Podium finishes just aren’t good enough for the likes of Hamilton; and time is running out, writes Mika Häkkinen.
The way in which Max Verstappen controlled Sunday’s Styrian Grand Prix and took a comfortable win over Lewis Hamilton showed just how strongly the Red Bull-Honda package has developed this year. I think they have done an incredible job, and Max it taking full advantage of it.
Red Bull Racing has won the last four Grands Prix, a fantastic performance and the kind of competition Mercedes has not experienced since 2013.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the teams have carried over their cars to this year, specifically the chassis, so many people expected Mercedes to dominate again.
What we have seen is that Red Bull and Honda have put everything into this season. A new engine and an aerodynamic package that takes advantage of the change in aerodynamic regulations introduced this year. That change has suited Red Bull’s design philosophy and worked against Mercedes.
In Austria both Lewis and team-mate Valtteri Bottas said the Red Bulls were two-tenths of a second quicker per lap, and noticeably faster on the straights, a really significant advantage on such a short circuit. In the race Max was able to open up an early lead and control all the strategy options from the front.
I used to love that kind of race because, while it is fun to race wheel-to-wheel, being in control and knowing that you have a fantastic car under you is such a nice feeling. Max seems to be really enjoying it!
While Mercedes is focusing on the development of their 2022 car, the decision by Red Bull and Honda to put everything into this year’s program has given them a really big step forward in performance. At the moment Mercedes seems to have no answer to this, and with only four days between the Styrian and Austrian Grand Prix, there is no reason to believe they can find a solution in time.
Another win for Max next Sunday seems entirely likely, and while Mercedes can console themselves with podium finishes, that is not really the objective for drivers like Lewis, Valtteri and team boss Toto Wolff. They will need to find some solutions soon if this World Championship is not to get away from them during July and August.
Aside from Red Bull, the big story for me is Lando Norris’s performance for McLaren. Once again he qualified strongly, then benefitting from Valtteri’s grid penalty to start from third on the grid.
On Sunday he did not try to race the Red Bulls and Mercedes, realizing that McLaren’s major competitor in the World Championship for Constructors is Ferrari. Lando’s fifth place finish was another strong performance. Even though Ferrari had quite a strong race, they finished behind the young McLaren driver. It is important to remember that Lando is only 21, but in his third season in F1 he is doing such a fantastic job.
The one concern at McLaren is that team-mate Daniel Ricciardo is having a more difficult year. Daniel is a fantastic driver, and one of the best overtakers in the business, but something is preventing him from extracting the maximum performance from himself and the car. If they can find a solution to that problem, Ferrari has a major fight on its hands to finish 3rd in the teams’ championship.