Red Bull and Max Verstappen dominate qualifying at Spielberg for the second consecutive time in two weeks. The Milton Keynes team appeared extremely competitive throughout the weekend, a strength that shines in particular on the serenity with which the work programs were carried out in the different sessions. Armed with the competitive advantage expressed on the same track over the previous weekend, the Red Bull technicians did not fear any need to revolutionize the car or to try alternative routes.
Both RB16Bs competed in free practice sessions without carrying out abnormal work schedules, undergoing minimal set-up corrections and without ever mounting the most exhaust wing available in the pits on board. In fact, the single-seaters maintained the medium-load specification of the Styrian Grand Prix, thus proving to have found the optimal set-up right from the very first laps at the Red Bull Ring, avoiding the team having to make significant changes and instead allowing them to focus on refinement work.
On the contrary, Mercedes tried to mess up the cards in FP1 with Lewis Hamilton, trying unsuccessfully to resort to a more unloaded rear axle, recognizable by the single-pylon supporting the rear wing. Since FP2, however, the Englishman has returned to a heavier rear with double support for the wing, thus denoting how Mercedes have been forced to carry out more experiments than the direct rivals of Red Bull, driven by the wide technical gap that emerged on the Austrian track.
The Silver Arrows did not go beyond the third row of the grid, also making up for a wider gap from pole position compared to the last weekend. Unless there are surprises, Mercedes will have to set up a race aimed at minimizing the loss of points from rivals, as the chances of troubling Verstappen in a race without anomalies are thinned by the interposition of Norris and even more so of Sergio Perez. The outcome of the Grand Prix could overturn the current verdict, but regardless of the final result the picture that emerged at the Red Bull Ring is that of the maximum performance delay of 2021 between the leaders in the standings and the reigning champions, with the exception of the anomalous city circuits.
Ferrari and Mercedes, set-up tests
The hope for Mercedes is that the vast package of updates announced for Silverstone can provide the W12 with the boost it needs to return to Red Bull levels. Another element of hope for the reigning champions is that the Anglo-German car may have been more affected by the rarefaction of the air at 700 meters above sea level at Spielberg, both in terms of aerodynamics and the performance of the power unit, in detail for that which concerns the efficiency of the turbocharger, also considering how competitive the two Honda-powered AlphaTauri were. The exceptional placings of Williams with George Russell and McLaren with Lando Norris, both powered by Mercedes, seem to discredit this possibility.
Daring Norris, Ferrari favors medium tires
McLaren confirms itself as a particularly effective car in qualifying and even faster on the long straights in Styria, although the Red Bull Ring is also a complete and difficult track for the search for balance. Compared to the Styrian Grand Prix, the MCL35M has been equipped with an updated bottom at the front, but it would be reductive to interpret Norris’ placement exclusively in light of this technical innovation. In fact, at the press conference, the British driver underlined how the car is almost identical to the one that took to the track last weekend and that second place on the grid came thanks to a bolder and more aggressive driving style adopted by Norris himself.
Ferrari has adopteda more unloaded set-up than in the previous race, recognizable from the rear spoon wing. After the excellent race pace shown in the Styrian Grand Prix, the Scuderia di Maranello tried a set-up aimed at improving qualifying performance, in an attempt to gain a position on the starting grid closer to Norris’ McLaren. The choice of trying to pass the Q2 cut with the medium compound, contrary to what we did last weekend, prevents us from assessing whether there have been any real improvements on the flying lap, since both Reds were excluded from the Q3. However, it is not the elimination that worries the most, considering that the Aston Martins and AlphaTauri have passed the cut using the soft compound, as much as the position behind the Williams driven by a masterful Russell, which in Q2 was also fitted with medium compounds.
On the eve of the race there are several possible variables, including the potential rain. According to forecasts, there is in fact the possibility of precipitation during the race, although the percentages are somewhat indefinite considering the extreme variability that characterized the Styrian climate for the entire weekend. In case of dry weather, however, the strategy is still uncertain, however much the pilots believe that the double stop is the most probable choice. Much will also depend on temperatures, which should be significantly lower than on Saturday, where the asphalt reached 50 ° C, almost 20 ° C higher than on Friday. The step of softer compounds brought by Pirelli also seems to favor even more the drivers who will start with the medium tire or who will instead be able to evaluate whether to start with the hard, a decision that will certainly be carefully considered at Ferrari, to try to go up the row of cars in front of the two Reds.