By Neil Leverett

  • Max Verstappen cruises to victory at the Styrian Grand Prix in Spielberg
  • Dutchman claims back-to-back wins for the first time, with Lewis Hamilton again runner-up
  • Valtteri Bottas clings to third, Charles Leclerc shows scrapping qualities, whilst George Russell denied points finish
SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA – After Max Verstappen cruised to victory in Spielberg this past weekend, what did we learn from the Styrian Grand Prix in Austria?

 

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Watershed weekend for Verstappen

It may have taken him into his seventh season to do so, but finally, Max Verstappen has won successive Formula 1 wins, romping home to victory at the Styrian Grand Prix in Spielberg, Austria, on Sunday.

Picking up his fourth win of the campaign, the 23-year-old Dutchman now has three victories at the Red Bull Ring in his career, on what was, for once this term, a relatively Sunday afternoon.

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Had the rain that fell as the paddock assembled post-raced turned up slighter earlier however, it may have been a different story, but that is moot.

Not only was this a moment to celebrate for Verstappen but for Red Bull also, who have now won four races on the bounce since Monte Carlo, pointing to what some are seeing as a gradual changing of the guard in F1.

Though both Verstappen and Red Bull extended their Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championship leads, it remains to be seen however, whether this is a false dawn, or if the Milton Keynes outfit are now coming close to being the top dog for the first time in eight years.

 

Wolff a worried man

As Mercedes scramble to keep pace with Red Bull, that was the very issue in Austria in Round 8 and boss Toto Wolff is now a worried man.

So much so, that for the first time after the race, the German openly admitted that his team were unable to compete with the Honda engine’s power and performance.

Telling F1.com of their lack in armoury in Spielberg, Wolff however, is hopeful that improvements could be made in time for the Austrian GP this weekend.

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“It’s not a bad result. But what’s tough is that it’s been the first race really in eight years where you are just lacking the pace.

“[This week, we’ll be] scratching our heads and trying to look at the race and see, is there anything we could have done better in terms of set-up direction. I think we found some clues for qualifying… but could we have optimised on race pace, as that’s always a balance. It’s very interesting, I’m looking forward to analyse and see in a week’s time if we can do a better job.”

 

Mercedes must cling on

Whatever the case, after Lewis Hamilton could only manage P2 for the second F1 weekend running, Mercedes are in the midst of their most challenging period in the turbo-hybrid era.

And the Silver Arrows know they simply must cling on to Red Bull’s coat-tails during this period.

But their efforts in Spielberg this weekend were not wholly unsuccessful.

Despite now going winless in four since for the first time 2014, Valterri Bottas being able to fend off Sergio Perez for the final podium spot, has seen Mercedes lose ground in the Constructors’ Championship, but by only a further three points.

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Separated now by margin of 40, a further race in the Austrian mountains this coming weekend could still prove extremely damaging, but there may be hope on the horizon.

Approaching mid-summer territory that historically has been a happy hunting ground for messrs Hamilton and Bottas, Red Bull have not won at either Silverstone or the Hungaroring  – the following two races to come after Austria – since 2012 and 2014 respectively.

Though far from a position of no return from both a team and individual perspective with just eight races gone, with a number of stops that should suit to come, there is more than enough hope that Mercedes can fight back.

But they must limit the damage during weekend two in Spielberg.

 

Leclerc shows mettle

Away from the head of the field, Ferrari are again showing further signs of revival after both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. came home in the top seven in Styria.

Scuderia’s fifth top-eight double of the season saw the Prancing Horse close the gap on McLaren to just 12 points, as Sainz gained a full six places from Q2 to finish P6. It was Leclerc however, who won the plaudits.

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Qualifying in seventh, the Monagasque collided with Pierre Gasly during the opening lap, dropping to the back of pack.

As Gasly was forced out of the race, Leclerc meanwhile, showed his scrapping qualities to battle through the pack and come home in the same P7 he found himself at lights out.

Earning himself Driver of the Day, Leclerc may have yet to earn a podium finish in 2021, but once more, as one of the most consistent drivers on the grid, is helping Ferrari find their feet again.

 

Luckless Russell denied again

George Russell meanwhile, continues to bide his tide at Williams in anticipation of his chance at Mercedes opening up next season, but what has been a rather lonely furrow plowed of late, almost brought rewards in Austria this past weekend.

Qualifying in an outstanding 11th spot, the King’s Lynn driver came within 0.030 of progressing into Q3, but Russell did start on the fifth row of the grid, after Yuki Tsunoda was penalised, pushing Russell up the standings on Saturday.

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Progressing through the field on Sunday, Russell see-sawed between P7 and P8 and appeared set for his first points finish with Williams.

A mechanical problem then intervened however, dropped him down the order, and enforcing his retirement from the race.

It was an undeserved turn of fortune for Russell, but his showing would surely have been watched keenly. And his drive in the Styrian GP may yet prove to be one of the deciding factors in who Russell is racing for next term.

 

The 2021 Austrian Grand Prix takes place this weekend at the Red Bull Ring, Spielberg, Austria.

 

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