Red Bull Motorsports
For Red Bull Racing Honda, it's four wins in a row. For Max Verstappen, it could so easily have been the same. However, after Sunday's Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring, the team reached a level it hasn't achieved since 2013, the year it last won the Formula One Drivers' Championship. There's two-thirds of the season to come, but as omens go, Verstappen's flawless fourth victory of 2021 was a strong one.
It's been a long time since Red Bull Racing Honda won this many races on the bounce – back to the halcyon days of Sebastian Vettel eight years ago, when the German won the final nine races of that championship-winning season – which was the culmination of four world titles in succession. Verstappen has some way to go to achieve his first one of those, but Sunday was another significant stride in the right direction.
Twenty-two cars started the eighth round of the season at the Red Bull Ring, but make no mistake this was a race between two, with Verstappen and reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton in a class of their own once the lights went out. This was a weekend, however, where Hamilton felt after qualifying that Mercedes just didn't have the pace of Red Bull at its home track. Seventy-one laps on Sunday only served to prove him right.
You never know how it's going to end up, but straight away I felt a good balance in the car
Already, Verstappen has won more races in 2021 than he has in any other of his six previous seasons. While a late-race puncture while he was leading in Azerbaijan earlier this month is still a regret, he takes an 18-point lead over Hamilton into next weekend's race at the same circuit, the Austrian GP. It's the biggest margin the Dutchman has enjoyed over his 127-race career.
With Verstappen and Hamilton in their own stratosphere up front, the race for third place became one of a battle between their respective team-mates, Sergio Pérez and Valtteri Bottas. Pérez held the high ground early, but a delayed first pit stop for a stubborn left-rear tyre saw the Finn vault past the Mexican to claim the final podium place on offer.
The rest? Lando Norris of McLaren was fifth, yet was lapped by the rampant race-winner.
Here's how the second race in F1's first triple-header of the season shook out at the Red Bull Ring.
Max makes it look simple
When asked by former Red Bull racer turned TV pundit Mark Webber whether his run around the 'Ring was perhaps his easiest Grand Prix victory, Verstappen didn't bite – but he didn't exactly disagree with the Australian either. You could see why.
All weekend, Verstappen looked the man to beat. He took his second consecutive pole position by setting two laps in qualifying faster than anyone else could manage and once he got to the first corner in first place, the race was his to lose.
The margin of victory – 35.7s – was inflated after Hamilton pitted for fresh tyres to try to steal a point for the fastest lap of the race on the last lap (which he did), but when you consider Hamilton won at the same track by over 14s just 12 months ago, it was a significant result.
"You never know how it's going to end up, but straight away I felt a good balance in the car," Verstappen said of his 14th F1 victory. "It was good to manage the tyres basically from the start. I felt I had tyres left at the end.
"We just kept on going, trying to hit our lap times and it worked really well today. We'll have a look at what we can do better, but it's looking really good, we just have to keep on going."
Darkening clouds at the top of the circuit at Turn 3 would have raised Verstappen's heart rate in the closing stages, but they were never a threat to him adding a third win at the circuit to go with his 2018 and 2019 victories.
After he fell further behind in the title chase, Hamilton was humbled by the gap to the front. "I try not concern myself with it, but they're just faster," he admitted after Mercedes went four races without a win for the first time since 2014. "There's not a lot I can do in that respect, I just have to keep doing my best job each weekend. We need to find some performance from somewhere."
So close, yet so far for Checo
Under no pressure from behind and with a set of fresh tyres at his disposal, Pérez pitted with 17 laps to go in an attempt to overhaul a 19-second gap to Bottas and steal the last podium spot; he drew up behind the Mercedes' rear wing in the final two corners, but just ran out of time.
He [Pérez] drove the wheels off the car today and it was a shame the pit stop didn't go better for him
"The only hiccup we had in that race was the pit stop for Checo, other than that it was an immaculate performance," team principal Christian Horner said. "He drove the wheels off the car today and it was a shame the pit stop didn't go better for him, because he would have maintained the track position pretty easily. But his fightback was impressive – it was just a second or two on that left rear."
A 37-point haul for Red Bull extended the team's lead in the Constructors' Championship by an extra three points over Mercedes, the margin at the front now standing at 40 points.
Tsunoda steady, Gasly sidelined
Yuki Tsunoda kept Scuderia AlphaTauri in fifth place in the constructors' standings with a well-taken point for 10th, after a promising qualifying display went awry: the Japanese rookie was eighth on Saturday, but received a three-place grid penalty for inadvertently impeding Bottas when the Mercedes driver was on a quick lap in Q3.
The point was Tsunoda's third top-10 result of the year, but more encouragingly, his second points finish in the past three races.
On the other side of the AlphaTauri garage, Pierre Gasly's race unravelled before it really got started. The Frenchman was a superb sixth on the grid on Saturday, his seventh time on the first three rows of the grid in nine races, but had his left-rear tyre clipped by the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc on the manic run-up to Turn 3 on the first lap. The resultant puncture and damage done to his rear wing saw him have to retire without even completing a lap.
Ferrari's recovery mission
Things looked bleak for Ferrari after lap one, with Leclerc in the pits to fix accident damage and his team-mate Carlos Sainz mired in 13th off the start. However, Leclerc showed ferocious pace when he returned to the track and a steady one-stop strategy for Sainz saw Ferrari finish sixth (Sainz) and seventh (Leclerc) respectively, the latter's recovery mission earning him Driver of the Day status from the fans.
Elsewhere, George Russell looked set for a maiden points finish in his third year at Williams after qualifying 11th and running inside the top 10 for the opening stint of the race, but mechanical gremlins halted his charge on Lap 38 – he and Gasly were the only two drivers not to see the chequered flag.
Play it again, Max?
Same track, same race distance, same number of laps, but with a different name; the third race in as many weekends comes on July 4 for the Austrian Grand Prix, which gives Verstappen another chance to tick off a milestone. No driver has ever won back-to-back races at the same circuit in the same season, but after the Styrian GP, you'd be brave to bet against him in his current form. In eight races this season, he's finished first four times and second on three occasions.