Formula 1: Report on the Austrian Double-Header
Will Usherwood-Bliss looks back at the Austrian double-header last week to give his report on the Formula 1 drama.
For the second year running, the pandemic has issued significant calendar changes to the Formula One calendar. So much so, these past two weekends have seen the event of the third and fourth Grand Prix to be held at the Red Bull Ring in just under twelve months. Just like in 2020, F1 fans were given a double dose of the circuit in the Styrian and Austrian Grand Prix.
The circuit is famous for its close racing and short lap times, with ten corners in total, pole times in the 1:03 minutes range, and the largest margin of victory ever being just 13 seconds in 2020. With this in mind, many predicted the double-header to transform the championship standings and continue the fight for positions across the field. However, the two races did not entirely live up to this expectation.
The initial race titled the Styrian GP certainly fell short compared with its counterpart. Albeit both weekends were dominated by the affectionately labelled ‘Super Max’, a song stuck in my head for 14 days straight, the initial race in Austria lacked any real front of the pack action. Regarding Verstappen, he took pole, led every single lap, and lapped all drivers bar his teammate Checo and the two Mercedes. Pretty routine stuff for the championship leader.
The primary source of entertainment from the race, per usual, came from the midfield. On lap one, Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly collided around turn two, taking Gasly out of the race and forcing Leclerc to pit, taking him down to dead last. However, as the race went on, Leclerc and his teammate Carlos Sainz, who started P12, stormed up the field to take P6 and 7, with the Montagues earning Driver of the Day through fan vote – a somewhat controversial take on events. Albeit Leclerc described it as “one of his best performances”, and rightly so, the events that led up to that make the award rather hollow.
Apart from questionable fan choices, not much remains to be said about Styria, unlike its sister race the weekend after. Although we saw the same result, it didn’t force this writer to scroll through Formula Dank on Reddit for some mild form of F1-based entertainment.
Much like Styria, the Dutch Lion in Max Verstappen roared throughout the whole weekend. Climaxing in a rare ‘grand slam’ victory, Max took pole, fastest lap, the win, all whilst leading every lap from start to finish. Forty-six seconds in front of Hamilton in P4. Smashing the largest margin of victory at the Red Bull Ring by 33 seconds. Yikes.
Luckily for me, however, unlike with the first race, I’m pleased to report I may be able to fill an article with race events despite what can only be described as pure Dutch domination.
This time around, the events of the weekend truly began on Saturday. Picture the scene: It’s Q3, you’ve got the Red Bulls, the Mercedes, a combination of the five midfield teams, George Russell…yes, you read that correctly. For the first time since Monza 2018, Williams got through to the third round of qualifying. Not only that, but potential Mercedes candidate Russell put his car into P8 with help from a penalty for Sebastian Vettel.
Unfortunately for Russell, a phrase often used, he failed to score points again. Mr Saturday was hit by his usual Sunday blues, being overtaken by Fernando Alonso with only six laps remaining, despite putting up a solid defence for several laps. Despite the lack of points, the performance over the two weekends, with Russell nearly scoring points too at Styria before an engine failure, bodes well not only for Williams’ future but also the man himself.
The greatest unknown in F1 right now is the coveted drive next to Hamilton at Mercedes. Despite an underwhelming campaign so far, Mercedes have repeatedly said they are focusing efforts on 2022 due to regulation changes, despite vocal frustration from Lewis over the lack of focus on the title fight. During the double-header, the Silver Arrows announced that Hamilton would stay with the team for another two seasons, yet his teammate Valtteri Bottas is still left in limbo.
It appears, however, that his uncertainty will come to an end – every report coming out of the paddock points at Mercedes announcing Russell for 2022 at next weekend’s British Grand Prix, a move that will not come as a shock given the Brit’s performance in Austria.
Aside from Russell, the rest of the midfield action also revolved around the young hotshots in the formula. On Saturday, Lando Norris proved once again why he’s worth the hype, putting his car in P2 alongside Max Verstappen, outqualifying both Mercedes, Perez’s Red Bull, and of course his teammate Ricciardo, who once again struggles to get to grips with his McLaren.
Speaking of Perez, he was at the centre of what turned out to be a rather busy day for the FIA stewards. On lap 4, Perez attempted to overtake Norris around Turn 4, a move that has become infamous for its high risk – high reward nature. For Perez, the risk did not pay off, as Norris closed the door on the Mexican driver, a sight which gave many at Red Bull flashbacks to the 2020 Albon – Hamilton incident. For this move, Norris received a 5-second penalty. You would think that would be enough warning for the drivers to be cautious about aggressive defending – but evidently, it was not.
A grand total of seven five second penalties were handed out throughout the race, including two for Perez, who, after rightly complaining about Norris’ defending, proceeded to do the exact same thing to Leclerc…twice. To make matters even worse for the stewards’ sanity, they then had to summon 8 of the drivers after the race for double yellow flag infringements – not precisely ideal for a Sunday evening.
With a double dose of Red Bull’s home Grand Prix behind us, as the orange plumes of smoke settle from the dedicated Verstappen grandstand, we move onto the British Grand Prix, at the home of F1 motorsport in Silverstone. The championship fight, albeit looking somewhat one-sided at the moment, is far from over, as Hamilton will attempt to claw back the margin at his home race. The British GP will see the return of max capacity; with an expected 150,000 fans to watch the race on Sunday, will it be enough to push the Mercedes challenge on Red Bull?