- Max Verstappen wins Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring, Spielberg
- Dutchman further extends World Drivers’ Championship lead over fourth-placed Lewis Hamilton
- Valtteri Bottas finishes runner-up, as Lando Norris claims third podium of season with P3
SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA – Hot on the heels of Max Verstappen’s third Formula 1 win on the bounce, what did we learn this past weekend from the Austrian Grand Prix?
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Verstappen building ominous form
It was only a short fortnight ago that many had posed the question of just how long Max Verstappen might be waiting for successive Formula 1 race wins. Two weeks on, he has taken the chequered flag three times in a row.
Completing a double in the welcoming Austrian arms of the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Verstappen has now opened up 32-point lead over Lewis Hamilton in the World Drivers’ Championship.
His fifth win this season, the 23-year-old Dutchman has finished outside of the top two places on just one occasion in 2021, recording the double of victory and fastest lap in two of the last three races.
Strengthening not only his own position but Red Bull’s now 44-point lead over Mercedes, Verstappen’s form right now has as ominous a tone as Hamilton’s has in the past.
Hamilton in a hole?
The slight caveat to that is, not just the arrival of a two-week hiatus, but with the British GP on the horizon.
Verstappen’s first real purple patch in F1 has however, seen a temporary power shift on the grid, but whilst it remains to be seen if the Dutchman can hold his form through to Silverstone, Hamilton finds himself in a rather unfamiliar blind spot.
Finishing off the podium for just the fifth time since the start of last season as he did this weekend, the Briton is now without a win in five for the first time since 2016.
That same year was the last time Hamilton did not with the title, then beaten to it by a mere five points versus teammate Nico Rosberg.
Right now then, the picture is not particularly rosy for the eight-time-chasing champion. But the embrace of a returning home British crowd, is not far off.
Could that revive Hamilton?
Norris cements growing reputation
If you don’t believe the hype over Lando Norris, then by all means, start.
On a weekend the McLaren driver was not expected to come close to challenging for the podium, Norris once again proved his doubters spectacularly wrong.
Qualifying on the front row for the first time in Austria, the Bristolian then held Mercedes at arms-length from lights out, before a tangle with Sergio Perez then derailed his afternoon.
Incurring a five-second penalty after being adjudged to have forced the Mexican off the track at Turn 4, Norris’ hopes of a third top-three finish this term looked to have faded.
But McLaren have displayed their staying power this term and once more, after a strategically paced two-stop ploy, Norris then came from fifth to reclaim third from Hamilton late on.
Had it not been for the penalty imposed, Norris may have held on to P2 ahead of Valtteri Bottas.
Norris perhaps rightly, felt aggrieved after the race at his punishment – not the only driver to fall foul of race stewards in Austria – but the Briton should perhaps reflect, on a successful outing nonetheless.
Earning Driver of the Day in Spielberg on Sunday, there is surely more to come for Norris, who appears to be the real deal in F1.
Perez too keen to impress
As Red Bull kept their current stronghold on the Constructors’ Championship this past weekend, it seemed that Sergio Perez however, was just a little too eager to turn on the style.
Coming off a run of P4 results or better since Monaco, the man from Guadalajara has helped Red Bull to the top of the standings, but just perhaps, digression would have been the better part of valour here.
As Perez went in pursuit of Verstappen, both Mercedes and Norris from the off, the latter was then deemed guilty of racing line infringement and penalised; but the Red Bull man himself was soon to follow suit.
Following Perez’ drop down the field after the prior incident, Charles Leclerc them became his rival-in-chief for the afternoon, and it was this time Perez who brought the ire from the steward’s room.
On not just one occasion did Perez close the door illegally on Leclerc though, twice during the race, amassing a full 10 secs.
In the post-race chatter, F1 officials were criticised for not ruling each account as mere racing incidents, but Race Director Michael Masi has defended the actions of his peers.
For Perez though, Austria will be a valuable learning curve on a still steep arc. And surely, Perez will be a big player during the remaining 14 races of the season.
Alonso ‘a little bit sad’ for Russell
George Russell meanwhile, must be tearing his hair out.
Denied his first points finish for Williams once more in last weekend’s Styrian GP, a second trip around the Red Bull Ring for the King’s Lynn driver saw him complete all 71 laps, but was again forced out of the top 10 during the final laps.
This time it was Fernando Alonso snatching a precious point from the Briton, with Russell’s continuing frustrations yet to be curbed.
The Spaniard’s sixth points finish this term since his return to F1 with Alpine, Alonso however, was quick to express his sympathy for Russell.
And as the former two-time champion stated to F1.com, should Russell make the switch to Mercedes next year, his hardships on the track could soon be a thing of the past.
“It was very intense.”
“Unfortunately only for one point but it felt like it was the last lap of the championship for us, because one point is gold for him and for ourselves as well after starting 14th. It was nice. In a way when I saw that it was George I felt a little bit sad that the battle had to be with him.
“But I think he will have the opportunity to step on podiums and fight for race wins in the future if he goes to Mercedes, so it’s going to be different times for him.
The 2021 British Grand Prix takes place at Silverstone between 16 and 18 July.
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