Red Bull’s race to lose?

Last weekend’s French Grand Prix sent a clear message to the Formula 1 world that Red Bull and Max Verstappen are favourites for this year’s championships.

The Circuit Paul Ricard has been a Mercedes stronghold with Lewis Hamilton dominating the 2018 and 2019 races from pole position.

Max Verstappen’s pole position on Saturday resulted in a bold statement from team boss Christian Horner: “If we can beat them here, then we can beat them anywhere.”

Red Bull came out on top on race day as Verstappen stormed to his third victory of the season, backed up by Sergio Perez in third which allowed it to extend its advantage in the constructors’ championship to a whopping 37 points. 

It was a landmark day for Red Bull as Mercedes was beaten and outsmarted by a tactic of its own - deployed in the Spanish Grand Prix earlier this year.

Verstappen’s second pit stop caught Mercedes out as Hamilton and Bottas were forced to complete the race on the one-stopper.

While Mercedes arguably had the faster race car, it was outdone by Verstappen’s outstanding undercut at the first stop then outmanoeuvred with a switch to a two-stop, as well as Perez’s impressive long stint allowing him to get amongst the action in the latter stages.

A decisive point from the Paul Ricard weekend was Red Bull’s straight-line speed advantage over Mercedes.

Mercedes was forced to run more downforce to ensure it had enough speed through the final sector, while Red Bull could run less wing while still enjoying enough pace in the corners, as a consequence of its high rake concept and the benefits that brings.

Looking ahead to this weekend in Austria - a venue Mercedes dominated last year - Red Bull’s advantage on the straights could prove decisive. 

“It’s a power-hungry circuit, it’s got those long, long straights, so we could see something similar to this weekend with the straight-line speed of the Red Bull,” Hamilton said after France. 

“But we’ve got three days to try and see if we can make some adjustments and improvements, and maybe if we maximize on absolutely everything then maybe we can give them a run for their money.”

Red Bull is surely the favourite going into its home race...

Spielberg specialists 

Like Sochi, the Red Bull Ring is a track that Valtteri Bottas has flourished at during his time with Mercedes.

Bottas has often had the upper hand over Hamilton, out-qualifying him 3-2 and out-racing him 3-1 - with the pair both retiring from the 2018 race prematurely. 

While the seven-time champion has two wins and several podium finishes at the Red Bull Ring, you can argue it is one of his weaker tracks relative to teammate Bottas. 

Although, rain is on the forecast, which could be good news for Hamilton.

Verstappen has two wins to his name on Red Bull soil, most memorably overtaking Charles Leclerc late on for the win in 2019.

History doesn’t tend to dictate the future but it certainly bodes well for another four-way fight at the front.

More Ferrari suffering? 

Ferrari endured its worst race of the season last time out at Paul Ricard.

Significantly worse tyre wear meant Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc dropped outside of the points-paying positions in France as they finished 11th and 16th.

Team boss Mattia Binotto has already stated that Ferrari cannot solve its current tyre woes nor does it fully understand them. 

The consolation for Ferrari is that its qualifying pace tends to be clear of its midfield rivals and Binotto remains confident the tyre issues it suffered in France won’t necessarily affect them at every race. 

Conversely, McLaren took a significant step forward in the race for third in the constructors’ championship as both Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo finished in the top six last time out.

Opposite to Ferrari in that McLaren struggles more so over one lap while faring much better on race day and its handling of the tyres. 

Norris shone brightly last year in Austria, taking his maiden podium in the first race and a top-five finish in the second Styria round.

It could be more Ferrari suffering this weekend.

Can Ocon deal with the Alonso magic?

After a slow start to his return to F1, Fernando Alonso looks back to his best in the last two rounds.

10th to sixth on the restart at Baku was followed up by another strong drive to eighth at Le Castellet. 

The Spaniard was consistently faster than teammate Esteban Ocon across the last two weekends, a stark contrast to the opening part of the season where the Frenchman out-qualified and out-raced Alonso for four consecutive races.

On the back of a new three-year deal with Alpine, Ocon was expected to go well at his home race at Paul Ricard. 

Anonymous and lacking pace - Ocon was never on it. 

It’s still early days but Alonso will only get comfortable and on top of the 2021 Alpine. 

After a strong start to the season, Ocon will need to bounce back with a strong performance at one of these two Austria rounds.

Rain in the air?

Early forecasts for this weekend’s Styrian Grand Prix suggest all three days will be hit with rain and potential thunderstorms.

Any wet qualifying or race session is usually exciting, offering potential for unpredictability. 

Hamilton’s record in the wet is exemplary, while Verstappen is no slouch in these conditions given that he won at Imola comfortably.

George Russell scored Williams’ best result of the season last time out with 12th.

On merit, Russell beat both Alfas, Yuki Tsunoda and Charles Leclerc. 

As he goes in search of his first points for the Grove-based outfit, changeable conditions might give him the opportunity he needs to get off the mark.

But knowing F1, the rain will pass as we get closer to the race weekend