Red Bull won back-to-back pole positions for the first time in the same season since 2013 as Max Verstappen defeated Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes to clinch their third pole of the year at home at the Styrian Grand Prix.
Hamilton had no response to Verstappen’s pace throughout qualifying despite three unusual runs on soft tires in Q3 in an unsuccessful attempt to usurp Red Bull. The Briton found himself 0.266 seconds behind on one of the shortest tracks on the calendar.
Mercedes heads into today’s race seeking to avoid a fourth straight loss to Red Bull, with Hamilton 12 points behind Verstappen in its drivers’ championship battle, while Mercedes lag Red Bull by 37 points in the standings builders.
Despite a series of difficult weekends in Monaco, Baku and Paul Ricard, Mercedes has no plans to change its development plans and withdraw resources from its 2022 F1.
Fight on two fronts
Teams face a development headache with F1’s shift to a whole new concept car starting next year, which means resources have to be juggled between this season and 2022.
Most prioritize the F1 rules revolution in 2022 in their quest for a potentially critical head start, but the tight nature of this year’s title fight has created an additional dilemma for Mercedes and Red. Bull.
Although teams have largely postponed their 2020 cars into this season, new floor space rules that were introduced to reduce downforce appear to have hit teams using low-lean cars the hardest – including Mercedes. -.
The changes apparently put Mercedes on their backs early in the campaign after a tough preseason test and helped Red Bull’s high rake concept, helping Milton Keynes’ side have their best F1 start to the season. since 2013.
While Mercedes remains determined to maintain its unbeaten record in the V6 hybrid era, it also does not want to risk falling behind in the new F1 regulatory overhaul, amid fears it will fall behind. It takes years for teams to catch up if they don’t get the right rules.
“We know how the technical guidelines have evolved for 2021,” Wolff said after qualifying. “We were on the recipient’s side. Done.
“We continue to stick to our principle of putting our resource in 2022, with all the consequences that can happen in 2021. But it’s a long game. We don’t look at a single race or a single result, but try to ‘optimize every single year.
Tires and settings give Mercedes headache
Instead of deviating from the way it has allocated resources between this year and next, Mercedes is focusing on optimizing its package which has so far proven to be inconsistent and problematic.
One of the W12’s biggest weaknesses this year has been getting the tires into the optimum operating window, which main rival Red Bull is apparently able to achieve much more easily with its RB16B.
Tires have been a huge performance differentiator this season with fine margins such as surface temperature and track conditions having a major effect on how they function.
Tires and settings are two areas Mercedes is putting a lot of effort into improving in its attempt to unleash more potential, it remains convinced it is hidden in its 2021 F1 challenger.
“We just have to get the most out of our package,” Wolff explained. ” It’s not a secret. There is a trend.
“They [Red Bull] have the fastest package yet and we have to use our tools and our intelligence and our job of tuning the car, the tires. We have to be blameless and I think if we can field these stars we can win the championship.
“And whatever pole position or wins everyone has at this point, we’ve just covered a third of the championship. There’s a long way to go.
“It’s completely open, but from a pure performance standpoint, their package is just plain faster at the moment.”
Mercedes on a journey of “discovery” with his car
The struggles to master the car’s tires and settings have caused Hamilton and Bottas to have a spectacular yo-yo over the past few weeks. Hamilton was behind Bottas in Monaco, while the tables were reversed in Baku.
At Spielberg, Hamilton was more satisfied with his car set-up on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. However, the seven-time world champion remained puzzled as to why his W12 wasn’t feeling so good when it mattered most in qualifying.
“It was a tough session for me,” said Hamilton, who was slower than Bottas in qualifying but will start alongside Verstappen on the front row due to the Finn’s drop from the grid.
“I have generally had a very good weekend so far. Of course, not as fast as Max, but I did a lot of work before the event and the car felt great all day Friday.
“We just reduced it and every change just tries to gain about ten milliseconds or something. And then I got into qualifying and the car didn’t feel as good as it did in final practice. do not fully understand it.
“I wasn’t that quick in qualifying but I’m really happy to be where we are. The next 0.2 seconds is a bit difficult. [Red Bull] have had [strong] straight-line speed here again this weekend, which we are struggling to compete with.
“But I’m really proud of the team to keep pushing hard and not neglecting anything.”
Unlike Hamilton, Bottas struggled more on Friday, before a change to a setup closer to his teammate’s helped Bottas turn the tide in qualifying.
“I think we are finding out a lot about the car now,” he explained.
“We can go in so many different ways with the setup and it’s actually pretty easy to get lost in which direction to go. We keep learning and we keep optimizing.
“We have to keep learning because it is a real uphill battle ahead of us this season.”
What is Red Bull’s approach?
Red Bull takes a different approach from Mercedes, realizing that this season presents its best chance for a world title since 2013.
The quadruple world champion team continue to make developments in their attempt to open up their advantage over Mercedes in both world championships.
Verstappen urged Red Bull to capitalize on finally being able to mount a full assault for the title this year.
“I don’t know how Mercedes divides their operations, but for us we have enough good people who can focus on 2022 and enough people on 2021,” he said. Crash.net in a recent interview.
“So I think we should give it a shot for this year’s championship and I think we will have a very competitive car next year as well.”
Meanwhile, his teammate Sergio Perez praised the ongoing work at the Red Bull factory in Milton Keynes.
“The team is pushing hard,” said the Mexican.
“Everyone at the plant tries to develop the car as best they can, making improvements pretty much every weekend. You can see the results on the right track.