Five takeaways from the 2021 Styrian Grand Prix

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 26: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Styria at Red Bull Ring on June 26, 2021 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool  // SI202106260319 // Usage for editorial use only //

The first race in Austria, the 2021 Styrian Grand Prix, is now behind us and it was a mundane race for those drivers not named Max Verstappen.

After the hard work Red Bull and their star driver Verstappen had to do in the previous race at Paul Ricard, their home race was somehow a warrior’s break as they beat Mercedes without even breaking a sweat.

Red Bull’s RB16B was truly a raging bull around the Red Bull ring as clearly shown by Verstappen’s form over the weekend. The Dutchmen secured pole position in commanding fashion. 

There was a lot of talk about rain hitting the venue, but that ultimately didn’t materialize and we ended up with a procession of a race where Verstappen’s victory burnouts (frowned upon by race director Michael Masi) being the highlight of the race.

Despite the dullness, we can always extract our usual five takeaways from the 2021 Styrian Grand Prix. Here they are.

If I were Mercedes, I would definitely panic

hamilton wolff

This time around, Mercedes could offer no excuses. No computer miscalculating the gap as in France and no Red Bull’s flexing rear wings could be blamed either. The W12 was simply off the pace and no match to the RB16B. Who would have imagined we would ever say such a thing about a Mercedes F1 car?!

Lewis Hamilton had a scrappy qualifying, and was lucky that Valtteri Bottas’ grid penalty pushed him to the front row. In the race though, the seven time world champion was on it squeezing all the performance available to him from his car but to no avail.

Verstappen’s position was never under serious threat, and he was able to cover Mercedes’ undercut attempt with relative ease.

One could notice from the radio messages between Hamilton and the pit wall during the race that there was no chance they could win the race, and Hamilton’s body language during the podium ceremonies spoke volumes of the mountain he and his team have to climb if they hope to reignite their title challenge.

One also has to question Toto Wolff’s declaration that they won’t be significantly developing the W12 this year as to not jeopardize their 2022 car development plans. This does not reflect the mentality of a team that utterly dominated F1 since the start of the turbo hybrid era. Are they throwing in the towel already?

Ultimately, Mercedes got a proper thrashing this weekend, with no reason for anyone to believe they won’t be getting another one next week.

Red Bull: Almost perfect

verstappen

Let’s quickly clarify that the “Almost Perfect” remark refers to Sergio Perez’s botched first pit stop. That cost Checo the podium, and Red Bull the chance to twist the knife in Mercedes’ wound.

Although Perez’s qualifying wasn’t spectacular, during the race he played a factor being in Hamilton’s pit window, thus preventing Mercedes from attempting anything different. Job  well done by the Mexican.

As for the RB16B, what a piece of kit it was! Running a slim rear wing never affected its capability to generate downforce. Which means they have a really effective under floor and diffuser. Let’s not forget Honda’s efforts with their highly improved power unit.

I am not an aero expert, but doesn’t that mean that Red Bull might be one step ahead with the 2022 ground effect car?

Food for thought…

Carlos Sainz: Ferrari’s unsung hero of the day

GP STYRIA F1/2021 - DOMENICA 27/06/2021 credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office Sainz

It might be Charles Leclerc that received the Driver of the Day accolades, but it was actually Carlos Sainz that did the business in an understated manner.

Although he was out-qualified by his teammate, Sainz delivered a well judged race while executing his team’s strategy with precision. This earned him 6th place on the day where Ferrari found some handy race pace.

Despite his better qualifying performance, Leclerc was a bit clumsy in the start as he got tangled with Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri, damaging his front wing and ultimately ending the Frenchman’s race.

After that he set out to recover his position with a two stop strategy. He duly ended the race in 7th, one position behind his teammate while registering multiple overtakes to his name. But to be honest, his overtaking wasn’t as clinical as we have come to expect from the Monegasque, as he had some run in with Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.

A much better race for the Scuderia after France’s nightmares.

Daniel Ricciardo: Another false dawn?

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M

After the raciness he showed last week at Paul Ricard, Daniel Ricciardo was expected to carry that momentum into this weekend. Sadly that didn’t transpire.

His qualifying session was nothing short of a disaster, with the dissatisfaction on Zak Brown’s face evident for the whole world to see.

Ricciardo had a brilliant start, and if it weren’t for his brief power unit issue, he would have ended up in the points. He ultimately was unable to recover after losing all those positions when his power unit misbehaved.

Nevertheless, on a day when Lando Norris was fighting so much higher in the midfield and finishing an impressive fifth, one has to feel for the Honey Badger after yet another tough weekend.

Esteban Ocon: You’re lucky you bagged that contract

ocon alpine ne contract f1

Esteban Ocon came to the French Grand Prix with a long term deal with Alpine in his pocket. Instead of that serving a pressure relief, the Frenchman has since endured a downturn in performance.

Making things worse, his veteran double champion Fernando Alonso seems to have found his feet and has out-qualified and outraced him for two races in a row now with Ocon embarrassingly failing to reach Q2 in Austria.

Once Alonso gets up and running, it would be just a matter of time before he rallies the team around him and starts influencing the car’s development to his liking. And history shows how the Spaniard’s teammates got destroyed by him before.

Ocon better watch out!

Dishonourable mention: FIA’s clampdown on pit stops

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 27: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda makes a pitstop during the F1 Grand Prix of Styria at Red Bull Ring on June 27, 2021 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool  // SI202106270364 // Usage for editorial use only //

The news about the FIA’s intention to “regulate” pitstop under the reasons of safety was all over the place this weekend.

Keeping aside the fact that Mercedes (recently struggling with pit stops) are the ones who raised their “safety concerns” to the FIA, let us keep in mind that F1 has always been about innovation and pushing the performance of man and machine to the limit.

Let’s not defend Red Bull, but when was the last time they had a pit stop incident with safety repercussions? The fact that they have always improved and developed their pit stop procedures means that they are trying to eradicate errors, hence reducing safety concerns.

Furthermore, it always seems that pit stop incidents occur within teams that are not actually very good at executing them.

So why punish innovation and performance?