Verstappen extends title lead with Styria win

27/06/2021
NEWS STORY

OK, some reverse psychology today.

Ahead of every session thus far we've had a warning of a 30% - 40% chance of rain, yet nothing ever appeared... and this after last weekend's no show by those pesky Weather Gods.

Consequently, today we refuse to be played by them and we are going to accept that even if there's a 75% chance of rain it will remain dry from lights out to chequered flag.

Of course, if the Weather Gods want to prove us wrong...

Back to the racing and it's all getting a little bitter to be quite honest.

For the last couple of months we've had Toto and Christian sniping at one another, but now others appear to be getting involved.

Of course, it's understandable that Max, Lewis and Valtteri will defend their respective teams, but we are increasingly seeing the likes of McLaren getting involved, the Woking team, of course, a customer of the Three Pointed Star.

Then, in the wake of his grid penalty for that dumb sin in the pitlane, Valtteri claims his rivals were responsible for his punishment, the Finn adding that "everyone is trying to screw you in this sport".

Welcome to the Piranha Club Valtteri.

And are we alone in noticing that TV pundit Anthony Davidson regularly jumps to the defence of Mercedes, the Briton having been a Brackley man since 2001.

Moving onto today's race, lessons will surely have been learned over the last seven days.

First off, Max will be keen to ensure there are no repeats of his first corner off, while Lewis will be keen to push him into just such a mistake.

Meanwhile, though the race is only expected to be a one-stopper, Mercedes will be mindful of last weekend's game-changing undercut and the strategy switch that followed.

As if the elbows out approach we can expect from the title contenders wasn't enough, we have a very frustrated Valtteri starting behind Lando and an ever-improving Sergio, all three of who are keen to make a point.

Add Pierre, Charles and Fernando to the mix and you have the prospect of some real fun and games.

Also, as a result of his penalty, Yuki will be keen to get amongst it, as will Carlos and Daniel, both of whom are having a torrid time of it at present.

Having narrowly missed out in qualifying, George will be keen to make amends, and in all honesty this is looking to be his best chance of the season thus far.

Ignoring the WGs, track limits, the wind et al, the Red Bull Ring has a certain reputation, consequently, as ever, it is going to be about surviving the first lap with incident.

Lewis insists that as it stands he cannot race Max, therefore his intention today will be to keep up with the Red Bull in the hope that the Dutchman or his team make a mistake or the WGs make an appearance.

The 71-lap race has a high lap count owing to the short length of the circuit, but it should still be a one-stopper: especially with this weekend's tyre selection of C2, C3, and C4.

The most favoured one-stop strategy for the bulk of the top 10 is likely to be softs to hards. Otherwise, mediums to hards is set to be what Max and the two Mercedes drivers opt for: which is also a possibility for other drivers outside the top 10 on the grid. Softs to mediums (or vice versa) is feasible too, but more difficult to achieve without careful tyre management.

As usual, there's also the possibility to do the opposite - beginning on the harder compound before switching to a softer one. This makes sense for those starting close to the back and hoping to run a longer first stint to gain track position. There are a few good overtaking opportunities over the course of the lap (also considering the three DRS zones) so track position isn't quite as essential as it is at some over circuits.

Naturally, all of this depends on the WGs. Track temperatures though will certainly influence the tyre life - especially on the softs - and therefore the strategy.

The pitlane opens to bright sunshine, and one by one the drivers head out.

Ahead of the formation lap the air temperature is 26 degrees C, while the track temperature is 53 degrees. There is a 40% chance of rain (groan).

Verstappen is told of a "fairly neutral wind" at Turn 3.

Other than Verstappen and the Mercedes pair, Russell, Sainz, Ricciardo, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Latifi, Ocon, Schumacher and Mazepin start on mediums. Raikkonen starts on hards, while the rest are on softs.

They head off on the formation lap, all getting away cleanly.

Verstappen takes his place on the grid while the backmarkers can be seen in the background on the other side of the circuit.

The grid forms, the Haas pair the last to take to their slots.

They're away. Verstappen gets a great start and leads Hamilton up the hill. Norris is alongside Perez. The McLaren is on the outside in Turn 1 and runs wide, while further back Leclerc does likewise, the Ferrari three abreast with Gasly and Alonso.

On the long run to Turn 3, Norris and Perez remain side by side, as battle for sixth between Gasly, Leclerc and Alonso continues.

At the back of the field three cars spin, its Gasly, Latifi and Giovinazzi.

Replay shows that Leclerc and Gasly touched in Turn 1, indeed they touched twice, once on entering the corner and again as the Ferrari rejoined the circuit. In the process Leclerc picks up damage to his right-front win and Gasly damages his left-rear tyre.

Slipping down the field, Gasly is subsequently involved in a further clash with Giovinazzi and Latifi.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Verstappen, Hamilton, Norris, Perez, Bottas, Stroll, Alonso, Russell, Ricciardo and Tsunoda.

Leclerc pits while Gasly also pits with what looks like left rear suspension damage. The Frenchman's race is over as Latifi also pits.

Hamilton is worried about damage to his front tyre after running over debris but his team assures him all is OK.

After 4 laps, Verstappen leads by 2.2s, with Norris a further 3.9s behind. Russell remains seventh, ahead of Ricciardo, Tsunoda and Sainz.

In the midst of it all, hard-runner Raikkonen is up to 12th.

Perez is hard on the heels of Norris, as Bottas remains 1.5s adrift of the Mexican.

Norris calls on his team to keep an eye on his tyre pressures as he is concerned that he too ran over some debris.

Suddenly, Ricciardo is down in 13th, "no power, oh God, no power," sighs the Australian. "It has recovered," he is told, but it is already too late.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spielberg, here.

Perez finally gets by Norris with surprising ease at Turn 1, the McLaren driver makes an attempt to regain the place but the Red Bull is already disappearing up the road.

As Bottas sweeps by Norris it appears the Briton is opting to drive his own race.

Just 11 laps in and Latifi is the first driver to be lapped.

Down in 13th, Ricciardo has his mirrors full of Ocon and Giovinazzi as he seeks to hang on to the rear of Raikkonen.

Not too far behind, Leclerc passes Mazepin for 16th. Teammate Sainz is currently 10th.

Alonso, in seventh, has no less than five cars running in a train behind.

"We need to switch to Plan B for reliability," Russell is told, "so pick up the pace."

As the wind picks up, Verstappen complains of a "big moment" in Turn 7.

As Ocon passes Giovinazzi for 14th, one place ahead Ricciardo is told that "P6 is still on".

Hamilton admits that he is "struggling" as he falls 4.3s behind Verstappen.

"We are stronger than Lewis is low speed," Bottas is advised.

"The car is difficult to drive now," warns Verstappen.

Meanwhile some typical Sunday afternoon argy-bargy involving the Haas 'teammates'.

Despite his issues, Verstappen posts a new fastest lap on lap 21 (9.585).

At the end of lap 22, Mazepin is the first driver to make a scheduled stop.

"Bottas is closing in, Perez is warned, "we're considering our options."

Giovinazzi is the second driver to make a scheduled stop, as Leclerc passes Ocon for 14th.

"Starting to get small vibrations," warns Hamilton, moments after almost losing the Mercedes in Turn 4.

Russell pits at the end of lap 25, rejoining in 17th following an excruciatingly slow stop.

Perez also pits, and again it's very slow, the Mexican rejoining in 5th. Tsunoda pits and rejoins in 14th.

Next time around Bottas pits, the Finn rejoining in 4th, ahead of Perez. Alonso and Vettel also pit, as does Russell for a second time, the Williams seemingly suffering debris in its sidepods.

Hamilton pits at the end of lap 28, the world champion rejoining still in second.

"Box," Verstappen is told, the Dutchman duly obliging. Stroll also pits.

Rejoining still in the lead, Verstappen has a 4.8s advantage over his title rival.

Bottas posts a new fastest lap (9.071), but next time around Verstappen goes quicker (9.041).

Norris pits at the end of lap 31, the McLaren driver rejoining in 6th, behind Raikkonen and ahead of his McLaren teammate.

"Got a lot of D-rates everywhere," complains Hamilton.

Sainz is up to 5th but has yet to stop, as have Raikkonen (7th), Ricciardo (8th) and Ocon (10th).

"Expect Hamilton to push," Verstappen is told, "we're fine at the moment."

"Do I need to manage more," asks Hamilton. "We're thinking the other direction," he is told, "just keep closing down." He remains 4.5s down on the Red Bull.

"Box to overtake Raikkonen," Ocon is told. However, the Finn also stops and rejoins in 14th, just ahead of the Frenchman.

As Leclerc makes his first scheduled stop, Russell pits for the third time. The Briton's car is pushed into its garage, the second retirement of the afternoon.

Leclerc makes a bold move on Raikkonen in Turn 3 to take 13th, as Sainz finally pits as does Ricciardo. The Spaniard rejoins in 7th and the Australian 15th, the timing working out a lot better for the Spaniard than the Australian.

Raikkonen complains that Leclerc clipped his front wing.

On fresh rubber, Sainz is all over the back of Stroll. The Spaniard eventually passes the Canadian.

"How much are we losing on the straights today," Hamilton asks. "Around two and a half tenths," he is told.

Leclerc is a man on a mission, as he passes Giovinazzi for 12th.

While Bottas has slipped 22.2s behind his Mercedes teammate, he now has Perez just 1.5s behind.

On lap 48, Verstappen closes on 5th-placed Norris as he prepares to lap the McLaren.

Leclerc makes another bold move, this time on former teammate Vettel in Turn 4, the Aston Martin driver suffering a lock-up in the process.

Unhappy with his brake pedal, Verstappen is warned that it's a result of hitting the kerbs at Turn 9. "Let's not take any undue risks," he is advised.

He currently heads Hamilton by 7.668s.

After 54 laps, it's: Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Perez, Norris, Sainz, Stroll, Alonso, Tsunoda and Leclerc.

"Front-right, small blistering," warns Hamilton.

Leclerc makes a move on Tsunoda but locks-up and the AlphaTauri driver holds station.

At the end of lap 54, Perez pits for mediums. He rejoins in 4th, 21s down on Bottas.

Leclerc finally gets by Tsunoda, almost immediately passing Alonso also to take 8th.

Perez posts a new fastest lap (8.049) as he cuts Bottas' lead to 18s.

"What do you want me to do, I can't close the gap," Hamilton admits. To add to his troubles the Briton has two successive lap times deleted. He is subsequently warned by his team that he risks a penalty.

Another fastest lap from Perez (7.894) as he reduces the gap to Bottas to 14s.

As Leclerc makes short work of Stroll for 7th, Perez is told that Bottas is struggling with backmarkers. "We're going to be on him by the end of the race," the Mexican is told.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spielberg, here.

"Is there rain coming," asking Hamilton, aware that the WGs are his only real hope. "Nothing on the radar," comes the reply.

The Mercedes pair, in particular, are struggling as the seeks to make their way through the backmarkers. This allows Perez to close to within 8.5s of Bottas.

"You can try to un-lap yourself," Sainz is told. While claiming that it is "very risky", the Spaniard subsequently obliges and passes a clearly struggling Hamilton. The Ferrari soon pulls away from the Mercedes.

Shown the blue flag, Ricciardo moves aside for Bottas.

"Is Valtteri under pressure," asks Hamilton. "Not at the moment," he is told.

Raikkonen passes former teammate Vettel for eleventh.

"A few drops possible," Norris is advised, "nothing significant"

Could it be?

"OK Lewis, box, box," Hamilton is told. The Briton subsequently pits, rejoining still in second, on softs, 8.8s ahead of his teammate. Perez is just 2s down on Bottas.

Verstappen begins his final lap as Hamilton seeks to claim fastest lap.

Verstappen takes the flag, Red Bull's fourth successive victory, Mercedes fourth successive loss.

Hamilton claims second and fastest lap (7.058), while Bottas manages to hold off Perez who finishes 0.527s down on the Finn.

Norris finishes fifth, ahead of Sainz, Leclerc, Stroll, Alonso and Tsunoda.

Raikkonen is eleventh, ahead of Vettel, Ricciardo, Ocon, Giovinazzi, Schumacher, Latifi and Mazepin.

As we said, a fourth straight win for Red Bull, but crucially a fourth straight loss for Mercedes, and with the next round just seven days away - at the same track - the Black Arrows have their work cut out.

As for those pesky bloody WGs - no doubt they'll spring a surprise storm in the moments after the podium ceremony.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spielberg, here.

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Published: 27/06/2021
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