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“The Flying Dutchman”
The 2021 Styrian Grand Prix
Text & Photos | Thomas Lam
Edit | Henry Lau

Max Verstappen was simply unstoppable at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, starting from pole and leading every lap for a thoroughly dominant victory in the Styrian Grand Prix


Overview

Max Verstappen left no doubts about his talent or the mechanical superiority of his team’s current RB16B, lapping the entire field up to fourth place to win the Styrian Grand Prix.

Left in his wake was a profoundly frustrated Lewis Hamilton pondering taking the chequered flag more than 35 seconds adrift of the Dutchman. Verstappen’s championship lead over seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton is now up to 18- points.

Hamilton kept in touch with Verstappen but never threatened to stop the Red Bull driver from securing his second victory in a week and fourth of the year. Hamilton salvaged Mercedes’ pride with a bonus point for the fastest lap.

Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas recovered from a pre- race pit lane penalty to finish third, 0.5s ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, with McLaren’s irrepressible Lando Norris fifth.

The Plight

Post-race, Lewis Hamilton wrapped up Mercedes’ current plight.

“It was maybe three-four tenths (a second) they had on us and there was nothing I could do, said the Brit. I was doing everything I could.”

“There’s a long way to go, but while they have speed like that there’s not a lot we can do, mused Hamilton. We need to somehow try and find more performance.”

So far this season, Verstappen is proving his RB16B is not a one-trick pony, after first dominating the street tracks of Monaco and Azerbaijan, followed now in France and Austria. The latter two being tracks Mercedes have “owned” in past seasons.

Qualifying

Max Verstappen methodically dialled in his Red Bull RB16B, finding surprising speed in every corner of the 10-turn Spielberg track to dominate qualifying, picking up his second pole in seven days.

Now without a pole for four rounds, Lewis Hamilton only qualified third. However, he was promoted to the front row following Valtteri Bottas’ three-place penalty for his pit-lane spin in practice on Friday.

Under Pressure

The under-pressure Finn will start fifth. Lando Norris was impressive as he qualified fourth. He would start third on the grid, half-a-second quicker than his seven-time race-winning McLaren team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who qualified only 13th. Sergio Pérez would start his Red Bull from sixth.

After qualifying behind his rival, Hamilton feared only some expected rain on race day would save him.

“Max has had a quarter of a second on us all weekend,” said Hamilton. “I don’t think we have the raw pace to overtake him, that’s for sure. We might just be able to keep up.

“I go into the race for a fight and I will be giving it everything. Maybe we will get a surprise. Maybe it will rain.”

The 2021 Styrian Grand Prix

Lined up for the start with the forecast rain nowhere in sight, Lewis Hamilton knew his only chance to hold off Verstappen was into Turn 1 followed by Turn 3 – his only chance to snatch the race from Red Bull would be determined by who won those corners.

Should the Brit lose the turn to Verstappen, his “draggy” Mercedes would “stall” in the Dutchman’s turbulent wake.

Verstappen never considered wasting the moment. At lights out, the Dutchman leapt forward, positioning himself on the inside, leaving Hamilton only the long way around. By the time

Hamilton sorted his line; Verstappen was already in control and moving clear.

Advances

Behind, Norris managed to resist Pérez’s advances on the opening lap but could do little to stop the Mexican in his superior Red Bull from moving past by Lap 10. Bottas followed suit the next time around.

Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari had to swing to the outside before Turn 3, and on turning in, he squeezed Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri toward the inside on the exit. An instant later, Leclerc’s front wing punctured Gasly’s left rear tyre, leading to suspension damage. Despite his brilliant qualifying session, Gasly was out of the race on the spot.

Recovery

Leclerc pitted immediately to replace his front wing. He emerged last and began an epic recovery drive.

The big mover at the start was Norris’ teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who’d climbed from P13 to P8 by the end of Lap 1. All Ricciardo’s hard work was in vain a few laps later when his power unit suffered a temporary loss of power. The Australian plummeted from P8… back to P13.

Running in fourth place, Pérez was the first of the leading quartet to pit, stopping on Lap 26 of 71. But a sticky rear-left meant he was stationary for 4.2 sec, allowing Bottas to take third when he came in for tyres the next lap.

Hamilton pitted next and rejoined still in second, 25s behind Verstappen. The “flying” Dutchman stopped the next lap, switching from mediums to hards. He rejoined five seconds ahead of Hamilton.

What Shall I Do?

The gap would grow exponentially. By the end of Lap 58, Hamilton had dropped to more than 10 seconds adrift. After Lap 62, it was 11.924 seconds.

“What shall I do?” he asked his race engineer, Peter Bonnington. “I can’t close the gap.”

Bonnington could offer no honest answer other than calling on his driver to look after his tyres in the hope Verstappen’s would wear out.

Seeing a late-race opportunity, Red Bull pitted Pérez for new medium tyres a second time to chase down Bottas in the battle for the final spot on the podium. He rejoined still in fourth place, 21.5 secs behind Bottas in third. At the flag, the Mexican crossed the line just half a second behind the Mercedes driver.

Fastest Lap

Hamilton pitted for tyres on Lap 70, taking the fastest lap and the extra point with a 1:07.058. At the flag, the gap to Verstappen had grown to 35.7s.

McLaren’s Lando Norris saw him follow up his P5 from last year’s Styrian Grand Prix with the same result in 2021. The Ferrari pair of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc finished P6 and P7, a fantastic turnaround from their nightmare, point- less French Grand Prix.

Of particular note was Leclerc. Following his first lap stop for a new front wing, the Monegasque rose to the occasion, recovering from 18th to finish seventh. His impressive race pace and overtaking prowess earned him the “Driver of the Day” accolade.

Lance Stroll finished eighth for Aston Martin, while Fernando Alonso and Yuki Tsunoda rounded out the top 10.

Elusive Point

Of particular note was George Russell, who ran as high as seventh before an engine failure cruelly denied the Briton any hope of scoring his first championship points for Williams.

With another race taking place at the Red Bull Ring next weekend as it hosts the Austrian Grand Prix, perhaps he’ll find that elusive point.

For the first time in the hybrid F1 era, Mercedes are four Grand Prix without a win. Following the race, team principal Toto Wolff spoke about the unique set of circumstances that brought the team to this moment.

“Mercedes feels like it has been pegged back by regulation changes over the winter for 2021. We will not eat into its

planned 2022 development time — which will likely determine its competitiveness for years to come under F1’s new rules — to chase this year’s title,” stated Wolff.

“We know that how the technical direction has evolved for 2021, we have been on the receiving side: fact,” he added.

Long Game

“We continue to stick to our principle of putting our resources into 2022 with all the consequences that could have on 2021,” declared Wolff.

“But this is a long game. We are not looking at a single race or single result, we are trying to optimise every single year and, having said that, we just need to get the best from our package.”

They’ll have another opportunity at the Red Bull Ring in five days.