GPR Awards – Styria 2021

Another race, another win for Max Verstappen and Red Bull. At effectively the team’s home race, Verstappen was unbothered pretty much all the way by his closest challenger Lewis Hamilton. Red Bull‘s fourth consecutive victory also marks the biggest win drought for Mercedes in the hybrid-era of Formula One.

After each weekend it does seem that the Mercedes juggernaut appears to be bested for now, and that momentum is on Red Bull’s side for the first time since Sebastian Vettel’s crushing domination in late 2013. However, we at GP Rejects are far more interested in the failures, the disasters, and the heartbreaks of the season. Who won our coveted awards in Styria?

 The Reject of the Race in Styria came from above, and cursed George Russell yet again

Perhaps the F1 community are too kind to George Russell. Blessed with the luck of being British in a sport with a large national audience and a media team backing him to the hilt, Russell has had it easier than most. However, in spite of this and the Brit’s clear speed on Saturdays, George has never managed to earn a point in a Williams on a Sunday. Styria for once seemed like it would end this pointless run, but it was not to be.

Lady Luck doesn't seem to like George Russell. Photography: Williams Racing

Lady Luck doesn’t seem to be with George Russell. Photography: Williams Racing

Starting from his best-ever grid position in a Williams, and running in 8th on merit by the end of the first stint, George’s race unravelled again. However, unlike some race-exits, like at Imola this year (or Imola last year) caused by his own driving, this time there was nothing Russell could do. Losing pressure in his power unit, he had to wait an agonising 20 seconds in the pits for the situation to be relieved. The fix was unsuccessful, and a lap later he was back in the pits. His race was ruined, and after a few laps he was out of the race entirely. Bad luck for George, and as a sympathy vote, his continuous accursed luck earns Styria’s Reject of the Race award. Lady Luck, can you give him a chance just once?

Without Russell’s latest heartbreak story, the F1 community were treated with a classic Reject of the Race candidate in Valtteri Bottas during FP2. Determined to have Mercedes seal ROTR in every remaining round this year, the Finn tried to lay some rubber down at his pit-box as he left for a practice run. In a moment of great embarrassment, he completely lost control of the car and spun into a rival garage, lucky not to hurt any team personnel.

The McLaren drivers had to help Bottas manoeuvre a five-point turn, with the help of the Aston Martin pit-crew keeping out of the way and a patient (and probably perplexed) Nikita Mazepin sitting stationary and well behind. For his and Mercedes’ overzealous actions, Valtteri earned a three-place grid penalty to boot, and it ended up kicking him off the front row of the grid down to 5th on Saturday. In a close year, Mercedes cannot afford these kinds of incremental failures and penalties if they want to seal either title this season.

Another driver who had a race to forget – again – was Daniel Ricciardo. Despite starting the weekend in a rather strong fashion, showing strong pace during all free practice sessions, his pace disappeared come qualifying (to his own surprise) and he was eliminated in Q2. The race didn’t go any better and he came home in 13th place, his worst result of the season thus far.

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 25: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) McLaren F1 Team MCL35M Mercedes leads Esteban Ocon of France driving the (31) Alpine A521 Renault on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Styria at Red Bull Ring on June 25, 2021 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Daniel Ricciardo’s struggles with McLaren continued at the Red Bull Ring. Photography: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Time is passing and while other drivers who were struggling early on with their new cars, like Pérez, Alonso or Tsunoda, are getting to grips with them, Ricciardo continues to have problems with his MCL35M chassis. The second race at the Red Bull Ring will be a good test to see where Ricciardo is with the car. He has a full weekend behind him of running so, on paper, he should have more knowledge of what the car is doing and should be able to extract more speed. He has done that in the past already – like at the Spanish and French Grand Prix – but if he fails to do so, Daniel might need to rethink his approach to the weekend. Otherwise, a ROTR award might be on the horizon for the Aussie.

Finally, we must mention Esteban Ocon’s performance this weekend. After recently signing a multi-year contract with Alpine, he seems to have taken his summer holiday early this year, as now that Fernando Alonso seems to have become used to his A521, the Spaniard is starting to show his claws against the French driver. Again with strong pace, Alonso fought against much of the midfield pack on merit, while Ocon struggled in vain further behind.

Sympathy for George leaves him with Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race for cold comfort

While it was George Russell’s luck this time that smote him from some possible Williams points, his pace has earned him a popular Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race award from the community. The Brit had real pace this weekend, and if not for terrible luck this time round, he could have even scored a point or two. On the other hand, the upturn in pace and form of Russell at Styria bodes well for the coming rounds, not least this following weekend at the same venue. Second time lucky?

Everyone wants to see George smile - but at the end of a raceday! Photography: Williams Racing

Everyone wants to see George smile – but at the end of a raceday! Photography: Williams Racing

Lando Norris, while hardly improbable as a fast-paced candidate this season, is really pushing his reputation as the formidable champion of the “best of the rest” award in 2021. Having had the measure of Ricciardo most of this season, Norris sits above Bottas in the standings, only a few points behind Pérez. In a traditional season, round 8 would mark the halfway point, and for a McLaren driver to be 4th in the standings come this far in the season is a remarkable achievement, and one shown by consistently excellent pace like Lando showed in Styria: fourth in qualifying, fifth in the race behind the two front-running teams. With this pace the Brit seems guaranteed to finish 5th overall by the end of the year.

Moving to subjects that haven’t been touched upon yet, it seems that Ferrari’s topsy-turvy season seems to be moving in a positive direction. After success in Monaco and Baku, then disaster in Paul Ricard, again the team seemed to pick up pace and challenge directly for the midfield. After a rejectful performance from Charles Leclerc on the first lap, the Monégasque managed to climb back up the order to bag some good points. Carlos Sainz Jr., whose race was far quieter, seemed again to have the measure of his illustrious teammate. He extended his stint long enough and used his fresher tyres to push past his midfield rivals to finish in sixth place – and even unlapped himself from a struggling Hamilton in the process!

Another decent drive that should not go unnoticed was from Lance Stroll. With almost every team in Styria giving us unequal performances, the consistent, confident driver at Aston Martin was again Stroll. The Canadian ran in sixth place during the first stint and only lost out to the Ferraris in the end, who were on a superior strategy (how often do we say that?). Stroll found himself having the measure of Vettel again, after two weekends where the four time world champion was able to extract the maximum from his AMR21 – the German this weekend finding that the alternate strategy was not the way to go. With two motivated drivers now, it will interesting to see how Aston Martin’s points tally looks by season-end.

Full Results

REJECT OF THE RACE INFINITE IMPROBABILITY DRIVE OF THE RACE
George Russell’s luck 48% (16) George Russell 66% (19)
Valtteri Bottas pitlane spin 24% (8) Ferrari 21% (6)
Daniel Ricciardo 21% (7) Lando Norris 14% (4)
The “#2” Drivers (Pérez, Bottas, Ocon, Ricciardo) 6% (2) Lance Stroll 0% (0)
Number of votes: 33 Number of votes: 29

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.

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