Typical, you wait months for an F1 race to come along and then we get two at the same circuit within days of each other…

Yes, this is F1’s ‘Groundhog Day’ as the Austrian Grand Prix is followed by the Styrian Grand Prix straight away for teams to either repeat the successes of ‘Part 1’ or make amends for last week’s troubles.

Who needs to bounce right back?

Ferrari and Red Bull, albeit for different reasons.

Indeed, Ferrari ‘saved’ a great result last weekend with Charles Leclerc showing all the traits of being the skilled driver that he is by ultra-maximising the result available to him even if those abilities arguably flattered the car he was driving.

An aggressively frantic final few laps aside though, Ferrari were largely nowhere all weekend, even slipping down the pecking order as the weekend progressed as Racing Point and McLaren rose to the fore. While drivers were keen to point out the SF1000 is ‘draggy’ to explain its performance deficit, one can see that it, Alfa Romeo and Haas are all losing something significant in a straight line.

Indeed, the more cynical among us can’t help but feel the ‘draggy’ explanation is disguising a fundamental engine issue that can seemingly be traced back to the fuel flow irregularity Ferrari and the FIA have gone to some lengths not to disclose. Let’s just say Ferrari and its partners are keen to deflect the question each time it arises…

If the issue is indeed an aerodynamic one then these so-called updates should reveal more in the coming races, with Ferrari bringing some new parts early to this weekend’s race. However, its eagerness to stress they won’t be the ‘silver bullet’ to make them competitive means we can’t help but feel there is something more serious at play. This short season could feel like a very long one for Ferrari…

Red Bull on the other hand had pace but showed it sporadically before being undone by two separate electric problems, even if Alex Albon’s hopes of a podium were dashed by the late clash with Lewis Hamilton that was we’d say 40/60 on the respective blame scale.

Even so, it was arguably closer to the chasing pack than it was to Mercedes and while Red Bull are experts sniffing out victory at the merest hint of opportunity, it will need a re-think to challenge on pace alone.

Will Mercedes be kerbed again?

If Mercedes can’t be beaten on pace alone by its rivals, then sometimes it takes extraneous (sometimes bizarre) factors to defeat them. In this case, the kerbs at the Red Bull Ring.

For all of Mercedes’ exceptional engineering prowess, it’s interesting that it was the tooth-edged rumble strips that caused them the biggest issues this weekend. Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were told to drive around the kerbs repeatedly on Sunday, which isn’t easy given how crucial they are to a fast lap time around such a short layout.

But is it the task of the team to manage those problems, or for F1 to ensure they don’t create them? Indeed, while teams and drivers admit the kerbs are rough in Austria, only Mercedes was shaking itself into a jive on Sunday and on a calendar filled with run off areas and turns that don’t punish mistakes enough arguably, it created an interesting alternative dynamic to keep things interesting.

Speaking of which, anyone else enjoy watching drivers rattle their way through the increasingly rare gravel traps at Turns 4 and 6 rather than simply keeping the foot down over run-off area…?

As for whether we’ll see a repeat, let’s just say if Mercedes can develop a ventilator in less than a week, we’re sure it can remedy a fix to ensure it can rumble with the best of them again this weekend…

What next for Sebastian Vettel?

Of course, the big news coming into this weekend’s Styrian Grand Prix is the announcement Fernando Alonso will grace F1 with his presence in 2021 after sealing a deal with Renault. Expect the line of questioning in Austria this weekend to reflect this…

However, expect the follow up questions to circle back to Sebastian Vettel who has just seen another 2021 F1 door close.

Having confirmed rather flatly that he has been axed by Ferrari – prompting a Mattia Binotto to scramble a slightly unconvincing justification about COVID-19 – Vettel endured a dismal weekend, proving off the pace in qualifying before spinning in the race and making up just one position in the closing laps en route to tenth despite two late safety cars.

His demeanour throughout the weekend was fairly downcast and one can see the relationship between himself and Ferrari is straining to the extent some have pondered whether he could walk before the end of the year.

Either way, for 2021 his options remain fairly bleak with Mercedes unlikely to drop Bottas following his race-winning start to the season, while Red Bull has emphasised again it has no intention to re-sign him.

With Renault and McLaren off the table now, some have mentioned Racing Point-turned-Aston Martin, though it only has one available seat for 2021 and that’s almost certainly Lance Stroll’s. Which leaves the rest of the mid-field with Alfa Romeo and Haas unlikely as Ferrari customers and AlphaTauri, which could maybe allow him to come full circle like Kimi Raikkonen has with Alfa/Sauber.

Maybe one of Williams’ interested parties will be more willing to take it over if it can get Vettel on board…

More likely at the moment seems to be a year out in readiness for a return with the new generation F1 cars in 2022. As Raikkonen and Alonso show, a sabbatical doesn’t necessarily mean a long goodbye but as a driver who enjoys keeping out of the limelight, Vettel has a lot to think about over the next few weeks…



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