Red Bull once again came out on top in their battle with Mercedes as Christian Horner’s team recorded their fourth win in a row at Sunday’s Styrian Grand Prix.
The Dutchman’s third victory in four races ensures he now leads Lewis Hamilton by 18 points in the World Championship, following another strong showing in Spielberg.
In terms of the championship battle, Red Bull have stepped up in 2021 to provide the biggest threat to Mercedes’ domination in recent years but that’s not all we found out at the Red Bull Ring, as Sportsmail looks at the things we learned from the Styrian Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen (centre-front) celebrates winning the Styrian Grand Prix for Red Bull o
Mercedes under most pressure for eight years
Mercedes have been utterly dominant since the start of 2014 when a new range of regulations opened up the hybrid era of engines and allowed them to blow away the opposition.
Little has changed since with the team having won the drivers’ and constructors’ championships every year since in a period of domination not seen before in the sport over a span of seven seasons.
But for the first time since 2014, they look to be seriously on the back foot. While Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel offered some resistance in 2017 and 2018, it is nothing like the threat now being shown by Red Bull.
Lewis Hamilton admitted after the Styrian Grand Prix that he and the Mercedes team ‘had no answer’ to the relentless pace of Max Verstappen and Red Bull who even on a short track had an advantage of around a quarter-of-a-second per lap.
Having now not won the last four races, this is Mercedes’ worst run of form since the end of 2013 when Red Bull and Vettel won the final nine races of the season just before Mercedes’ rise.
Verstappen triumphed over Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton (left) and Valtteri Bottas on Sunday
Red Bull by contrast are on their best run since then and given Mercedes are focusing their efforts more on 2022 than developing the 2021 car, they face a serious fight to claw back some pace.
Verstappen and Hamilton are in a league of their own
While Verstappen’s class is being demonstrated by his world championship lead of 18 points and three wins from his last four races, it’s not quite being recognised that Hamilton too is driving as good as he has ever done.
Hamilton has been put into the shade in the early stages of the season by the Dutchman but that is more down to the gains from Red Bull combined with the loss of performance at Mercedes.
The Styrian Grand Prix though is showing just how far in front the duo are from their competition.
Their team-mates in Sergio Perez for Red Bull and Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes were nowhere near the front runners in Spielberg, and that’s even taking into account the time lost by the duo in the first few laps where they were stuck behind McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Verstappen and Hamilton continue to prove themselves in a class of their own on the grid
Hamilton for instance was so far in front of Bottas, he could afford to take a pit-stop, stick on new tyres for a fastest lap attempt and still finish the race over 11 seconds in front of the Finn.
Verstappen even lapped every single car up until the fourth placed Perez who was 47 seconds down on his team-mate come the chequered flag.
Neither Bottas nor Perez are bad drivers, but it’s quite clear that Verstappen and Hamilton are setting a very high bar to reach in Formula One right now.
Alonso skill not limited by age
There were moments earlier in the season where it looked like Fernando Alonso’s comeback had seen age catch up with the two-time world champion.
His team-mate Esteban Ocon was showing more pace in qualifying as well as the race, and after Monaco he had been thrashed in consecutive races by the Frenchman including at his home track in Spain.
But since Monte Carlo, the 39-year-old has dragged his Alpine car to three consecutive points finishes while the talented but struggling Ocon in the sister car can has not bettered a 14th place.
Alonso believes Alpine are now running at their full potential in the midfield.
Fernando Alonso is now starting to find his best form at Alpine after some strong displays
He said: ‘We’ve had similar performances at a few circuits now on both Saturday and Sunday, so I think we can be a bit more relaxed that this is our real position and not the one we showed in Monaco.’
While Alonso is again running around anonymously in the midfield, it’s clear his skills at hustling the maximum out of a car have not deserted him following his two years away from Formula One.
If Alpine can now produce a car capable of reaching the podium like they did in their previous guise of Renault last year, then Alonso for sure is still good enough to deliver one.
Pressure mounts on Bottas
On results alone, this was not a bad weekend for Valtteri Bottas. Starting fifth and finishing third was about as good as it could have got for the Finn, especially as he joined team-mate Hamilton on the podium behind race winner Verstappen.
But his weekend started with an embarrassing spin while trying to exit his pit garage in practice, resulting in a three-place grid penalty on safety grounds after coming into close contact with McLaren team members.
While he did well to then out-qualify Hamilton to officially line up second before his demotion, his race pace will be of concern to Mercedes.
Although he finished third, much of this was due to being fortunate that Red Bull botched their pit-stop for Perez who was much quicker around the Red Bull Ring.
Bottas recorded a respectable third at the Red Bull Ring but endured a clumsy weekend overall
With Hamilton in a huge battle with Verstappen up front, Mercedes need their No 2 driver more than ever to provide support and he is struggling to show it.
Even in the world championship standings he trails Lando Norris by 12 points who is driving a far inferior McLaren.
Mercedes were happy to welcome Bottas onboard in 2017 to partner Hamilton after the bitterness of the infamous team rivalry between the Brit and Nico Rosberg but now a stronger No 2 showing may be needed to stand up to the Red Bull threat.
Russell weekend not pointless
And just as Bottas was having one of his weaker weekends, George Russell was keen to send a reminder to Mercedes that they have a promising replacement on their books.
Granted, it was another miserable end to the race for Russell and Williams after mechanical issues forced the British driver to retire 36 laps into the race.
It means backmarkers Williams have now gone 35 races without scoring a single point, a run that stretches back to the 2019 German Grand Prix when Robert Kubica took one point for 10th place in a chaotic rain hit event at Hockenheim.
Despite being forced to retire, George Russell (left) impressed once more for Williams
But Russell’s drive beforehand would not have gone unnoticed by parent employers Mercedes, especially in contrast to Bottas’s.
Russell started from tenth and was running a comfortable eighth and even putting pressure on Alonso until reliability problems hit around the time of the first pit-stops before forcing a retirement.
One of Williams’ best chance of ending their pointless run had gone up in smoke but Russell had impressed once again behind the wheel as he seeks a drive with the Mercedes team in the near future.
Leclerc can’t keep relying on talent to hide errors
Charles Leclerc was the official driver of the day for the Styrian Grand Prix, after battling back from a first lap disaster where he had to change his front wing following damage sustained at the start of the race.
With a series of well crafted overtakes, he eventually recovered to finish seventh for Ferrari behind team-mate Carlos Sainz, and he himself admitted it was one of his ‘best drives’ in a Ferrari to date.
But it cannot be ignored that his first lap follies were entirely of his own making. He twice collided with Pierre Gasly, with the second of those seeing his front wing damaged and giving the AlphaTauri driver a rear left puncture.
Charles Leclerc was forced to pit on the first lap for a new front wing but recovered to seventh
Even on his drive through the field he wasn’t totally clean, with a pass on Kimi Raikkkonen seeing him cut across the Alfa Romeo star and being fortunate not to pick up a rear puncture of his own following slight contact.
There is no doubt that Leclerc has the ability to become a major force in Formula One but he is still showing quite a few errors in his racecraft in what is now his fourth season in the sport.
Norris is emerging as an elite driver
Sunday afternoons are getting a little bit lonely for Lando Norris at McLaren. While he has not got the machinery to take the fight to Mercedes and Red Bull, he seems to have the jump on everyone else.
The Styrian Grand Prix was no different. Having started from an impressive third, he held off Perez and Bottas in the early stages before allowing both to pass in a bid not to harm the race objective of beating Ferrari on his way to fifth by having to defend and lose time.
Norris did that with relative ease and eight races into the season, he finds himself fourth in the world championship standings in a car that in theory should be fifth at best.
To underline just how much speed he is getting out of the McLaren, his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo is struggling desperately to match his pace – and in Austria had little explanation as to why he could only finish 13th following a poor weekend.
Lando Norris continues to prove himself as best of the rest outside of Red Bull and Mercedes
Norris said of his fifth place finish: ‘A good race, quite straightforward – there wasn’t too much going on from my side, but that was also a good thing.
‘We weren’t under too much pressure from the cars behind, and the cars in front of us were too far ahead, which we expected. We can be happy – P5 is still a very good result for us. Hopefully, we can come back and do the same again next week.’
Ricciardo himself has impressed with every team he has driven for and while he is struggling with the McLaren car it cannot be ignored just how strong Norris’s performances are, and that they could be the making of a future star of the sport.
Stroll is taking the fight back to Vettel at Aston Martin
One of the more intriguing battles in the first half of the season has come at Aston Martin where four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel has come in to partner Lance Stroll.
Stroll takes criticism for only being in the team due to the operation being owned by his billionaire father Lawrence, but his F1 career to date has shown signs that he has the talent necessary to earn his place on the grid.
Lance Stroll (front) produced a strong drive for Aston Martin to finish eighth in Austria
A head-to-head duel with a former champion is the ultimate test of his ability and having started the season on top, had fell away in Monaco, Azerbaijan and France when Vettel’s season came alive with his first points of the campaign.
But just as it looked like the German was starting to flex his muscles in the team, Stroll hit back rather unexpectedly in Austria with a strong drive to eighth while Vettel was a distant 12th.
Vettel’s podium in Baku ensures he has a healthy 30-14 points lead over the Canadian, but the fight has been much closer with little to choose between them on performance and it’s reflecting well on Stroll.