With Pirelli providing tyres from the softest end of its range for the second Red Bull Ring race — a step softer than last weekend — that means a subtle shift in the challenge facing teams. With track temperature back over 50 degrees, there was a chance of the soft running out of grip by the end of a hot lap. And, if you weren’t quick enough to use the medium in Q2 and had to take the soft, it was certainly not the starting tyre of choice, potentially tipping race strategy over to a two-stopper rather than the favoured medium-hard one-stop run.
The first five on tomorrow’s grid will all start on the medium, making the efforts of Norris and Perez all the more admirable. Sergio has struggled with clearing Q2 on the yellow-walled tyre thus far, but did his team proud with a medium compound lap just 0.27sec down on Verstappen against an average season deficit of 0.45sec. Crucially, it was good enough to beat Hamilton’s Mercedes by two-hundredths and Bottas by five-hundredths.
There’s every reason to suspect George Russell can score points in the race
That gives Mercedes a potential headache tomorrow afternoon. Forgetting Verstappen, it means that unless they have a great opening lap, the Merc men are going to be faced with passing both Perez, who is likely to have as much race pace as them, and a Norris McLaren with impressive straightline speed.
“Tomorrow is going to be even more of a challenge than last week,” Hamilton admitted. “We’re just lacking underlying pace and McLaren was super-quick today. We’ve got two cars to get by and then Max has three-tenths on us, so I’d say a win is looking out of the question.”
Last week, Bottas started fifth with a three-place penalty and so was probably a little surprised to be starting there again, without one. “McLaren has definitely found something,” he said, “and I’m not sure if that’s down to the C5 compound, but we seem to have gone a bit backwards.” It’s not the first time that Mercedes hasn’t managed to get as much out of Pirelli’s softest compound than some of its opposition.