Will Red Bull’s straight-line superiority deliver a home brace? Five talking points for the Styrian GP RaceFans
Red Bull’s top straight-line speed helped Max Verstappen secure his third win of the season and could help the Austrians secure the home brace from this weekend.
Here are the talking points for the first of two back-to-back Red Bull Ring races – the Styrian Grand Prix.
Can Mercedes outsmart Red Bull?
After three consecutive wins for Red Bull in Monaco, Azerbaijan and now at the French Grand Prix, it’s no longer Brackley’s hyperbole to say that the RB16B is the car to beat in F1. Mercedes’ latest loss left them stunned, but one shortcoming they can identify is a straight-line speed deficit compared to the Honda-powered Red Bull car.
Following the introduction of new difficult tests to bar the “flexible wings” seen in previous rounds, Red Bull chose to use a cropped configuration in France. The three long straights of the Red Bull Ring offer the possibility of enjoying the same advantage again. Mercedes opted not to withdraw support from their car last time around, but they might not have a choice this weekend.
Ferrari’s battle to lead the midfield
Ferrari’s pace in Monaco and Baku didn’t necessarily show where the team really sits in the pecking order, as they were keen to point out at the time. Back-to-back pole positions will likely never continue after F1 leaves city circuits – but how dramatic the team fell to Paul Ricard, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr finishing out of points, was dramatic.
By comparison, McLaren – who appeared to be struggling in Friday’s sessions and even qualifying – confidently clinched the “best of the rest” of the race, with fifth and sixth places.
Guillaume Dezoteux, Head of Vehicle Performance at AlphaTauri admitted he was “surprised” by the development. “Ferrari looked solid on Friday, especially on the long-term pace,” he said. “They [also] looked pretty strong in qualifying – OK Carlos was faster than us, but Leclerc was slower. So we felt in the short term that we were at a very similar pace. But in the long run, we thought they would go faster than that.
“And the McLaren is the opposite. In fact, we were slightly faster than them in the short term and expected a little less from them in the long term. I think what we’ve seen is a ranking of the right people to manage the tires and the severity of the cars with the tires, because obviously you have limited opportunities to tailor your tire management strategies just for the race. So McLaren did a better job, that simple.
Will we see the same thing this weekend? Before the last race, Ferrari believed the cooler temperatures would benefit their car. It didn’t work, which does not bode well for their chances; the Styrian Grand Prix should be covered and Pirelli offers the same tire selection as at Paul Ricard, without the softer C5 compound on which Ferrari has found its advantage.
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After Friday’s practice sessions at the French Grand Prix, Mercedes and Red Bull expressed concerns about the severity of the curbs beyond the limits of the track at the second corner. After examining the sidewalks, however, race director Michael Masi left them in place.
He explained the reasons for his decision after the grand prix, pointing out that the sidewalks were exactly the same in 2019 during the last F1 race at Paul Ricard.
“They were over two meters from the edge of the track,” Masi added, “so you had to be completely off the track to make contact with them.
“And probably most importantly, yes they were reviewed on Friday night so after the discussion at the pilots meeting I could physically go down to turn two and take a look at everything. [and] I made sure everything was absolutely correct.
Masi strongly supported the need to impose physical track limits at the circuit boundary. “As we’ve heard a number of times, especially this year, from both the team managers and the drivers, they want physical limits and there was very clearly a physical limit.”
The Red Bull Ring has a more aggressive curb, which could renew the love-hate story of teams with tough track limits. However, don’t expect there to be any compromise on the part of race control, as Masi noted “there was no problem” in Sunday’s race.
Williams rear foot
Williams had what George Russell called “our best race we’ve ever had together” at Paul Ricard, finishing 12th and ahead of a Ferrari, Alpine and AlphaTauri.
The team’s struggle over several seasons has been clearly documented, and they are still looking for their first point since 2019. But Russell said their performance at the French Grand Prix was not down to luck.
“We were there on merit, the car was good, we made this strategy work, really well managed,” he said. His 12th place also helped Williams reclaim ninth place in the Constructors’ Championship from Haas, after a few races where attrition had allowed the slowest team of 2021 to technically finish ahead.
If the Styrian Grand Prix turns out to be complicated for tire management, as in the French Grand Prix, Williams could finally have a chance to end his points drought.
Collisions between teammates
During last season’s opening race in Austria, Ferrari teammates Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel made contact. A few other teams have had near misses with their drivers in the last few races.
McLaren’s Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo have, for the most part, played relatively well with each other since becoming team-mates, including Ricciardo letting Norris pass him at Imola. However, the gloves looked like they might come off at the French Grand Prix when Ricciardo forced Norris to pass him, which didn’t impress the young driver.
Much more dramatic, the team-mate situation between Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher seems to be deteriorating. After an alarming near-crash between the two in Baku, they again ended up fighting at the French Grand Prix with Schumacher no more laudatory over his teammate’s actions than he had been in the previous round.
Haas team manager Günther Steiner said his patience with such antics was starting to wear down. “At the moment, where we are as a team, with the car we have, the only opponent they can fight with is their teammate,” he began, adding: “The rule of engagement is: don’t don’t do that kind of thing, there’s no other rule.
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Grand Prix of Styria 2021
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