Regardless of whether Max Verstappen wins the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday, this season threatens a repeat of moves in Formula 1. Even with face masks for and without an audience in the stands, the Limburger knows that he is dealing with a very strong Mercedes again. .

No one working at Red Bull Racing has said before the season, both in March and now on the second try in July, that Verstappen was going to be champion this year. But there was confidence, both in the preparation that, according to team boss Christian Horner, went better than in recent years, as in motorcycle builder Honda.

The introduction of the Mercedes DAS system also apparently did not change that. The question is whether that confidence continues now that Verstappen was driven on half a second in qualifying on Saturday by Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton. This contains the repetition of moves. Verstappen usually started behind the Mercedes last season. They are now black, but not much else has changed.

The question is how to view the race in Austria. In fact it is of course the first race. If you compare that with the first race of 2019, there is not much going on: Verstappen qualified in the opening race last year at 0.8 seconds from the fastest Mercedes. Then half a beat is not too bad.

But Australia is a completely different circuit than Austria, so you can also look at the first six races of 2019, in which Mercedes was extremely dominant. Verstappen qualified on average at 0.65 seconds from the fastest Mercedes.

Max Verstappen in the RB16 at the Red Bull Ring (Picture: Getty Images)

The development race just continued in corona time

Still, this season opener is different than the canceled race in Melbourne would have been. The teams may have been at home for a long time, but not still. The development race started before the winter tests in Barcelona and has just continued. Despite the lack of a large amount of data that teams on the track collect.

That is why most cars were at the forefront of the field this weekend with the various new parts. For the teams, the season has actually been underway for a few months, without a meter being raced.

Add to that the fact that Red Bull usually catches up to Mercedes throughout the year and half a second from Saturday is worrying for Verstappen. Last season he had to admit a tenth on Hamilton in qualifying in Austria.


F1 preview: 'Verstappen cannot go to podium if he wins'

It is still unclear exactly how Mercedes uses DAS

So where does the Red Bull fall short? The big question is how much the DAS system Mercedes brings. Do they only use it in the pits round for the qualifying attempt to warm up the tires? Or do they use it to overcome the compromise between the ideal tire position for the curves and the straight? Much is still unclear about this. Red Bull may have protested unsuccessfully, but Horner also said his team is also considering incorporating the novelty.

In any case, the DAS system is not decisive. During free practice and also in qualifying it was not always used flashy and yet Mercedes was very fast in all sessions. The W11 is, just like the predecessors, a very strong combination of grip and top speed.

Red Bulll, Verstappen and Honda have to unravel this season in an unprecedented way to really threaten the repainted silver arrows in the title fight, no matter how long the season lasts. An advantage: the Limburger is not bothered by Ferrari this year.

Lewis Hamilton in the black Mercedes W11 (Picture: Pro Shots)

It doesn't look good on paper, but it can be different on asphalt

Can Verstappen start with that on Sunday? In the past two seasons, the Dutchman won on the Alpine circuit, without starting from pole. In 2018 he did this with the help of a Virtual Safetycar and breakdown at Mercedes. Last season, the silver arrows suffered from the heat and Verstappen did a fantastic job with Charles Leclerc and, as it turns out, are probably not legal Ferrari.

Mercedes says it has now solved the overheating problems, although it will be hot on the Red Bull Ring on Sunday. The free practice shows that Mercedes 'long runs' are also strong. According to the figures of Formula 1 - which usually have to be taken with a large grain of salt - Red Bull is also 0.5 seconds short per lap.

An asset that Verstappen can draw is that he is the only one who starts with the medium tires. This allows him to continue riding longer and his second stint on the hard tire is shorter (and therefore faster). According to Pirelli, this strategy is just as fast as starting on soft, which is what the Mercedes drivers do.

It does not look that positive for Verstappen. But that's all on paper. Especially last season, the Dutchman showed that he can rise above himself on asphalt. Add to that the circumstances change and the drivers are undoubtedly somewhat rusty after more than 7 months of not racing. Chaos is in the offing. It is up to Verstappen to take advantage of this.

Play along with the NUsport GP game! For the app users: tap here.