GPR Awards – Austria 2021

The second race at the Red Bull Ring was almost carbon copy of the first one. Max Verstappen cleared off into the distance and, with the Mercedes team suffering a rather lacklustre qualifying, were never in position to challenge the Dutch driver, who crossed the finish line to score a Grand Chelem – pole, fastest lap and leading every lap of the race on his way to victory.

Verstappen’s third consecutive victory (and Red Bull‘s fifth) has allowed him to jump further clear of Lewis Hamilton’s challenge – the gap now stands at 32 points – with the defending champion nursing his wounded F1 W12 to a 4th place finish. With the championship battle continue to heating up between Mateschitz’s mob and the squad from Stuttgart, it is time to dissect who disappointed and who impressed during the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix. Who was awarded Reject of the Race and Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race for last Sunday’s race.

Yuki Tsunoda awarded Reject of the Race for crossing the white line… twice!

It is uncommon that you see a Formula One driver penalized for crossing the white line on pit entry. It is definitely even more rare to hear someone who has done it twice in the same race. That honour (or dishonour) now belongs to Yuki Tsunoda. The Japanese rookie found himself receiving two five second penalties for the same exact infringement, ruining a race that started with such promise.

Having qualified a career best 7th place, just a tenth shy of his team-mate, Tsunoda ran as high as sixth up until his first-stop, where things started to unravel for him. He crossed the white line and received his first penalty and, despite fighting back into the points, his second pitstop and penalty for the same exact incident ended his chances of a good finish\

What makes Tsunoda’s exploits even more reject-worthy are the circumstances surrounding it. Crossing the white line twice and being penalised is a weird achievement in itself – especially if you take into account that this was the second weekend in a row he was racing at the Red Bull Ring.

Tsunoda's best qualifying effort of the season turned to nothing on sunday.

Tsunoda’s best qualifying effort of the season turned to nothing on sunday. Photo: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

How exactly does one achieve this feat? There are more questions than answers regarding this whole ordeal, and somehow these dots can connect themselves to the entity who secured 2nd in the race for ROTR: the stewarding board.

Formula 1’s stewards have been a constant topic of discussion since the start of the 2021 season and they are becoming a regular in ROTR nominations and discussion. Austria is just another chapter into the increasingly infamous tenure of Michael Masi as race director of the sport. This Sunday, the discourse was centred around the penalties placed upon Lando Norris and Sergio Pérez by the race director and driver steward Derek Warwick.

Now, let’s take a moment to digest if Norris’ penalty was deserved or not – Pérez’s contretemps are a different story. For Norris, the incident came on lap four of the race, after a safety car restart – a position where drivers tend to lean into this style of driving anyway, as they are close together on track. As the McLaren driver found himself defending from an attack by Sergio Pérez into turn 4. Pérez went around the outside and soon found himself with no space to complete the manoeuvre as Norris ran slightly wide on the apex, resulting in the Brit pushing the Mexican into the gravel, costing the Red Bull driver several places.

While the incident didn’t warrant an immediate investigation, a few laps later the information popped up that an investigation was occurring and, soon enough, Norris was given a five second penalty for his defensive manoeuvre. Now, the problem that lies here isn’t so much if the penalty was fair. Last year, at the same corner, Hamilton and Albon were involved in a similar incident, with Hamilton awarded the same penalty. The big difference was that there was contact between the pair, and so it becomes easier to digest what went wrong in that clash.

With no contact, it becomes harder to judge what went wrong, despite the consequence of both incidents being, crucially, pretty much the same. Once one looks into Sergio Pérez’s (ironically similar) incidents with Charles Leclerc later in the race it becomes apparent that consequence weights heavily in the decision regarding penalties. Pérez, in a similar action to Norris early on, pushed the Ferrari driver through turn 4 and, like Hamilton one year ago, made contact. The result was a five second penalty – the same as Norris.

Are all three incidents the same? No. They happened under very different circumstances, but with largely the same outcome. The driver on the inside pushed the driver on the outside wide into the gravel, forcing him to either loose time or positions, and was given a five second penalty. That same criteria was applied to Pérez again, when he once again pushed Leclerc wide into turn 6 after the Monegasque tried a brave move around his outside.

The problem with these scenarios becomes apparent once they are looked at individually and compared with other decisions from the Masi tenure. At the same track two years ago, Verstappen pushed Leclerc wide (with contact) on the final lap to take victory. It was considered fair, despite the obvious complaints that the move was too aggressive. The big difference is that Verstappen’s move happened at turn 3 instead of turn 4 and, therefore, there was asphalt instead of gravel for the driver on the outside to enjoy. Where does the line for all these incidents exactly exist, and when is it crossed?

How can the stewards police drivers consistently when you have gravel traps and asphalt areas impacting the decisions made? The fans will always discuss this, but it’s the sports job to find a consistent and (relatively) easy way to pass a message of consistent and well done stewarding. Right now, Formula 1 is far from that position.

The final piece of the ROTR puzzle for Austria is Finnish veteran Kimi Räikkönen. Räikkönen has had a subdued season. His pace on Saturday has been somewhat absent, but his experience on race day has usually come through, even if marked by rather silly errors like at Portugal and, now, also at Austria.

What exactly was Kimi doing here?

What exactly was Kimi doing here?

Fighting with Russell for 11th place, Räikkönen soon found himself having the company of his former team-mate Sebastian Vettel by his side, and then apparently decided that the four time champion in the Aston Martin was a mirage. He turned into Vettel and both found themselves locking wheels at high speed into the nearby gravel trap. For the “misunderstanding”, as Vettel put it afterwards, Kimi received a 20 second time penalty and two penalty points in his license.

Lando Norris carries an impressive McLaren side to Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race

It is becoming harder to find the correct adjectives to describe Lando Norris’ season. His drive at the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix was perhaps his most impressive and assured, as after almost taking pole position on Saturday, Norris came home in third place – just two seconds shy of Bottas in second. If it wasn’t for his penalty, it is more likely than not he would’ve finished second. Impressive is putting it lightly to say the least and, after 9 rounds of the 2021 season, Norris sits just 3 points behind Pérez in the fight for third in the championship, having taken three podium places and scored in every race.

Lando Norris leads the Mercedes early on in the race. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Lando Norris leads the Mercedes early on in the race. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Daniel Ricciardo also took a step forward on the second weekend at Austria. After producing his most disappointing showing of the season in the first weekend on the Styrian mountains, the Honey Badger fought back on sunday after another lacking qualifying performance to finish seventh, while demonstrating some good overtakes on track. While his performance is still far away from the heights Norris is achieving – and Ricciardo knows that – the improvement over the second weekend does show that the potential is there. It’s just taking more time than anyone expected to unlock it.

George Russell, meanwhile, confirmed the potential of the Williams package around the Red Bull Ring. The British driver confirmed his qualifying prowess as he reached Q3 in the Williams for the very first time. Ninth place on the grid for Mister Saturday – which turned to eighth after Vettel was penalized for impeding Alonso during Q2 – was already impressive, and Russell kept the good work on Sunday, crossing the line in 11th place, having been overtaken by Alonso in the dying laps of the race for the final points position.

It wasn't this week where Russell was kissed by Lady Luck - but he was oh so close. Photo: Williams Racing

It wasn’t this week where Russell was kissed by Lady Luck – but he was oh so close. Photo: Williams Racing

Finally, mention must be made of a great performance by Carlos Sainz Jr.. A drive that can be described as something Pérez would have pulled in a Racing Point in 2020, Sainz extended his first stint long enough that he used his fresher tyres in the later stages of the race to come through the pack to finish fifth, taking full advantage of Pérez’s penalty in the process. It was the third weekend in a row where Sainz’s strong race pace and tyre saving skills seem to be helping him overperform Leclerc, with now the two Ferrari drivers being pretty much matched in their respective points tally in the drivers championship – Leclerc on 62 and Sainz on 60.

Full Results

REJECT OF THE RACE INFINITE IMPROBABILITY DRIVE OF THE RACE
Yuki Tsunoda 40% (12) McLaren 75% (21)
The stewards 30% (9) George Russell 18% (5)
Kimi Räikkönen 27% (8) Carlos Sainz Jr. 7% (2)
Sergio Pérez 3% (1)
Number of votes: 30 Number of votes: 28

Disclaimer: The ROTR and IIDOTR awards are purely for fun purposes.

The IIDOTR is a democratically-decided award, based on the assumption that, at any moment in time, there is a non-zero probability that even the slowest, most inexperienced and least reliable of underdogs might win the race. That under every rock, there might be a gold nugget. This is the award for that first podium that we all celebrate, for the overtake no-one was expecting, for the underdog’s first win. This is the award, in short, for the driver or team that makes you go “Woah! Where did THAT come from?!”.

The ROTR is a medal of dishonour that celebrates the most noteworthy failure of a Grand Prix weekend, based on expectations heading into the weekend and general performance. That one brainfade, the silliest mistake or the most patent nonsense going on, all that is what being the ROTR is all about.

2021 Grand Prix Rejects Awards
2021 Bahrain Grand Prix
2021 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix
2021 Portuguese Grand Prix

2021 Spanish Grand Prix
2021 Monaco Grand Prix
2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
2021 French Grand Prix
2021 Styrian Grand Prix