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It goes without saying that Mercedes has been the gold standard in Formula 1 for nearly a decade. Of their seven consecutive Constructor’s Cups, Mercedes’ driver Lewis Hamilton has won all but one championship, conceding the 2016 throne to his teammate Nico Rosberg. Then to top it off, the 2020 season saw Mercedes break Ferrari’s record of six consecutive titles from 1999-2004, when Hamilton tied Michael Schumacher with his coveted seventh championship.
However, all good things must come to an end, and with the way the 2021 F1 season is shaping up, that end could be fast approaching. Through seven races it’s been Red Bull, piloted by the two drivers of Max Verstappen and Sergio “Checo” Pérez, who have the holeshot. Verstappen has a 12 point lead on Hamilton with 131 points in the driver standings, and Red Bull has a 37 gap to Mercedes in the Constructor’s Cup.
It’s still early, which is a good sign for Mercedes and Team Principal Toto Wolff, as they still have 16 races left in the season. The team needs to fix correctable mistakes in strategy and execution, effectively stopping them from digging their own hole. Sometimes events happen that can’t be corrected, such as Valtteri Bottas’s right front wheel nut being sheared off during the pit stop, forcing his retirement from the Monaco Grand Prix. Other things like Hamilton’s botched pit strategy in the same race, can be prevented.
Wolff knows all of this but also isn’t oblivious to the fact that rival Red Bull has finally found their second driver opposite of Verstappen in Perez. Red Bull has been fighting to secure another title since Sebastian Vettel, now with Aston Martin, brought them four consecutive trophies from 2010-2013. Since Daniel Ricciardo’s exit from the team following the 2018 season, their quest for a successful second driver has fallen short with Pierre Gasly (who is having a great run with Alpha Tauri) and Alex Albon.
Red Bull’s dominance has been front and center over the last three races, though. Verstappen has brought home victories at Monaco and France, and should have won in Azerbaijan had it not been for a left rear tire failure while leading with less than five laps to go. Perez was able to avenge his teammate and collect the victory in Baku, easing the pain from Vertappen’s gut punch, then followed it up with a third place podium finish at France.
If Mercedes wants to get back into the fight, it will have to be in their rival’s backyard, literally. The next two races are a double-header, on June 27th and July 4th in Austria at the Red Bull Ring. Christian Horner, Principal of Red Bull Racing knows what’s at stake in these two races. It’s the opportunity to put on a show for their fans, and widen the gap between his team and the opposition.
In the last four races at the circuit, Verstappen won back-to-back in 2018 and 2019, then placed third in the Styrian Grand Prix in 2020 (the second of the double header). The first of the double header was actually the first race of the 2020 season, where his car had an electrical issue while running in second place, which resulted in a DNF. The chances that he finds his way back to the podium twice here are very high, and if Perez can follow suit and learn from someone who obviously knows the ins and outs of Austria, then Red Bull will surely extend the lead.
Following Austria are the Great Britain and Hungarian Grand Prix, two places where Hamilton has been dominant in his career. Even if they get trounced in the next two races, Hamilton can help restore some lost ground. That would lead up to the summer break where it’ll give team principals, such as Wolff and Horner, time to gauge and produce a plan of attack heading into the second half of the season.
This has all the makings of a heavyweight fight that will come down to the end. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes on the track and in the pit box will come out victorious.