With the schedule re-worked many times over because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Austrian GP took the spotlight as the season opener and proved to be a delightful race.
Bottas prevailed at the end of a choppy but wildly entertaining second-half of the race. Hamilton may have crossed the line in second, but the stewards moved him back five seconds. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc pulled a magician’s act of a race and seemingly appeared out of nowhere in the final 10 laps to take the second step on the podium. Lando Norris brought his McLaren home in third position, a shocking result for the team. Hamilton wound up fourth, with the second McLaren of Carlos Sainz in fifth.
Sergio Perez looked to be on his way to a third-place finish, but was bitten by both a fading car and a five-second penalty for an unsafe pit lane release that relegated him to sixth.
Pierre Gasly, driving for the newly-minted AlphaTauri team, formerly Toro Rosso, came across the line in seventh, with Esteban Ocon, returning to the track after being away for a year, bringing his Renault home eighth.
Bottas started on the pole and sped out to an early advantage, at one point staking seven-second lead over Max Verstappen, who started second.
Hamilton had been relegated to a fifth-place starting position after the stewards reconsidered their actions regarding his failure to slow down during qualifying when yellow-flags were displayed. Despite the handicap, Hamilton moved steadily past those in front of him and soon sat behind Verstappen.
In a battle of wits that never came to be, Verstappen started on hard tires compared to the two Mercedes around him and was set for a contrarian strategy. Having won the previous two Austrian GP, Verstappen could have challenged the Mercedes team in a way that none other could. The threat to the lead never materialized, as Verstappen found himself parked in the garage by lap 12.
From there, the race settled into one of management, with Bottas holding on to a five-second lead over Hamilton and a shuffling order behind them as a myriad of problems befell a number of drivers.
Kevin Magnussen’s brakes failed on lap 26, changing the complexion of the race as it brought out the first safety car. Mercedes double-stacked their pit stops and their drivers emerged one-two with Bottas maintaining the lead. Bottas managed a clean getaway on lap 31 and held a small lead over Hamilton as Alexander Albon fell off the Mercedes pace.
Both Mercedes drivers were ordered to stay off the curbs as they faced potential critical gearbox issues, and the directive seemed to rein in both drivers to a degree. The gap to the field became close once again when another safety car period came about on lap 51 for George Russell’s retirement; Russell pulled his car off the tarmac but was still a danger to drivers.
From there, Bottas held on through the lap 55 restart, bulleting out in front only to be shut down by another safety car for Kimi Raikkonen’s right-front wheel dislodging itself from his Alfa Romeo.
Unlike the other mechanical failures that dotted the race, Raikkonen’s issue came just after a pit stop and was tied to his team’s error in attaching the wheel, with the team incurring a post-race fine for their indiscretion.
On lap 61, Bottas blasted out again and never needed to look back. Behind him, Hamilton and Albon engaged in their own battle that brought souring results for both.
Albon had a podium in his grasp and sought the second step as he battled Hamilton. With fresh soft tires, Albon had the better situation. Hamilton kept Albon wide through the turns though, and as Albon began to move past, Hamilton edged further out, causing contact and spinning Albon into the gravel.
Albon dropped to 13th while Hamilton earned a five-second penalty for the contact – dropping Hamilton from the podium.
Behind them, on lap 69, Norris passed Perez for fourth, pushing Norris into an advantageous position in the timing. Perez found himself holding on to fourth while falling into the challenge of Sainz.
To close the race, Daniil Kvyat’s rear-right tire exploded on lap 70, but the track remained clear, and Kvyat joined the likes of nearly half the field that was also failing to finish. He followed Albon, who had retired just a half lap earlier.
Bottas cleared the line a lap after and enjoyed a satisfying win to open the season.
- Bottas deserves all kinds of credit for holding Hamilton back through the second half of the race. He managed to do so through three safety car restarts, knowing that his six-time world champion teammate was all too eager to leave him in the wake of his exhaust fumes.
- Bottas continues to earn his keep after winning the driving lottery and moving from the underfunded and poor-performing Williams to Mercedes. He took his eighth win in the last four seasons and kicked off 2020 with a smooth and well-managed drive.
- What a race for McLaren! Norris earned the first podium of his career in a drive that he thought he had ‘fudged.’ Sainz made good for the team by giving them fifth and the papaya-colored team look to be off to a brilliant start, even though they may not have the outright pace.
- Vettel endured another one of his momentary lapses of cognitive intelligence on lap 32 when he tried to sneak his Ferrari under Sainz. What Vettel may have been thinking is surely up for debate, as Sainz held the position and there looked to be no hole for Vettel to fill. As seems to happen more frequently than not, Vettel caromed off Sainz, spun and dropped to 15th. Vettel continues to exhibit curious judgment at times, and the outcomes have failed to be positive. Whether he believes in his talent too much or he sees something that is not there, Vettel is fast becoming one of the more peculiar champions the sport has had.
- What are they doing over at Renault? The works team no longer needs to pay attention to all of Red Bull’s demands as the engine supplier, freeing them to focus on just themselves and shipping powerplants to McLaren. And still, the results have yet to move the team to the front of the grid. This race may have been the first of the season, which usually brings out gremlins who attack the cars in fascinating ways, but they did not hinder Renault from showing that they are still missing pace. Daniel Ricciardo did not finish the race because of his car quitting on him, but the real disappointment should be Ocon, who never really challenged anyone he raced. His eighth-place finish may look decent on the stat sheet, but he never looked racey.
By lap 30, four cars had dropped from the race. As the Sky Sports crew noted, last year, all 20 of the cars finished, a feat that had occurred only nine previous times in F1. The discrepancy between the two races is startling and frustrating as the mechanical problems removed opportunities for what should have been solid battles. A quick rundown:
- Verstappen, anti-stall, and hydraulics
- Ricciardo, cooling issue
- Lance Stroll, engine problems, sensors
- Magnussen, front brakes
By lap 51, two more joined in the disappointment, as Romain Grosjean and Russell, from Haas F1 and Williams, respectively, faced mechanical issues. For Grosjean, the brakes quit just like his teammate Magnussen, and for Russell, the problem seemed to be in the transmission.
Under the current pandemic circumstances, testing proved to be nothing more than a hope, but this race appears to be Exhibit A that everyone needed some time on the track before this weekend. The counter to such criticism is that everyone worked under the same rules and therefore all were playing on the same track. By the end of the race, nine of the 20 cars found themselves parked in the garage before the checkered flag.
The one team that deserves all the scrutiny in the world at this point is Haas F1. To be succinct, they are a mess. If anyone has any idea what they are doing or how they are once again managing brake concerns that should have been fixed in the offseason, they should contact Gunther Steiner, the team principal. At this juncture, with the funding the team enjoys, the results are pathetic.
The F1 season continues with a ‘same Bat-time, same Bat-channel’ rendering next weekend. The teams will again race the Red Bull Ring in Austria on July 12, 2020.
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