Time for round 9 of the F1 2021 championship. I’d won the last three races, could I make it four in a row? The Red Bull Ring features one of the shortest laps of any Grand Prix, and 70 laps around this circuit awaited. Practice brought with it the understanding that turn 3 would be the single most challenging element of the track, and it took me a while to respect this corner. Other sequences felt quite satisfying when I got them right, such as turns 6, 7 and 8, and also 9 and 10.
I’d upped the AI’s difficulty a bit more, and to begin with I regretted this, despite qualifying a respectable 8th in a car that remained rated as the worst on the grid. I don’t mind admitting I restarted this race a few times as I got shunted on a few occasions by over-zealous AI cars. After a while I accepted the need to back off a bit, and in doing so managed a few clear opening corners that gave way to a clean race. I slipped back at the start but fought back to 8th and in the initial chaos that meant being ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc. Interestingly, the game seemed to have it in for Sebastian Vettel. On more than start he pitched his Aston Martin into a spin at the first corner, on or around lap 2. I have no idea why but it ended up ruining his race.
As for me, it was clear my Meerkat Racing car lacked the pace to challenge the McLarens ahead of me. However I was able to fend off Leclerc for several laps, despite being unable to keep him out of the DRS zone. He did nearly squeeze by up the inside of turn 4, but I out-braked him to stay ahead. When he pitted, he retained soft tyres, but I ditched my soft boots for medium ones, and managed to stretch a small gap of around 2.5 seconds, though this fluctuated a little throughout the stint. What mattered is that he couldn’t get close enough to get back into DRS range. For some reason I felt more comfortable on the ‘slower’ tyre and set my fastest lap times on it, thus staying ahead of Leclerc until my second stop. An excellent effort from the pit crew (1.9 seconds!) kept me around 3 seconds ahead, and this gap crew steadily to around 10 seconds by the end. At some point 8th became 7th (Verstappen retired), so it was another reasonable points haul for me and the team, if a somewhat dull race from my perspective.
From a championship perspective, Hamilton appeared to lead much of the race, but at some point Bottas got by to win yet again. After nine rounds, his lead is now over two wins worth of points. I cannot see anyone but him winning the title.