Can Mercedes – or Norris – deny Red Bull a home one-two?

2021 Austrian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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But while championship rival Lewis Hamilton was able to maintain a distance second last time around, emulating that achievement this weekend looks to be a much more challenging prospect.

Can Norris repeat his podium success from last year?

Red Bull’s joy at taking a second home pole in seven days will have been enhanced by the Mercedes of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas being confined to only fourth and fifth on the grid, respectively, with Sergio Perez ahead of both in third.

For the first time this season, Verstappen will have his team mate between him and both Mercedes when the lights go out, making the considerable challenge of chasing down the championship leader that much more complicated for Hamilton and his team.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Red Bull Ring, 2021
Norris impressed again in qualifying
And with Perez’s insistence after qualifying that the Red Bull “definitely have a better race car than qualifying,” Mercedes may face their deficit in the championship growing wider come Sunday afternoon.

But adding further intrigue for tomorrow is that Lando Norris will be starting from the front row in the McLaren. Last weekend, Norris sat third on the grid and held off Perez and Bottas for almost 10 laps before eventually surrendering the position. he went on to finish in that fifth place, ahead of the two Ferraris.

Norris has form around at the Austrian Grand Prix, having claimed a dramatic first podium at the event last year. A repeat performance tomorrow will likely be beyond McLaren’s raw pace relative to the Red Bulls and Mercedes over typical race distance, but Norris will almost certainly be a factor in the early phase of the race, should be get a clean getaway from the line.

Behind the front five, the two AlphaTauri drivers of Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda will be the highest starting soft tyre runners when the race begins. With this event using a softer range of tyres compared to last weekend’s Styrian Grand Prix, Gasly knows he is not on the ideal strategy, but that it is the correct approach for their them.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Red Bull Ring, 2021
Mercedes should be stronger in race trim
“We know it’s not going to be easy, but to be fair, we didn’t have a choice,” Gasly explained. “We thought we didn’t have the pace to qualify on the medium. So we’re committed to the hard tyre, which I believe was the right thing to do.”

Will Ferrari fly through the field once more?

While last weekend’s race proved a comfortable one-stopper – with Red Bull and Perez only just unable to make a two-stop work to jump Bottas at the finish – Pirelli expect the softer compounds could push more teams to consider a two-stop strategy this time around.

But with long straights meaning drivers lose a lot of time in the pits, and with a relatively low historical risk of Safety Cars, eking out a one stop if at all possible will likely remain the desired choice for teams. This is the reason why securing passage to Q3 on medium tyres was of such critical importance for those up the front.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2021
Gallery: 2021 Austrian Grand Prix in pictures
It is a large part of the reason why Ferrari were less disappointed then many might expect by only managing 11th and 12th on the grid for Carlos Sainz Jnr and Charles Leclerc (which became 10th for Sainz after Sebastian Vettel’s penalty). With free choice over which brand new set of tyres to start the race, the Ferrari drivers have at least a tactical advantage over those around them.

A week ago, the Ferrari team mates showed impressive race pace around the Spielberg circuit to make up for earlier setbacks – Sainz in qualifying, Leclerc on the opening lap – to work their way through the field to cross the line in sixth and seventh. Should they stay out of trouble in the opening laps tomorrow, we may see the duo make more moves up the order.

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Points at last for Williams?

George Russell, Williams, Red Bull Ring, 2021
Russell’s qualifying heroics give him a shot at points
Another notable participant who appears to have set themselves up for a strong afternoon is George Russell in the Williams. Fresh from Williams’ strongest race showing on pure performance since he first joined the team in 2019, Russell further demonstrated his car’s potential by reaching Q3 for the first time with the team and with the use of medium tyres.

Russell had been running solidly in the points on merit in eighth before a rare pneumatic problem forced him into retirement. But after an even more promising start to this second weekend in Austria – and starting the race on the ideal strategy – it seems there has been no better opportunity for Williams to race for their first points since the 2019 German Grand Prix.

One final point of interest will be in the fortunes of the two Alpine drivers. There may only be three places separating them on the grid, but Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon are driving as if they are in two completely different cars around this Austrian circuit, with Alonso claiming he could have qualified as high as sixth had be not been blocked by Vettel on his final flying lap.

If Alonso is truly faster than the cars immediately ahead of him, it will be interesting to see if and how he is able to move up through the field – especially after he claims his Q2 elimination ruined his weekend as Alpine’s strategy relied on him reaching the top 10.

Alonso also spent many laps behind Lance Stroll last time out, unable to find a way by. If he wants to secure more points this weekend, Alonso will be hoping he is not frustrated in a similar fashion again in this race.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Max VerstappenRed Bull1’04.2491’03.927 (-0.322)1’03.720 (-0.207)
2Lando NorrisMcLaren1’04.3451’04.415 (+0.070)1’03.768 (-0.647)
3Sergio PerezRed Bull1’04.8331’04.483 (-0.350)1’03.990 (-0.493)
4Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’04.5061’04.258 (-0.248)1’04.014 (-0.244)
5Valtteri BottasMercedes1’04.5631’04.376 (-0.187)1’04.049 (-0.327)
6Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1’04.8411’04.412 (-0.429)1’04.107 (-0.305)
7Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’04.9671’04.518 (-0.449)1’04.273 (-0.245)
8Sebastian VettelAston Martin1’04.8461’04.493 (-0.353)1’04.570 (+0.077)
9George RussellWilliams1’04.9071’04.553 (-0.354)1’04.591 (+0.038)
10Lance StrollAston Martin1’04.9271’04.547 (-0.380)1’04.618 (+0.071)
11Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’04.5961’04.559 (-0.037)
12Charles LeclercFerrari1’04.9061’04.600 (-0.306)
13Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1’04.9771’04.719 (-0.258)
14Fernando AlonsoAlpine1’04.4721’04.856 (+0.384)
15Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’04.7821’05.083 (+0.301)
16Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’05.009
17Esteban OconAlpine1’05.051
18Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’05.195
19Mick SchumacherHaas1’05.427
20Nikita MazepinHaas1’05.951

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Max Verstappen16.203 (3)28.250 (3)19.237 (1)
Lando Norris28.382 (20)19.275 (1)
Sergio Perez16.144 (1)28.401 (5)19.404 (7)
Lewis Hamilton16.319 (8)28.320 (4)19.354 (3)
Valtteri Bottas16.351 (9)28.243 (2)19.425 (9)
Pierre Gasly16.191 (2)28.543 (7)19.373 (5)
Yuki Tsunoda16.294 (4)28.552 (8)19.399 (6)
Sebastian Vettel16.316 (7)28.580 (9)19.550 (15)
George Russell16.310 (6)28.759 (14)19.348 (2)
Lance Stroll16.398 (14)28.588 (10)19.432 (10)
Carlos Sainz Jnr16.453 (15)28.588 (10)19.362 (4)
Charles Leclerc16.373 (11)28.665 (12)19.476 (11)
Daniel Ricciardo16.393 (13)28.743 (13)19.493 (13)
Fernando Alonso16.296 (5)28.475 (6)19.514 (14)
Antonio Giovinazzi16.387 (12)28.780 (15)19.413 (8)
Kimi Raikkonen16.370 (10)28.852 (17)19.584 (16)
Esteban Ocon16.613 (18)28.796 (16)19.642 (17)
Nicholas Latifi16.492 (16)29.124 (19)19.490 (12)
Mick Schumacher16.497 (17)29.087 (18)19.746 (18)
Nikita Mazepin16.759 (19)29.316 (20)19.876 (19)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari320.5 (199.1)
2Sergio PerezRed BullHonda318.9 (198.2)-1.6
3Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMercedes318.7 (198.0)-1.8
4Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda318.5 (197.9)-2.0
5Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedes318.0 (197.6)-2.5
6Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari317.8 (197.5)-2.7
7George RussellWilliamsMercedes317.5 (197.3)-3.0
8Lance StrollAston MartinMercedes316.4 (196.6)-4.1
9Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari316.0 (196.4)-4.5
10Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriHonda315.6 (196.1)-4.9
11Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes315.5 (196.0)-5.0
12Max VerstappenRed BullHonda315.5 (196.0)-5.0
13Fernando AlonsoAlpineRenault315.0 (195.7)-5.5
14Sebastian VettelAston MartinMercedes314.8 (195.6)-5.7
15Mick SchumacherHaasFerrari314.3 (195.3)-6.2
16Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrari314.0 (195.1)-6.5
17Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes313.3 (194.7)-7.2
18Nikita MazepinHaasFerrari313.0 (194.5)-7.5
19Esteban OconAlpineRenault311.8 (193.7)-8.7
20Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes311.8 (193.7)-8.7

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Over to you

Will this be Red Bull’s fifth win in a row? Can Norris beat any of the big four cars? And is Russell finally going to score points for Williams?

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

2021 Austrian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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13 comments on “Can Mercedes – or Norris – deny Red Bull a home one-two?”

  1. Just like last weekend Norris will be spanner in works.

    1. Especially with those sector times 🤣

  2. Norris will let the other RBR car and the Mercs through and focus on keeping 5th just like he did last week.

    1. I think probably not. His real championship competitors are starting 11th and 12th. Gasly and Tsunoda are also on soft tyres. So, Norris doesn’t have to worry about wrecking his own race / tyres so much as he did last weekend.

      I hope he tries for a podium as much as possible instead of surrendering the position. Even if he loses time and it doesn’t work out, I am sure he can make a 2nd stop and finish 5th irrespective.

      1. I do not believe he can score a podium unless something untoward happens to the Mercs/RBR, the pace advantage over a race distance is too great. P5, best of the rest, is his highest realistic goal.

  3. If Mercedes don’t get by norris by the first lap drs is on they better go for three stops with at least one car and make at least Perez cover them. What do they have to lose. They will probably lap everyone down to norris and trying to beat RBR on mirroring stints is pointless.

    1. Whatever happens they should split strategies.

      But so should RBR.
      But RBR has a big advantage besides probable track position. They can pit Max early in the 1-stop window and keep the 2-stop option open for him. Perez can go extra long to thwart a Mercedes 1-stop strategy.

  4. Verstappen was quite vocal about it being a bad idea to be first on track for the final run in Q3, but I think he had a much better deal than the Mercedes drivers. All the field went out at once, with Mercedes near the rear. First they slowed down a lot at the start of the lap/while leaving the pits, and even though this was not shown directly on camera, on the minimap you could see cars queuing up at the end of the lap, and even Stroll passed both Mercedes before the final two turns. This can’t have been good for tyre preparation, and we saw Hamilton start his final run with yellow-yellow, and Bottas was yellow in the first sector too.
    And I think the Mercedes drivers starting behind Perez is quite significant.

    1. As it turned out, it was a very successful strategy; he towed Norris past the mercs and improved his chances for the race. The others will likely lose time passing, and even less chance of losing track position at the start.
      Heck, even if he had inadvertently towed Norris to pole, its not likely he’d be struggling to take the place back.

  5. Not on pure pace, but I expected Norris to end up P5 again.

    I don’t expect a massive climb through positions from Ferraris, but possible.

    Perhaps, although difficult on outright speed.

  6. A podium Norris is quite possible. If he is able to preserve his tires he can hold of the both mercs.
    My prediction (apart from rain)
    1VER, 2 PET, 3 NOR, 4 BOT, 5 RUSSELL.

  7. Yes, Lewis can. I expect Lewis to be either 2nd or win. Checo is not there yet

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