Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2021

Perez’s surprise strategy gives Red Bull another line of attack against Hamilton

2021 Styrian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Qualifying, in principle, played out as it would have been expected to. Max Verstappen had been fastest over the weekend and he was the only driver to set a time below 1’04 around the Red Bull Ring.

Some other aspects of qualifying were pre-determined: Valtteri Bottas went into the session with a known three-place grid penalty for the race start, so despite setting the second-fastest time, he will begin the Styrian Grand Prix behind team mate Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

Perez’s soft tyre strategy

Having had 24 hours to mull over the likely effect of Bottas’ grid penalty on the race, did that influence Red Bull’s approach to it? The team took the intriguing decision to split their drivers’ strategies.

Verstappen went through to Q3 on medium tyres and it seems very likely, given the competitive pace of the Red Bull cars this weekend, that Perez could have, too. However, he set his best Q2 time on soft tyres. That, of course, ensures they will start the race on those compounds.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Red Bull Ring, 2021
Bottas qualified second but will start fifth
Bottas’ penalty increased the likelihood of him starting behind Perez, and so it has proved. The second Red Bull will start alongside Norris on the second row. The McLaren driver will also begin the race on a set of softs.

Did Perez opt for softs because he was concerned he wouldn’t reach Q3 on the harder, slower mediums? He indicated otherwise after the race, saying the team believe the strategy “is the fastest one”. Why would that be so for him instead of Verstappen? Perhaps the team is banking on his regular ability to coax tyres into lasting longer than his rivals can.

Whatever the explanation, Perez’s first priority is to get past Norris, which will allow him to fulfil his role by keeping Hamilton under pressure. His best chance to do that comes at the start.

First lap battles

The field is incredibly tight at Spielberg. On a short, high-speed track with three DRS zones there should be plenty of in-race action but the first lap could be particularly dramatic.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Red Bull Ring, 2021
Norris is in superb form in Austria again
A superb qualifying effort by Norris has put him in the middle of the bunfight between the top two teams. He is well aware McLaren’s priority is to take points off Ferrari. He may not be a soft touch, but his past form indicates he’s unlikely to risk that by going wheel-to-wheel with Bottas or Perez.

“I think everyone knows that we’re going to get to tomorrow and the Mercedes are going to be a lot quicker and so are Red Bull,” he said after qualifying. “Maybe not miles quicker, but they still have a much better race car than we do.”

Bottas has another obstacle between him and the front runners in the shape of Pierre Gasly. Having been quick all weekend, and giving nothing away to the Mercedes in a straight line, Gasly could prove tricky to pass. That said, he’s unlikely to have any compunction about fighting Perez in the car that, two years ago, was his.

Verstappen and Hamilton shared the front row of the grid in France one week ago and the Mercedes driver got the better start. That, plus Verstappen’s error at the first corner, put him in the lead. He’ll be on the inside line this Sunday, and a better start could immediately tee him up for a pass down the inside.

Set-up advantages

McLaren’s drivers had differing fortunes in qualifying. Norris will start the first Austrian race, as he did in 2020, in third. Daniel Ricciardo , having been an encouraging second-fastest on Friday, will start the race 10 places back in 13th.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Red Bull Ring, 2021
The other McLaren faces a tougher race
In terms of what Ricciardo can salvage this weekend, the set-up direction he has chosen will play a significant role in how quickly he can rise through the field.

“It’s pretty much a track of two halves,” team principal Andreas Seidl explained. “The first half has the three straights and the big braking zone. Then you have this short, high-speed second half of the track. Which makes it not straightforward in terms of finding the right set up on the aero side and also on the mechanical side.

“With having three DRS zones, a DRS zone on every straight, that changes, again, what you would like to have in an ideal world for qualifying and for the race, because for the qualifying you put on maximum downforce because you have the DRS in all three straights. But for the race, obviously, you would like to have a bit less downforce because you run the majority without DRS.”

With Norris well-placed to out-score both cars from their closest rivals Ferrari, McLaren need Ricciardo to at least beat one of the other two to ensure what they gain with one car isn’t lost by the other.

Rain (or not)

Thunderstorms have been predicted for almost every session at the Red Bull Ring and have yet to arrive. However, second practice was run on a slightly greasy track and if there is changeable conditions, could create a question of who dares run slicks first.

At the time of writing, substantial thunderstorms have been reported in the vicinity. Even if rain doesn’t fall during the grand prix, an overnight dousing could radically change grip levels tomorrow, much as happened at Paul Ricard last week, catching several teams off-guard.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Qualifying times in full

DriverCarQ1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Max VerstappenRed Bull1’04.4891’04.433 (-0.056)1’03.841 (-0.592)
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1’04.5371’04.443 (-0.094)1’04.035 (-0.408)
3Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’04.6721’04.512 (-0.160)1’04.067 (-0.445)
4Lando NorrisMcLaren1’04.5841’04.298 (-0.286)1’04.120 (-0.178)
5Sergio PerezRed Bull1’04.6381’04.197 (-0.441)1’04.168 (-0.029)
6Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1’04.7651’04.429 (-0.336)1’04.236 (-0.193)
7Charles LeclercFerrari1’04.7451’04.646 (-0.099)1’04.472 (-0.174)
8Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’04.6081’04.631 (+0.023)1’04.514 (-0.117)
9Fernando AlonsoAlpine1’04.9711’04.582 (-0.389)1’04.574 (-0.008)
10Lance StrollAston Martin1’04.8211’04.663 (-0.158)1’04.708 (+0.045)
11George RussellWilliams1’05.0331’04.671 (-0.362)
12Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’04.8591’04.800 (-0.059)
13Sebastian VettelAston Martin1’05.0511’04.875 (-0.176)
14Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’05.0921’04.913 (-0.179)
15Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1’05.1421’05.142 (0.000)
16Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’05.175
17Esteban OconAlpine1’05.217
18Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’05.429
19Mick SchumacherHaas1’06.041
20Nikita MazepinHaas1’06.192

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Max Verstappen28.309 (20)19.367 (1)
Valtteri Bottas16.261 (5)28.339 (2)19.435 (2)
Lewis Hamilton16.267 (6)28.441 (5)19.359 (1)
Lando Norris16.160 (1)28.400 (4)19.495 (5)
Sergio Perez16.260 (3)28.369 (3)19.457 (3)
Pierre Gasly16.221 (2)28.489 (8)19.526 (7)
Charles Leclerc16.434 (14)28.461 (6)19.577 (9)
Yuki Tsunoda16.321 (11)28.653 (11)19.488 (4)
Fernando Alonso16.270 (7)28.477 (7)19.669 (13)
Lance Stroll16.302 (9)28.564 (9)19.613 (10)
George Russell16.308 (10)28.849 (15)19.514 (6)
Carlos Sainz Jnr16.505 (16)28.602 (10)19.539 (8)
Sebastian Vettel16.299 (8)28.744 (12)19.630 (11)
Antonio Giovinazzi16.361 (12)28.760 (13)19.753 (14)
Daniel Ricciardo16.260 (3)28.761 (14)19.787 (15)
Nicholas Latifi16.410 (13)28.997 (18)19.632 (12)
Esteban Ocon16.485 (15)28.887 (16)19.845 (16)
Kimi Raikkonen16.603 (17)28.924 (17)19.902 (17)
Mick Schumacher16.623 (18)29.326 (20)20.066 (18)
Nikita Mazepin16.763 (19)29.307 (19)20.121 (19)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMercedes317.8 (197.5)
2Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedes317.7 (197.4)-0.1
3Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari317.3 (197.2)-0.5
4Lance StrollAston MartinMercedes316.6 (196.7)-1.2
5Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes316.6 (196.7)-1.2
6George RussellWilliamsMercedes316.5 (196.7)-1.3
7Max VerstappenRed BullHonda315.9 (196.3)-1.9
8Sergio PerezRed BullHonda315.9 (196.3)-1.9
9Fernando AlonsoAlpineRenault315.6 (196.1)-2.2
10Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriHonda315.3 (195.9)-2.5
11Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes314.5 (195.4)-3.3
12Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda314.4 (195.4)-3.4
13Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes314.3 (195.3)-3.5
14Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari314.0 (195.1)-3.8
15Nikita MazepinHaasFerrari313.4 (194.7)-4.4
16Sebastian VettelAston MartinMercedes312.9 (194.4)-4.9
17Esteban OconAlpineRenault312.2 (194.0)-5.6
18Mick SchumacherHaasFerrari311.9 (193.8)-5.9
19Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari309.8 (192.5)-8.0
20Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrari309.8 (192.5)-8.0

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Over to you

Can Mercedes stop Red Bull from taking their fourth win in a row? Will Perez’s soft tyre strategy pay off? And what other storylines have you got your eye on in Sunday’s race?

Share your views on the Styrian Grand Prix in the comments.

2021 Styrian Grand Prix

Browse all 2021 Styrian Grand Prix articles

Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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17 comments on “Perez’s surprise strategy gives Red Bull another line of attack against Hamilton”

  1. And this is why Perez was hired. Not just that he can be put on an alternative tyre strategy, but that he can execute it perfectly.

    Almost certainly Red Bull have modelled that the Perez strategy will also disrupt Mercedes race in the later stages in some way.

  2. Coventry Climax
    27th June 2021, 0:56

    Great post, @Hazel. You’ve covered most, if not all, of the theory, and very well indeed. It promises to be an intriguing race. I hope mr. spoilsport Masi can keep his fingers of the red button, and let’s us have a real race. So let’s see what real life brings us, tomorrow, and how much of theory turns into reality.

    1. Agree. The pre-race analysis articles have been great this year.

      1. Yep, I agree also!

        On the a Grand Prix weekend, F1 consumes my entire weekend! I end up reading all sorts of articles analysing FP1/2/3 and then giving a pre-race review. But most of those articles are lazy summaries of what happened with little-to-no insight.

        Whereas this site, and @hazelsouthwell‘s piece here is a great example, are quality pieces of actual journalism and contain actual analysis, they really help to fire the excitement for the race. Excellent points made about McLaren’s fight for third in the Constructor’s Championship.

  3. I see bottas trying to go long and stay in verstappens pit window to support Hamilton’s undercut. Perez on soft seems less able to play the same role for his team. Perez could be thinking soft/hard/soft but didn’t he use an extra red set in q1?

  4. For Checo’s strategy to work, he has to pass Lando before turn 3, if not, his strategy will not work, because he will separate a lot from the pointers, and by the time he has to change tires, it may already be too late.

    Checo has a good chance, … however.

    1. Maho Pacheco
      27th June 2021, 5:34

      Also if he doesn’t pass Norris early, a Safety Car or some rain could help.

  5. 80% chance of rain during the race at time of writing, so that could be interesting if it happens.

  6. Perhaps Red Bull may go for an aggressively early undercut with Perez on Hamilton which would mean Hamilton struggles at the end

  7. I believe the split strategy is simply because of Perez’s struggle in Q1, which made Red Bull worried he mightn’t reach Q3 unless he used the softest compound available. Whatever the contributor, he has to get past Norris ASAP as otherwise, his starting strategy mightn’t work ideally. Unless rain comes and changes everything, of course.

  8. Bottas has another obstacle between him and the front runners in the shape of Pierre Gasly.

    I think Gasly will start behind Bottas (but of course can overtake him at the start).

    1. You are right there jff, Gasly starts on the inside position of row no. 3 of the grid about 2 meter behind Bottas. I guess there IS a risk that with his soft tyres and having the inside line he has a solid shot at passing Bottas off the line, as you mention

  9. The first sector from Verstappen is missing in the sector table, also jumping S3 to S2 and S2 to S1.

  10. Fantastic article
    I had not even thought of this

  11. I still hope that Checo can win a race on merit (the inherited Baku win does not count). Hardly on pure pace, but on strategy and tyre nursing. Without Max’s second pitstop in France (a high-risk but ultimately winning move), this seemed possible as in the final laps his tyres were much fresher (however it was only enough to catch Valtteri, nor Sir Busdriver, even accounting for the 1.5 seconds lost to move away from the charging Max)

    1. He wasn’t that far off in Baku, infact I think had he not had to hold Lewis off for all those laps, he would have had the tyres life to mount a challenge on Max.

      I think later in the season we will see a much stronger Checo who is able to mount a proper challenge for wins (if he’s allowed by that point).

  12. How does Checo have the 3rd fastest time in all 3 sectors and finish 5th..!

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