Will Red Bull’s straight-line superiority deliver a home double? Five Styrian GP talking points

2021 Styrian Grand Prix

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Red Bull’s superior straight-line speed helped Max Verstappen score his third win of the season, and could help the Austrian-owned them do the double on home ground starting this weekend.

Here are the talking points for the first of two consecutive races at the Red Bull Ring – the Styrian Grand Prix.

Can Mercedes out-manoeuvre Red Bull?

After three consecutive Red Bull victories in Monaco, Azerbaijan and now the French Grand Prix, it’s no longer purely Brackley hyperbole to say the RB16B is the car to beat in F1. Mercedes’ latest defeat left them stunned, but one shortcoming they can identify is a straight-line speed deficit to the Honda-powered Red Bull car.

Following the introduction of tough new tests to bar the ‘flexi-wings’ seen at previous rounds, Red Bull opted to use a trimmed-out set-up in France. The three lengthy straights at the Red Bull Ring offer the chance to reap the same advantage again. Mercedes chose not to strip downforce from their car last time out, but they may have no option this weekend.

Ferrari’s battle to be top of midfield

The French GP was an ordeal for Ferrari
Ferrari’s pace at Monaco and Baku did not necessarily show where the team really is in the pecking order, as they were keen to point out at the time. Back-to-back pole positions were never likely to continue after F1 left the street circuits – but just how far the team fell at Paul Ricard, both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr finishing outside the points, was dramatic.

By comparison, McLaren – who had seemed to struggle during Friday’s sessions and even during qualifying – were able to confidently claim ‘best of the rest’ in the race, with a fifth and sixth place finish.

Guillaume Dezoteux, AlphaTauri’s head of vehicle performance admitted he was “surprised” by the development. “Ferrari looked strong on Friday, especially on the long run pace,” he said. “They [also] looked pretty strong in quali – OK, Carlos was faster than us, but Leclerc was slower. So we felt in the short run we were a very similar pace. But in the long run we thought they would go faster than that.

“And the McLaren is the opposite. Actually, we were slightly faster than them in the short run and we were expecting a bit less from them in the long run. I think what we’ve seen is a ranking of how good people have been at managing the tyres and how severe the cars are on the tyres, because obviously you have limited possibilities in adapting just for the race, your tyre management strategies. So McLaren have done a better job, as simple as that.”

Will we see the same again this weekend? Before the last race Ferrari believed the cooler temperatures would benefit their car. That did not play out, which bodes poorly for their chances; the Styrian Grand Prix is predicted to be overcast, and Pirelli are bringing the same tyre selection as at Paul Ricard, without the softest C5 compound that Ferrari found their advantage on.

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Kerb damage

Red Bull Ring, 2020
The Red Bull Ring also has some punishing kerbs
Following Friday’s practice sessions at the French Grand Prix, both Mercedes and Red Bull raised concerns over the severity of the kerbs beyond the track limits at turn two. After examining the kerbs, however, race director Michael Masi left them in place.

He explained the reasons for his decision after the grand prix, pointing out the kerbs had been exactly the same in 2019 when F1 last raced at Paul Ricard.

“They were over two metres from the edge of the track,” Masi added, “so you had to be completely off the track to actually come in contact with them.

“And probably most importantly, yes, they were reviewed on Friday night, so following the discussion at the drivers meeting, I could physically go down to turn two and have a look at everything [and] I did satisfy myself that everything was quite correct.”

Masi stood firm behind the need to impose physical track limits at the boundary of the circuit. “As we’ve heard on a number of occasions, particularly this year, both from team principals and drivers, they want physical limits and there was very clearly a physical limit.”

The Red Bull Ring has more aggressive kerbing, which could renew the teams’ love-hate affair with hard track limits. Don’t expect there to be compromise from race control, however, as Masi noted “there were no issues at all” during Sunday’s race.

Williams off the back foot

George Russell, Williams, Paul Ricard, 2021
Things are looking up at Williams
Williams had what George Russell called “our best race we’ve ever had together” at Paul Ricard, finishing 12th and ahead of a Ferrari, an Alpine and an AlphaTauri.

The team’s struggle over several seasons has been clearly documented, and they are still looking for their first point since 2019. But Russell said that their French Grand Prix performance wasn’t down to luck.

“We were there on merit, the car was good, we made that strategy work, really well managed,” he said. His 12th place finish also helped Williams reclaim ninth in the constructors’ championship from Haas, after a few races where attrition had caused 2021’s slowest team to technically finish ahead.

If the Styrian Grand Prix proves complicated for tyre management, as at the French Grand Prix, Williams may finally have a chance to end their points drought.

Team mate collisions

The Haas pair need to keep it clean
At last year’s season opening race in Austria Ferrari team mates Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel made contact. A few other teams have had near-misses with their drivers in recent races.

McLaren’s Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo have, for the most part, played relatively nicely with each other since becoming team mates, including Ricciardo letting Norris pass him at Imola. However, the gloves seemed at risk of coming off at the French Grand Prix when Ricciardo forced Norris wide to overtake him, something the younger driver wasn’t impressed by.

Much more dramatically, the team mate situation between Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher seems to be deteriorating. Following an alarming near-miss between the pair in Baku, they once again ended up fighting at the French Grand Prix with Schumacher no more complimentary about his team mate’s actions than he had been at the previous round.

Haas team principal Günther Steiner indicated his patience with such antics is starting to wear thin. “At the moment, where we are as a team, with the car we have got, the only opponent they can fight with is their team mate,” he began, adding: “The rule of engagement is: don’t do this stuff. There is no other rule.”

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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21 comments on “Will Red Bull’s straight-line superiority deliver a home double? Five Styrian GP talking points”

  1. – Maybe Mercedes can, maybe not.
    – I expect the same for Ferrari, although not necessarily degradation level like last time out, but a similar pace for this season’s usual pecking order.
    – I don’t anticipate curb issues any more than in the recent past.
    – Once again, on outright pace, I don’t think points are on offer for Williams.
    – No teammate battle issues either.

    1. Mercedes can opt for low drag setting to increase their topspeed but it depends if their rears are going to suffer if they do that.

    2. I actually think that we might see more of those moments between Mazepin and Schumacher @jerejj. But I don’t really expect the McLaren guys to tangle either, and unless Kimi hits Giovanazzi in the back again (remember taht one!) the rest of the field seem decently behaved as well.

      As @macleod mentions, with the track characteristics in Austria, there really is not much reason for Mercedes NOT to go for a lower downforce setup, which should even out the straight line speed, but depending on the temperatures we might see them struggle to get temperature into the tyres.

  2. RandomMallard (@)
    24th June 2021, 8:23

    It all depends on the weather at the moment. Some sources are predicting 5 days of heavy rain/storms from today to Monday, so that may have an effect. As last year’s Styria Qualifying proved, when it rains it rains hard in those parts, so the ‘normal’ pecking order could go out the window entirely. Not saying that Aston Martin will get a 1-3 in Quali again, but I’m also not ruling it out.

  3. It’s so close between teams at the moment (top 2 and then the next 5 or 6 teams) with different conditions favouring certain teams over others that it’s difficult to nail down a definitive pecking order – and that’s great! Ferrari were looking surprisingly strong, until moving onto non-street circuits. Ricciardo is hopefully able to get more out of the McLaren now, who knows what the Alpine can do? And the Alpha Ts are seriously good racing cars, Tsunoda needs to stop binning it and use that natural speed in a mistake-free race. I had written off Aston Martin but they seem like a wildcard team – results such as 5&6th or 12&13th would not surprise me!

    Max and Lewis will no doubt trade knock-out blows (not literally, hopefully) and then *IF* it slings it down on Sunday – we could be in for a crazy podium.

    It’s just great to have a season where you can’t accurately predict the final fishing positions before FP1 has even started!

    1. *Clearly I meant “finishing”, and not “fishing” positions.


  4. Well Wolff has been saying long and load for a long time now, but it looks like Merc really are the underdogs in the fight for the championship.

    1. Even a broken clock has its moments…twice a day

    2. Absolutely disagree, race pace is what matters the most when you have drs, you can pass in any race now since singapore is cancelled and monaco is gone.

  5. I think that it is nonsense that red bull has a straight line advantage!
    If they had the same amount of downforce and wing Mercedes would win this dragrace.
    But at the France gp they opted voor lower downforce and thus higher topspeed!

    1. At the same wing level they would probably be identical in top speed.

      But the RB has more inherent downforce, meaning they can run less wing and keep pace in the corners.

      So yeh they do have straightline performance in hand over Mercedes. Merc cant run wing that low and keep up in the twisties at the same time, RB can do both.

  6. That could well be but then it is a chassis advantage? And not due to the engine.

  7. Russell been faster than Hamilton at all 4 speed traps during french gp qualifying. Hopefully Williams straight-line superiority over Merc will bring us some joy soon.

  8. At this stage of the season I don’t think we can convincingly say the RB16B is the car to beat. After Max seemingly threw away the French GP at turn one lap one, Mercedes did in fact throw it away by horribly miscalculating the power of the undercut. Had Mercedes gotten their math right, Hamilton may have won the race. I think that all we can say at this point is that both teams have a car capable of winning and the smallest mistake can cost a team/driver victory.

  9. Yes, Mercedes is still sandbagging.

  10. I recall Red Bull Ring track was a curse to Mercedes, remembered both Hamilton and Bottas cars went faulty while some places behind the… Red Bull or Ferrari.

    1. No, that’s 2018 and they were in front of ferrari, until bottas had a hydraulic failiure, they forgot to pit hamilton during the vsc, so he came out 4th and then lost position on vettel too, until he had a fuel pump failure, the downright underperforming weekend for mercedes was 2019, where they were simply the 3rd fastest car, ferrari 2nd, red bull 1st, verstappen almost threw away the win with a horrible start but recovered and re-passed everyone, including leclerc 2-3 laps to go.

      1. Thanks for correction, ya seems like this track is more easier for Red Bull to extract performance from their package than Mercedes does, just checked and saw Bottas won last year. However, it seems Hamilton often struggles on this track.

  11. AMG-Mercedes took wins at Bahrain and Spain that probably should have gone to RBR. LH is getting everything out of the car but it looks to be more of a handful than before. It looks like RBR is a better overall package, even on the high-speed circuits that Merc used to dominate. Could be a season-long fight but I think RBR has a slight advantage now. They also have a better driver pairing which will help in the Constructor’s race.

    1. Bahrain I can agree, verstappen could’ve easily won that race just by not leaving the track in that overtake, but there wasn’t much between the cars, I’d call them even in bahrain in race pace, while spain it looked really hard, mercedes had the upper hand in the race, hamilton, just like in france, could follow verstappen very closely and would’ve overtaken if verstappen hadn’t dived into the pits, they definitely could’ve attempted something such as a pit stop at 13 laps to go when they saw hamilton was closing in too fast.

      In general in non-street tracks red bull has the upper hand in qualifying and mercedes in the race, and the latter is more important.

  12. RBR has inherently more downforce than MB due to the high forward rake that presses the whole car downward irrespective of the rear wing.

    In my opinion, the Honda engine had to do a lot more power than MB because of the added drag the high rake

    Additionally, the rear RBR suspension has a very low roll center (below track surface and the extra roll this generates invcreased downforce in the corners.

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