly. Leclerc was 7th for Ferrari, with Alonso, Stroll and Vettel completing the top 10.
The Alfa Romeo of Giovinazzi was P11. Ocon and Sainz slotted in in 12th and 13th, respectively. Russell was 14th, followed by Raikkonen and Schumacher. P17 was the best that Ricciardo could manage, with Latifi, Norris and Mazepin completing the back of the field. There were many lap time deletions in FP3 due to drivers exceeding track limits.
The start of Q1 saw the Williams and Haas cars out on track. The rest of the field ( barring the Alpine drivers ) followed a few minutes after, everyone opting for the soft tyres. Some drivers opted for multiple runs with two cool-down laps instead of one. Mazepin and Gasly got their lap times deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 9.
Verstappen, Bottas, Norris, Hamilton, Leclerc and Gasly were the top 6, with Giovinazzi, Russell, Raikkonen, Schumacher and Mazepin facing elimination with six minutes remaining of Q1. Less than a tenth of a second covered the top three. The final minutes of Q1 saw the top 4 drivers stay put while the rest of the field emerged from the pits with a fresh set of soft tyres. A traffic jam formed up in the final sector, but no impeding got reported, thankfully.
The lap times came down, and the top 6 changed to Verstappen, Bottas, Norris, Tsunoda, Perez and Hamilton at the end of Q1. Ricciardo scraped through in 15th despite setting the fastest time in sector one. Less than a second separated 18 drivers as Latifi, Ocon, Raikkonen, Schumacher and Mazepin got eliminated.
Tyre choice was paramount in Q2, and Red Bull decided to send Perez out on the soft tyres. Russell was another to do likewise, while the Mercedes drivers, Verstappen and Giovinazzi, opted for the mediums. The other drivers stayed put, waiting for more rubber to get laid on the track. Bottas managed to set a representative lap time, but Mercedes informed him that his time was unsafe. The Finn had to do another flying lap. Hamilton, on the other hand, locked up his tyres at turn three. The off-track moment cost him time and compromised his Qualifying and Race plans. The rest of the field joined the party ( on soft tyres ) with 9 minutes remaining in Q2.
Gasly, Verstappen, Norris, Perez, Hamilton and Tsunoda were the top 6 with Leclerc, Vettel, Russell, Ricciardo and Giovinazzi in the drop zone with 6 minutes remaining. Bottas emerged from the pits with another set of mediums and went third quickest. Only twenty-four thousandths of a second separated the top 4 drivers. Hamilton was the next to do another run on a fresh set of mediums but could only manage P5. Gasly stayed put while the rest of the field switched to the soft tyres for the final minutes of Q2. Sainz, Stroll and Vettel had their lap times deleted for exceeding track limits.
Perez, Norris, Gasly, Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Alonso, Tsunoda, Leclerc and Stroll went through to Q3, while Russell, Sainz, Ricciardo, Vettel and Giovinazzi got eliminated. It was a matter of close margins again as only half a second separated the top 11 drivers, Russell missing out on a Q3 appearance by eight-thousandths of a second!
Q3 got underway, with Hamilton heading out on track early to put in a banker lap. While Stroll decided to go out of sync with the rest, others emerged with soft tyres for their first runs of Q3. Verstappen went the quickest, two-tenths clear of Hamilton with Norris in 3rd and Bottas in 4th. Replays showed that Bottas got impeded by Tsunoda on his flying lap. The incident got flagged for investigation post Qualifying, and Tsunoda incurred a three-place grid penalty. Hamilton pushed for another lap and reduced the gap to Verstappen by another tenth.
P8 was the best Stroll could manage on his only run of Q3, and as the Canadian returned to the pits, the others went out for one final push for pole position. Hamilton was concerned with track position and fast-tracked his out-lap, jumping a train of cars for his flying lap. The decision backfired as the Briton failed to improve in sectors one and two and eventually running wide at the penultimate turn. Bottas, however, jumped up to P2, but Verstappen's lap from earlier remained unchallenged.
The Dutchman took pole position from Bottas and Hamilton. Bottas' penalty pushed him down to 5th, promoting Norris to P3. Perez was 4th in the other Red Bull, with Gasly taking up P6 alongside Bottas. Leclerc and Tsunoda were on row 4, with Alonso and Stroll on row 5. However, Tsunoda's penalty bumped him down to P11, with Russell starting P10 with a free tyre choice.
Verstappen had been flawless in Qualifying and deservedly bagged pole position for the Styrian GP. Red Bull split the tyre strategy with Perez starting the race on soft tyres in P4. Having won twice in the past three years, Verstappen had a great opportunity to extend his lead in the Championship. Hamilton's performance was ragged, and the reigning World Champion quipped that he needed to bring his "A-game" to the race. Bottas' error in FP2 cost him dearly, but the Finn had the luxury of starting the race on the cleaner side. The duo, like Verstappen, would start the race on medium tyres. Mercedes lost out to Red Bull in straight-line speed, but Sunday promised fans an intriguing battle between these Turbo Era giants.
Norris produced a stellar lap to inherit 3rd. Meanwhile, his teammate Ricciardo struggled in the other McLaren, qualifying in 13th. Nevertheless, McLaren had the opportunity of extending their lead over Ferrari in the battle for 3rd. Gasly equalled his best starting position again, while Tsunoda, despite his heroics in Qualifying, got penalized for impeding, eventually starting the race in 11th. Alpha Tauri was locked in a heated battle with Aston Martin and needed a good haul of points to ensure that it stayed ahead in the Constructors. Leclerc remained the stronger of the two drivers at Ferrari, doing his best to qualify P7. Sainz, on the other hand, could manage only 12th. Ferrari was going backwards since the past two races and needed to iron out the flaws to stay in contention for P3.
Qualifying was a mixed bag for Alpine, with Alonso starting in P8 but Ocon a lowly 17th. The latter's performance was a disappointment considering that both cars had been in the top 10 on Friday. However, Sunday was the day that mattered, and fortunes could turn. Stroll looked more settled than Vettel at Aston Martin, but a free tyre choice coupled with a strong race pace could help Vettel break into the top 10 on race day. Russell was the star of Qualifying in his Williams. The Briton narrowly missed out on Q3 but got promoted to P10 and had the luxury of a free tyre choice. He hoped to score the first points of the season. His teammate Latifi could only manage 16th but had a comparable race pace. Giovinazzi out-qualified his more experienced teammate in Raikkonen, but Alfa Romeo lacked the pace to challenge those ahead. Haas, like Alfa Romeo, didn't have the speed due to the Ferrari PU faltering in straight-line speed and remained destined at the back of the field.
The Red Bull Ring's three DRS zones offered ample overtaking opportunities, and a lot could change come Sunday.
C2, C3 and C4 were the dry tyre compounds available for the race, and Pirelli predicted a one-stop race. The risk of rain was 40%, and a mammoth 71 laps awaited the 20 drivers fighting for supremacy at Red Bull Ring.
Raikkonen was the only driver to start on the hard tyres, while those outside the top 10 ( including Russell ) opted for the mediums.
The five red lights went out, and it was a clean getaway for Verstappen and Hamilton. Perez jumped Norris for P3 only to lose the position a turn later. Further back, Alonso, Gasly and Leclerc went wheel-to-wheel, and Leclerc tried to get into the slipstream behind Gasly. The Monegasque made an error of judgement, his front wing clipping the rear left wheel of Gasly's car. Gasly got a puncture, and Leclerc damaged his front wing. As Gasly tried to tippy-toe his way at turn 3, he hit Giovinazzi, which spun the latter around and clipped Latifi's Williams too. It was race over for the Frenchman as he returned to the pits with suspension damage on the rear.
Stroll made a bold overtake on Alonso for P7, while Russell was up to 8th. Ricciardo and Raikkonen were two other drivers who made up places on the opening lap, with Ricciardo in 9th and Raikkonen in 14th.
Leclerc pitted on lap 2, taking on a new front wing and switching to the hard tyres. Latifi suffered a puncture from the contact made with Gasly and switched to the soft tyres after his pit stop on the same lap.
Verstappen was the fastest man on track and was 1.5 seconds clear at the front. Meanwhile, Giovinazzi started his recovery with a move on Schumacher for P16.
Verstappen, Hamilton, Norris, Perez, Bottas, Stroll, Alonso, Russell, Ricciardo and Tsunoda were the top 6 at the end of lap 5.
Ricciardo, who made up four places at the start of the race, fell back to 13th after he suffered a power drop off in his McLaren. Thankfully, the team addressed the issue through changes in the settings, but the Australian's race got compromised. Meanwhile, Perez had been pressuring Norris for P3 and finally got past him on lap 10. Norris then lost another position to Bottas a lap later. McLaren informed Norris that they were sticking to plan A and extending his stint on the soft tyres.
At the front, Verstappen had opened up a three seconds lead. Leclerc got past Schumacher and Mazepin and was upto P16 on lap 15. A train of cars was forming up behind Alonso, who was running in 7th. Six drivers were vying for P7, but DRS access for all denied them the chance of making an overtake. Williams discovered a reliability issue on Russell's car and told him that they were shifting to "Plan B".
Verstappen was the fastest man on track when Leclerc got past Giovinazzi for P15 ( lap 23 ). The pit stop window had opened for those who had started the race on soft tyres, but Mazepin ( on the mediums ) was the first driver to switch to the hard tyres, rejoining in 18th.
The battle for P3 was hotting up with Bottas closing in on Perez. Leclerc got past Ocon for P14, while Giovinazzi pitted for hard tyres, rejoining in P17 ( lap 25 ). Hamilton put a wheel in the gravel at turn four while pushing hard but fortunately prevented his Mercedes from spinning. Russell pitted for the hard tyres on lap 27, but it was a slow stop as the Williams mechanics cleared debris from the side-pod and tried to address the pneumatic pressure. The Briton rejoined in 17th but had to pit again, a lap later, for pressure refilling.
Red Bull called Perez in for a pit stop on lap 27 since the Mexican had started the race on soft tyres. However, the rear left tyre got stuck, leading to a 4.8 seconds stop. The slow pit stop offered Mercedes the opportunity to help Bottas jump Perez, and it was job done on lap 28. Tsunoda, Alonso and Vettel pitted for hard tyres on laps 27 and 28 as well.
Lap 29 saw Hamilton and Stroll switch to the hard tyres, with Verstappen pitting a lap later and maintaining his lead of 4.5 seconds at the front. Bottas, Hamilton and Verstappen exchanged fastest laps while Norris pitted for the hard tyres on lap 32. The Briton rejoined in P7 but quickly relegated Raikkonen at turn three.
Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Perez, Sainz, Norris, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Leclerc and Ocon were the top 10 at the end of lap 36.
Raikkonen, who had started the race on hard tyres, switched to the mediums while Ocon did the opposite on lap 38, the duo rejoining in P14 and P15, respectively. Leclerc pitted for mediums a lap later, while Williams couldn't address the PU issues on Russell's car and retired him on lap 39. Sainz and Ricciardo pitted for hard tyres on lap 43, while Leclerc got past Raikkonen for P13. The Ferrari driver cut across Raikkonen, which damaged his front wing, and the Finn made his displeasure known over team radio. Meanwhile, his teammate Sainz relegated Stroll to P7 on lap 45.
Leclerc continued his charge up the field with a move on Giovinazzi for P11 on lap 46. He then pushed Vettel out of the points on lap 51. At the front, Verstappen extended his lead to 7 seconds.
Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Perez, Norris, Sainz, Stroll, Alonso, Tsunoda and Leclerc were in the top 10 at the end of lap 53.
Ricciardo got past ex-teammate Ocon for P14 on lap 55, while Hamilton reported blistering on his front tyres. Red Bull sprung a surprise on lap 56 as they pitted Perez for medium tyres, giving him the chance of getting the point for the fastest lap. Perez obliged on lap 58. Meanwhile, Leclerc had been pressuring Tsunoda for P9, and it was job done for the Monegasque on lap 55. He then relegated Alonso to 9th a lap later. Raikkonen got past teammate Giovinazzi for P12, while Hamilton received a track-limits warning for abusing the limits at turn 10.
Perez was setting blistering lap times and closing in on Bottas at a rate of knots. Further down the field, Leclerc got past Stroll for P7, while Ricciardo relegated Giovinazzi to P14. Giovinazzi then lost another position to Ocon on lap 64. Dark clouds were hovering over the circuit, and the risk of rain intensified. Sainz, who was on fresher tyres, got the nod to un-lap himself from Hamilton, while Perez reduced the deficit to Bottas to 6.5 seconds ( lap 66 ).
Raikkonen overtook Vettel for P11 on lap 69, while Mercedes decided to pit Hamilton for a set of soft tyres on lap 70. Hamilton then pushed for the point for the fastest lap. Perez was within DRS range of Bottas on the final lap of the race in the battle for P3.
Verstappen took the Chequered Flag and Victory at the Styrian GP. Hamilton crossed the finish line in 2nd and also took the point for the fastest lap. Bottas managed to fend off Perez, and half a second separated them at the end.
Norris came home in 5th, with the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc in 6th and 7th, respectively. Stroll was 8th for Aston Martin, followed by Alonso and Tsunoda, who completed the top 10.
Raikkonen was 11th in his Alfa Romeo, ahead of Vettel and Ricciardo. Ocon could only manage P14, with Giovinazzi and Schumacher coming home in P15 and P16. Latifi and Mazepin completed the classified finishers.
Two new records got set in the sport's history: Car with number 7 completed the most race starts, and Hamilton equalled Schumacher's record of second-place finishes.
Records aside, Mercedes failed to win for four consecutive race weekends. Verstappen extended his lead to 18 points while Red Bull was 40 clear off Mercedes in the Constructors'. Bottas returned to the podium after three races and could have finished higher had it not been for the penalty. Mercedes had a double podium finish, yet Red Bull outscored their rivals by three points. Such had been Verstappen's dominance that he lapped everyone up to Norris in P4. Mercedes couldn't match Red Bull's pace despite extracting the maximum out of their W12.
McLaren stayed in 3rd but had its lead cut short due to both the Ferraris finishing in 6th and 7th. Ricciardo's engine issue cost them dearly, but Norris was the saving grace for the Woking-based outfit. Stellar drives by Sainz and Leclerc saw Ferrari reduce the deficit in the battle for 3rd to 12 points. Leclerc's race got compromised after his coming together on lap one, and a finish higher up could have been on the cards. He got awarded the "Driver of the Day".
Gasly's retirement dealt a blow to Alpha Tauri's lead over Aston Martin. The Frenchman was unfortunate to be on the receiving end at the start of the race, but thankfully, his teammate Tsunoda ensured that the team didn't end the weekend empty-handed. However, it was a "what could have been" weekend for the Italian outfit. Stroll produced a strong drive for Aston Martin, but Vettel was in no man's land in terms of his strategy. The team managed four points, and only two separated them from Alpha Tauri in the battle for P5 in the Constructors.
Alonso was slowly getting to grips with his Alpine and was the more successful of the two teammates in 9th. Alpine remained in touch with their immediate rivals but needed Ocon to step up his performances too. The Frenchman had a mercurial weekend, managing only P14. It was a case of "so near yet so far" for Raikkonen and Alfa Romeo as they finished one position shy of the points. The Finn put in a stellar drive to make up seven places, but Qualifying and a questionable race strategy denied him a higher finish. As for teammate Giovinazzi, who got spun on the opening lap, got damage on his car that cost him places and compromised the Italian's race. It was a day of damage limitation for him.
Russell had done everything possible to finish in the points, but a problem with the PU and the pneumatic pressure denied the Briton a points-finish in 2021. P17 was the best that Latifi could achieve, and the team needed to be careful to not miss out on points scoring opportunities when they come their way. The Haas drivers were in a contest of their own, and Schumacher remained the more successful of the two teammates.
Verstappen had been flawless all weekend, not giving an inkling of a chance to Hamilton. Mercedes and co. have less than a week to turn it around. Thankfully, they will have data to work with and hope to minimize the deficit to the new leaders of the Turbo Era. There was no stopping Verstappen in the Styrian GP, the King of the Red Bull Ring.
Would he repeat the feat a week later, or would Hamilton, Bottas and Co turn the tables? Bring on the Austrian Grand Prix!