Lewis Hamilton might have had flashes of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in his rear view mirrors as Max Verstappen stormed in rather sublime fashion to his and Red Bull’s fourth win on the trot, sealing a sterling double victory at the Austrian Grand Prix. This just might be the pivotal gamechanger of the packed mid-season but far from the dangerous, unpredictable way as Hamilton had suggested a desperate Verstappen could adopt in his surge to the top.

After three racing weekends in a row and two of them at the Red Bull ring, twenty-three year old Verstappen is sitting on a healthy and rather impressive thirty-two point lead over the seven time champion. Although not a season clincher yet, his consistency to pull the wool over the multi time champion must now weigh heavy on Hamilton and Mercedes who will have to quickly go back to the drawing board and find a way to stop this momentum.

This has to be an uneasy situation for the British driver who was heard in desperation over the car radio, “I’m trying, man.” There was not much of an improvement from last weekend’s race when Hamilton admitted he had no answer to Verstappen’s unstoppable pace and pressure even as the thirty-seven year old himself switched cars to an older model from last year in a bid to continue his chase to a record eighth drivers championship title.

The rare sight of spectators and the outpouring sea of orange at the Red Bull ring in the Austrian Grand Prix is a huge endorsement of the meteoric rise of the Dutch driver who has been virtually unstoppable since winning the French Grand Prix this year.

Back to back wins at the Red Bull ring have only emphasized the team’s supreme pit strategy, clinical pit stops (as opposed to Mercedes’ blundering with Valterri Bottas in particular) and also, the steadiness of Verstappen’s determined driving, not something that was always a familiar sight for the Dutch driver known to take audacious risks.

But there was nothing audacious about Verstappen except this streak and twist in fortunes in the middle of the Formula 1 season, a stupendous run at that, if one overlooks Azerbaijan where it could be argued that the Dutch driver was the recipient of some dubious tire degradation issues as he hit the barriers three laps to the finish line.

Although Lewis Hamilton inked a historic two year extension of his contract with the Silver Arrows to make it ten years with Mercedes since 2013 going into 2023, he did not have the performance to cheer the decision over the weekend.

Hamilton will likely think back now to that sliver of an opportunity that went abegging at Baku when at the race restart, Hamilton was looking at a potential top podium finish and a significant step back for Verstappen who found himself without points tantalizingly close to the end of the race.

However, Hamilton’s rare driving error will now glare back at him harshly. A braking error saw him fail to turn and go straight when the red lights went out for a second time to hand the race podium to Verstappen’s team mate at Red Bull, Sergio Perez. It might be the moment that Hamilton will rue as the moment when the opportunity of a championship slipped away. That is, unless he can quickly turn around his beleaguered fortunes in his home race, the next one on the F1 2021 season circuit at Silverstone.

The tide really began to change for Red Bull at the French Grand Prix when Verstappen pulled through a magnificent run despite an early mishap out of the gates before running into a wall after another stupendous run right to the very end in Baku.

Muscling his car in a wheel-to-wheel battle with Hamilton’s team mate, Valterri Bottas, after using an undercut advantage after a pit stop to Hamilton who seemed to gain as Verstappen went off the track on pole, Verstappen pulled off a humdinger of a race, with a risky two stop strategy that had Bottas furious with his own team in the end as the French Grand Prix was orange with glee after a thrilling final race finish when Hamilton was forced to swap positions with the Dutchman.

The Red Bull show at the Steiermark Grand Prix and then again at the Austrian Grand Prix in back to back weekends marked the supremacy of Verstappen’s dominant display but, also, significantly showed Hamilton’s loss of competitive edge as the seven time champion found himself no match to the Red Bull’s strategic pit stop manoevres and also, to Verstappen’s pace.

Even when it seemed that Mercedes had an advantage chasing down Verstappen after McLaren’s Lando Norris was deemed to have run Perez wide at the start of the Austrian Grand Prix, the Mercedes duo of Bottas and Hamilton could not hold back the Dutch driver who is in a rich vein of form.

If Verstappen was mutedly excited about his lead, now extending to thirty-two points, another man who could not hold himself back from his obvious rejoicing and disbelief was Lando Norris himself.

The young man, who was penalized a five second penalty for his run in with Perez, laughed off the incident while acknowledging the overwhelming number of fans dressed in orange who had turned up in large numbers to support their Dutchman compatriot, Verstappen.

Joking, Norris had this to say about the fans, “Look at all the orange fans, coming out to support McLaren,” alluding to his own team colours.

Brushing off the racing incident that set back Perez early, Norris continued in his humourous but scathing vein, “He tried to take me from the outside…which was stupid. I didn’t even have to push him. He drove himself wide off (the track) on his own.”

This is not Norris’ first brush with controversy, accusing Pierre Gasly of being “an idiot” for trying to overtake him with what he considered an aggressive move on him at the French Open.

Not to be taken lightly though, although having finish top five in all of the races since Monaco when he finished on the podium, the Austrian Grand Prix will have once again cemented his consistency, even if he is making something of a habit of being in the headlines, overcoming the time penalty to come out third on the podium. The fans would not have it any other way.

Norris has really made his mark on the circuit this season, unable to hold back his unbridled exuberance and joy while doing so. Neither can McLaren who have now edged themselves ahead of Ferrari who have blown hot and cold, with Charles LeClerc and Carlos Sainz, having a mixed bag in the middle.

Norris has every reason to smile on what has been a glorious weekend for him, giving the top runners a real run for their money in the qualifying on Saturday, narrowing missing out on a pole position and showing he is one to watch for alongside Verstappen as the upcoming generation of drivers.

The only driver to score in every race, and finishing close to pole on Sunday, Norris should feel justified when he stated, “I feel epic!” That McLaren will celebrate this double boost of a podium finish for Norris and also, their first front row start since 2012 shows the dramatic improvement McLaren have made with an ambitious yet laidback rookie while Ferrari are yet to see the sea tide in their own fortunes.

While the sight of orange might be too much to take for fans of Hamilton or Hamilton himself after the Red Bull and McLaren show in back-to-back weekends, there is a lot of work that lies ahead before the British Grand Prix if the seasoned champion is to stop this wave of the next generation stealing the show and the season, which seems a real possibility at this point.

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton

Cover Photograph Getty Images