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Orange Crush
The 2021 Austrian Grand Prix
Text & Photos | Thomas Lam
edit | Henry Lau

Max Verstappen delivered a crushing victory in the Austrian Grand Prix in front of thousands of his Orange Army fans


Overview

Max Verstappen combined incredible speed with consistency and reliability as he decimated the field at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria.

The Dutch ace started on pole, led every mile, and set the fastest lap in a crushing display of world-class talent. It was his third victory in as many weeks and his fourth in the last five rounds.

Verstappen extended his lead over Lewis Hamilton from 18 to 32 points. In every race the young Dutch superstar has finished, he has been first or second. On the other hand, Mercedes have not won since the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

The Dutchman’s RB16B, like a car on rails, was in a league of its own throughout the weekend. His race pace left Hamilton to mitigate his points loss by safely finishing second. However, that proved impossible.

Laced With Drama

The Brit sustained minor damage to the rear of his Mercedes after running wide on the exit of Turn 10 shortly before he stopped for fresh rubber on Lap 32 of 71. The best his

wounded W12 could secure was fourth place, and even that was laced with drama.

Mercedes ordered Hamilton to trade positions with team-mate Valtteri Bottas on Lap 52. The team asked Hamilton to blunt Lando Norris’ charge to the front. Norris would have none of it.

The brilliant McLaren ace swept by Hamilton two laps later. Bottas held on to take second place. Norris finished third, capping the young Briton’s finest afternoon of his three- season Formula One career.

Faultless Weekend

Verstappen crossed the finish line 18 seconds clear of Bottas – despite stopping one more time than the Mercedes man.

Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Pérez finished fifth ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo.

But Pérez, hit with two controversial five-second penalties for forcing Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc off the track twice, was demoted to sixth, promoting Sainz one place. Leclerc took eighth place, in front of Gasly with Fernando Alonso finishing tenth.

George Russell missed out on his first top-10 Williams finish after Fernando Alonso passed him with three laps remaining.

Qualifying

The Austrian Grand Prix would be the second race in two weeks at this track – and the fourth in the space of 365 days – but Mercedes did not appear to be any closer to Red Bull than seven days ago. Looking at qualifying, the current World Champions were even further away.

Max Verstappen took his third pole position in a row, followed by the stunning Lando Norris and Red Bull team-mate Sergio Pérez. Lewis Hamilton was left deeply downbeat after qualifying fourth.

“Is a win out of the question? I would say so,” Hamilton said. “In terms of pure pace, it is definitely out of the question. “It will be an easy cruise and win for Max. I have to get ahead of at least Pérez and try to limit the damage.”

New Deal

Before the weekend, Hamilton had committed his Formula One future to Mercedes by signing a new two-year deal worth £80 million. The contract extension will see Hamilton, 36, remain with the Silver Arrows until the end of 2023.

Curiously, Verstappen was not too happy with his performance in the final part of qualifying as he failed to improve on his first run in Q3 and left himself vulnerable to losing the top spot to Norris.

“Q3 was pretty bad,” said Verstappen. “I am happy to be first but not the way we got it. But to be on pole twice in a row here is very good and hopefully we can finish it off tomorrow.”

Delighted

Norris, who finished just 0.048s off Verstappen’s time, was, naturally, delighted with his performance.

“I feel epic. It was cool. It puts us in a good position for tomorrow and it was one of the best laps I did and it is a great feeling,” the McLaren driver said.

Following Hamilton was Valtteri Bottas, then AlphaTauri teammates Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) would start eighth with George Russell, ninth, qualifying his Williams in the top ten for the first time. Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin would start tenth.

The 2021 Austrian Grand Prix

At lights out, Verstappen moved decisively ahead of Norris into the first corner, solidifying his lead. Norris moved to the outside but never seriously considered a counterpunch. Hamilton closed up on Pérez into Turn 4, but the Mexican kept the final podium spot in hand as the pack quickly began to space out. Except for Esteban Ocon.

Ocon had stopped at the side of the track. Schumacher and Giovinazzi squeezed the Frenchman, and his Alpine’s right front steering rod was bent skyward-he was out on the spot. The Safety Car instantly collapsed the cars into a tight pack.

At the restart on Lap 4, Verstappen cooly backed the pack even tighter before flooring the throttle. Norris very nearly went into the back of Verstappen at the final turn.

The Squeeze

That, in turn, enabled Pérez to attack Norris around the outside into Turn 1, but he couldn’t make it stick. Pérez kept going and tried another move around the outside at Turn 4, but the Mexican skidded into the gravel and dropped back. He radioed that Norris squeezed him out.

By Lap 9 of 71, Verstappen leads Norris by 3.7s. A lap later, Hamilton gets DRS on Norris. He tells Mercedes, “Its very hard to follow”, but attempts a pass in Turn 4. Norris has a counter for every lunge.

On Lap 13, Verstappen’s lead over five seconds. The Stewards announce the Norris and Pérez “incident” will be studied. Meanwhile, Bottas cannot keep up with the Norris / Hamilton fight, having fallen 3.7s off the back.

On Fire

Norris received a five-second penalty on Lap 20 for the Pérez incident. Behind him, Hamilton rapidly closed into Turn 3, and on the race down into Turn 4, with DRS, the makes it stick. Hamilton’s now in second place.

“His rear brakes are on fire,” Norris nonchalantly reports of Hamilton. That’s not all. Pushing for all he’s worth, the current World Champion collected damage to his rear aero bodywork on the Turn 10 curbing. It would be the final blow to Hamilton’s charge.

Hamilton pitted on Lap 32 and changed to hard tyres. That would be his only stop unless he could create a buffer near the end of the race to stop again for the fastest lap attempt.

Verstappen pitted the next lap, fitting hard tyres and comfortably rejoined, still holding the lead by a comfortable 12.8s.

Damaged Aero

By Lap 37, Hamilton’s damaged aero is apparent. The Brit is already 14.8s behind Verstappen, losing half a second in just the last lap. Then, on Lap 39, Hamilton loses half a second to Verstappen again – the lead is now 16.2 seconds. He’s now lapping slower than Bottas, too.

Mercedes tells Bottas not to overtake Hamilton on Lap 48, meaning he’ll have to fend off Norris even though he’s quicker than Hamilton. Meanwhile, Verstappen’s lead is more than 20 seconds.

Mercedes Pivots

On Lap 51, Bottas, within a second of Hamilton, now has Norris 1.5s behind him. Mercedes pivots, reversing their orders. Bottas is now free to race Hamilton. No matter, with DRS, Hamilton lets the Finn through to take second.

At the exact moment, Pérez, already penalized once for impeding Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, doubled down and got another time penalty for a second incident with the Monegasque.

Mercedes pitted Hamilton on Lap 55 fitting fresh tyres to set the fastest lap and salvage that single point. Hamilton immediately takes the fastest time.

However, Verstappen, now leading by 25 seconds, had a complete pit stop advantage over Bottas. The Dutchman could stop again if he wanted to steal the fastest lap.

Repeated Domination

He would.

The Dutchman pitted on Lap 60 and rejoined on the hards, seven seconds ahead of Bottas, who retained second. The Dutchman proceeded to reel off uncontested fastest laps to take the extra point.

It was that kind of weekend for Mercedes.

Verstappen took the checkers 17.973s ahead of Bottas. The Finn salvaged a fine second, holding off Norris, who took an excellent third for McLaren. Hamilton could only claim fourth, delivering another 14 points to Verstappen in one weekend.