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F1 Styrian Grand Prix: Verstappen the flag-to-flag race winner; Hamilton a distant second

Spielberg, Austria, June 27/21 (GRW): If it keep going like this, Max Verstappen will be a shoo-in for 2021 champion. Here at the Red Bull Ring he started from the pole and he led every lap on his way to a 36-second margin of victory over his rival Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen has now won five of the first nine Grands Prix this year and by the pace he showed here today, he looks unbeatable. It seems like the best his Mercedes opponents can hope for is rain here as an equalizer next week at the Austrian GP at the same track.

After this race, Verstappen leads the drivers’ points standings by 18 points over Hamilton (156 to 138 points) while Red Bull has a 40 points margin over Mercedes in the manufacturers’ standings (252 to 212 points.)

In qualifying, Verstappen outpaced Hamilton by a margin of nearly a quarter of a second – and in the race, Verstappen maintained that advantage. Late in the race, Hamilton was 15 seconds down before he made a second pit stop for soft tires to go for the fastest lap. He made the fastest lap but this pit stop was a concession of defeat this day – and it saw him scored some 36 seconds behind his rival at the finish.

Behind these two, Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Perez had started third while Bottas, who had qualified second fastest, had been penalized five grid positions as punishment for spinning in pit lane on Friday. In the race, Bottas was able to catch up to Perez and pass him for second place. Late in the race Perez made a strong run to catch back up to Bottas a regain his podium standing but, he just failed, finishing in fourth half a second behind Bottas.

Behind these four the finishing order was Lando Norris (McLaren), Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) , Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and Lance Stroll (Aston Martin).

In truth, this race at the front was somewhat processional. Once Verstappen had completed the first couple of laps, he already had a two-second margin over Hamilton, who had started alongside thanks to Bottas penalty. And after that, Verstappen gave a demonstration of his dominance over Hamilton for the rest of the race. About the only suspense that the broadcasters could muster up was to show us a few shots of dark cloud and speculate that, if it rained late in the race, the situation might change. The rain held off until the post-race ceremonies.

[My wife’s contribution to this story was, “The only thing interesting was that Leclerc managed to get himself up to seventh at the end.” Leclerc had qualified in seventh place but he fell back towards the tail of the field at the start and he spent the rest of the race fighting his way back up towards the front again.]

For my part my vote goes for Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri) who started in sixth place but got into trouble at the start, colliding with about four cars on the first lap and retiring.
After the race Verstappen said, “It is of course a great result to take the Team’s first pole position at our home track and I feel very good about that. We made a big step forward in qualifying this year and although the car has been competitive and pretty easy to set-up all weekend we still made some good changes for qualifying. From my side, the first lap in Q3 felt pretty good. Around here you don’t have many corners but it is actually quite hard to nail the lap because of the braking up to Turn 3 and 4 where it is easy to lose a tenth if you make a tiny mistake.

“When I started driving in F1 this was always one of the tracks that I felt good at and as there aren’t many corners the driver can make a big difference, which I like. Some tracks are pretty straight forward on how you take corners but here there are a few options for that which makes it more enjoyable. I expect it will be super tight again tomorrow. We know Mercedes have a strong race car and they are pretty good on the tires so it will be very close, which I think is also good for the fans and the way everyone likes it.”

As for Hamilton, he rationalized their results this way, “Today was a bit of a lonely race for me - I was trying to keep up with the Red Bull but with the speed they have, they have obviously made some big improvements over the last couple of races and it was impossible to keep up. I don’t know where we are losing all the time, I think their long runs seem to be a bit better, plus on the straight it feels like we lose a lot. It’s a serious challenge, we need to figure out what we can do to elevate the package and give us more performance but it was a really good result to get second and third.”

The next Grand Prix will be held here at the same venue next Sunday, July 4th.

• Click HERE for the Race Results + Points

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