French Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen brought his form with him to Red Bull Ring by ending free practice sessions fastest of all, on day one of the 2021 Styrian Grand Prix weekends.
The strip of ribbon that sweeps through the Spielberg hillside, steeped in Formula 1 history, is a simple race track compared to the mazy Paul Ricard, or the nooks and crannies that make up Baku and Monaco.
Red Bull Ring is made up of three undulating straights connected by two right-handers, followed by a set of squiggly bits where the Honda-powered RB16B in Max’s hands was on another level today.
Verstappen was fastest in FP1 with a best effort of 1:05.910 and in the afternoon found an extra half second to claim top spot at the end of FP2, three tenths’ faster than the next best and over six-tenths up on teammate Sergio Perez, which on such a short track is an age. The Mexican was ninth.
McLaren bounced back after a low key morning session, with Daniel Ricciardo second fastest and fastest of the Mercedes brigade. Lando Norris was a quarter second shy of his teammate, good for seventh at the end of the hour session.
Esteban Ocon was a surprise third fastest, with the Alpine performing well as Fernando Alonso ending fifth, the pair split on the timing screens by Lewis Hamilton who was 0.384s shy his title rival.
Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was 12th after a strange spin in the pits, the Finn floored it and swapped ends in the narrow confines of the pitlane, narrowly avoiding McLaren pit crew who pushed the wayward Merc back to the pits.
Aston Martin also got going after a subdued morning start, with Vettel sixth fastest and Lance Stroll eighth for one of their better Fridays.
Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi was fastest of the Ferrari powered posse all day, the Italian 10th fastest, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz 11th and Charles Leclerc 13th.
True to form Nikita Mazespin did spin again, ending the day slowest of the runners, over a second down on Haas teammate Mick Schumacher.
While it is unlikely there will be four different teams in the top four in qualifying tomorrow, the reality of the 4.318 track is that the gaps are marginal and, while Verstappen appears to be in a league of his own, the next half a dozen are within half a second setting the stage for an upset on Saturday… well behind the leading Red Bull, of course.