The qualifying for the 2021 Austrian GP pretty much panned out the way Red Bull would’ve expected it and how Mercedes would not have. With Max Verstappen back on pole, for the second time in a row at Spielberg (host to both the Styrian GP as well as the Austrian GP), it was time for usual unflappable dominance, as evident in the recent past from the fastest driver at present.
However, where Mercedes were Mercedes were concerned, nothing worked out as well as they’d have liked, with ace driver Lewis Hamilton down in fourth and Bottas back in fifth.
That being said, the single most differentiating factor at the Red Bull ring was the stunning qualifying lap time delivered by Lando Norris in his daunting MCL 35M McLaren. As the young Briton set a blazing 1:03:768, he not only bagged his best-ever qualifying performance starting second, but improved on his qualifying performance last weekend, where he’d qualified fourth on the grid.
Meanwhile, Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull sandwiched the young McLaren driver in being all set to begin the contest from the second row, but importantly with Lewis Hamilton not in front but in his rearview mirrors.
A day that didn’t see anything daunting from the Mercedes, who certainly seemed threatening a day earlier during the free-practice will now see Hamilton and teammate Bottas having to do a lot of work in order to salvage some fight on race-day come Sunday.
That said, Frechman Pierre Gasly, who struggled somewhat in Q1 qualified sixth, a very respectable effort considering he did have an unwanted excursion on the kerbs going wide earlier on during qualifying. But his effort was good enough to beat teammate Yuki Tsunoda, who’s set to begin seventh on the grid, finishing just a tenth behind the famous 2020 Monza winner.
Meanwhile, birthday boy Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin, who turned 34, managed a speedy eighth on the grid, but this was not before seeing a bit of scampering effort in the closing stages of Q2 with Alonso rushing in from behind to set his final flying lap time in his Alpine.
Though the German did well enough to keep the nose of his Aston Martin ahead of George Russell’s Williams.
A qualifying day that was just as important for Norris, proved to be equally impressive for the man fondly nicknamed as “Mr. Saturday,” as Russell, for the first time in his young and blossoming career managed to reach Q3, delivering a belter of a lap at 1:04:591, an effort that ensured that Stroll, in the other Aston Martin, remained on tenth.
But who missed out in Q2?
In what could be called a bit of a disappointing run for both Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc, the Spaniard beating the Monegasque for eleventh saw no red-letter day for either of the Scarlet cars, which was a bit disappointing since Sainz had looked pacy in Q2.
Down in thirteenth was Daniel Riccardo, who endured another disappointing run, vastly behind teammate Norris, who enjoyed such a fantastic afternoon.
But trailing the Honeybadger was Fernando Alonso, whose P14 didn’t exactly do his team or the great driver himself any favour, especially after the experienced Samurai of Formula 1 had looked in visibly faster touch in Q1. But that’s all that Alonso could do, an effort which still kept him ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi, again the faster of the two Swiss-Italian cars.
Familiar disappointments in Q3
Kimi Raikkonen, who bagged a very lowly eighteenth at the very venue last weekend was able to go up to sixteenth but only just having looked in some touch on Friday. The Iceman managing a rather vapid 1:05:009, which was still good enough to beat the time set by Esteban Ocon in the other Alpine machine.
But can Kimi make one of his customary jumps early on in the Grand Prix- we shall have to wait and see.
The final three on the grid were Nicholas Latifi, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, on eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth.
The big, question for the 2021 Austrian GP being whether Max Verstappen can continue his sterling run as evident by Red Bull’s phenomenal speed and consistency?
Should Max win again, he’d prove to be the delight of tens of hundreds of members of the famous Orange Army that have filled the grand stand of one of Formula 1’s most picturesque venues on the calendar.
But for Verstappen to be able to do that, he’d have to contend with the challenge of keeping the ebullient McLaren at bay, which may prove to be a bit exasperating since someone like a Norris fancies a fight every single time a chance comes up his way.
It’s all to play for, at round nine of the 2021 F1 season.