Here are 10 things we learned from F1's triple-header…

1. Verstappen is the best driver in F1 currently

It’s a bold statement to say that Verstappen is the best driver in Formula 1, but based on what we’ve seen in 2021 so far, it’s a fair assessment. The 23-year-old has been faultless and had it not been for a tyre blowout at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, he would have won the last five consecutive races.

An aggressive two-stop strategy allowed him to take the win at the Circuit Paul Ricard, while two dominant drives at the Red Bull Ring put him well clear of Hamilton in the title race. Right from the start of the weekend, Verstappen is on it - whether that’s FP1, qualifying or race day - he’s been near-perfect.

Even if Mercedes can find gains in performance ahead of the British Grand Prix, the form Verstappen is in, it’s likely it won’t be enough to topple him. 

2. Mercedes has gone backwards

Mercedes could be excused for underperforming in Monaco and Azerbaijan, but its performances since then have been underwhelming. While poor strategic decisions cost it the victory in France, its sheer lack of pace at the Red Bull Ring was a surprise.

Hamilton finished over 35 seconds behind Verstappen at the Styrian Grand Prix, and even without his late pit stop for the fastest lap, the gap would have still been over 15 seconds. The Austrian GP was a similar story, albeit with Valtteri Bottas in second this time around. 

Mercedes is pinning its hopes of a revival on a small upgrade for next weekend’s race at Silverstone. Will it be enough to turn the tide? Time will tell.

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3. Bottas still has a lot to offer

Many people were writing Bottas off after his abysmal weekend in Baku where he finished outside of the top ten on pure pace. As he has done throughout his career with Mercedes, the Finn hit back with three strong performances. 

In France, he was running comfortably behind Verstappen and Hamilton, before being left out on the slower one-stop strategy, allowing Perez to overtake him for third in the closing laps. Back-to-back podiums in Austria got his season back on track. 

He still sits fifth in the drivers’ championship but in 2021, he has scored three more podiums than Perez. Without the Monaco pit stop blunder, he would be third in the championship - realistically given the form of Verstappen and Hamilton, not a lot more can be expected.

While everyone is keen for George Russell to take his drive for 2022, Bottas is doing the job that Mercedes expects of him.

4. Norris is the real deal

The improvement of Lando Norris in 2021 has been remarkable. Admittedly, going into the season I thought Daniel Ricciardo was going to be McLaren’s leading driver this season. 

Norris has finished inside the top five in eight of the opening nine races, leaving him fourth in the drivers’ championship, just four points shy of Perez in third. He narrowly missed out on a maiden pole position at the Austrian GP and was unfortunate not to finish second after he received a penalty for pushing Perez off the track at Turn 4. 

Alongside Verstappen, Norris has been F1’s star performer in 2021. With Ricciardo’s struggles, McLaren will be grateful it has managed to get Norris tied down to a long-term deal as the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull will surely be interested in the years to come.

5. No light at the end of the tunnel for Ricciardo

Ricciardo’s struggles continued in F1’s triple-header as he trailed teammate Norris by a considerable distance. In the grand scheme of things, France was positive for Ricciardo given that he was only 11 seconds behind his teammate at the chequered flag.

This good form didn’t continue into Austria as on both occasions, Ricciardo failed to make Q3 while Norris was in the mix with the Mercedes drivers on both occasions. A loss of power probably cost him points at Styria, and he enjoyed a good recovery to seventh in Austria.

Still, seventh in a car that was able to finish on the podium and get within a couple of seconds of the lead Mercedes isn’t what McLaren or Ricciardo himself would have expected.

“Last week [in Styria] I could’ve been sixth or seventh, so I would say looking at that it would have been some good points,” Ricciardo said after the Austrian GP “After Paul Ricard I was expecting to make more of a step in these two races. It was not really the case so I still have things to learn. Austria’s nice. I enjoy it.”

Ricciardo will be needing a strong final two races before the summer break if he is to save his season somewhat. 

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6. Sainz deserves a lot of credit

Carlos Sainz continues to deliver in scarlet red as he moved to within just two points of teammate Charles Leclerc in the drivers’ championship. During his two years with McLaren, it was hard to truly gauge the level of his performances given that Norris was a newcomer to the sport.

Both Sainz and Norris have shown in 2021 that McLaren’s resurgence in 2019 and 2020 wasn’t entirely down to an improved car, but two immensely talented drivers. Considering how much Ricciardo has struggled and the number of races it took Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso to adapt to their new machinery, Sainz deserves a lot of credit.

While he doesn’t have the outright raw speed of Leclerc, his calm, composed race performances have been impressive. He guarantees big points hauls and is proving to be the perfect signing for Ferrari.

7. Ocon is being ‘Vandoorned’ 

Ocon started the season like a house on fire with four points finishes in the opening five races. Since signing a new long-term deal with Alpine - announced on the eve of the French GP - Ocon has been nowhere in terms of pace. 

It has coincided with Alonso’s upturn in form, with the Spaniard scoring points in the last four consecutive races. It was only a matter of time before Alonso re-adapted to F1 after two seasons away but it doesn’t explain Ocon’s lack of speed since signing his new contract. 

Alonso has often put his teammates to the sword - ask Nelson Piquet Jr., Felipe Massa or Stoffel Vandoorne, who was beaten 21-0 in qualifying back in 2018.

Ocon has to bounce back sooner rather than later.

8. More Vettel magic needed

After impressive back-to-back performances at Monte Carlo and then Baku, the Vettel ‘of old’ looked to have returned. Fifth in Monaco followed by a return to the podium in Azerbaijan was a fine return for the four-time champion. 

Besides those two races, Vettel hasn’t got much to show for his efforts since moving to Aston Martin. Granted, the car isn’t as competitive as expected but Lance Stroll demonstrated impressive pace at Styria to come away with a few points. 

Vettel is one of the sport’s most successful drivers, a glittering career where he has won it all. Beating Stroll for 50 percent of the season isn’t enough nor what you’d expect from a driver of Vettel’s calibre.

Harsh? Perhaps, but Aston Martin will be hoping for more from their big signing.

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9. Russell shows why he’s worthy of Mercedes

Russell continued to show why he's worthy of a Mercedes seat in 2022 across F1's triple-header. Not only has he progressed into at least Q2 at every race this year, but he also got into Q3 for the first time - Williams' first appearance in the pole position shootout since the 2018 Italian Grand Prix.

A loss of air in the pneumatic system forced him into the pits early and ruined a likely top ten finish at the Styrian Grand Prix. In Austria, he was on course to finish tenth before being overtaken by Alonso in the closing laps.

Russell is showing great pace, outstanding maturity and surely deserves a chance in a capable car.

10. Inconsistent FIA

The FIA has been put under intense scrutiny in recent races for its inconsistent stewarding across the last few races. The stewards' decision to give Norris a five-second penalty for running Perez off the track was met with widespread disagreement.

Their decision not to investigate Leclerc's contact with Gasly on the opening lap of the first Austria race didn't make any sense, while they were quick to penalise Bottas for his spin in the pit lane despite it not endangering anyone else.

Drivers have spoken about their dissatisfaction with the superlicence system with championship leader Verstappen calling for an overhaul. It's not been a good few weeks for Michael Masi and his team.

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