Formula 1 is back, and the Austrian GP was a humdinger. Valtteri Bottas led the race from start to finish, while Lewis Hamilton's collision with Alex Albon earned him a five-second penalty, bumping him from second to fourth after the chequered flag.
It was an exciting Sunday afternoon. Not only had race fans have to wait for over 200 days for the 2020 Formula 1 season to start, but the action-packed, 71-lap Austrian GP was also nail-biting to the end.
It was a very different environment too, with the Covid-19 pandemic forcing the FIA to make sweeping changes. For one thing, this was the first race ever to be held behind closed doors, and it's also the latest a season has ever started. It's also the first time a country will host back-to-back races in the same season since 1995 and the first time in history that the same track is hosting back-to-back races, with the upcoming Styrian GP on 12 July.
Before the racing got underway, there was a moment of silence to support the fight against racism. All the drivers wore shirts saying 'end racism', and many of the 20 drivers taking a knee in respect.
After qualifying in second place behind his Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton was given a three-position penalty when the stewards found him guilty of not slowing down for a yellow flag incident in Q3 on Saturday.
The shuffle of the grid saw Max Verstappen in his Red Bull start in P2, with Lando Norris in the McLaren and the other Red Bull of Alexander Albon in P3 and P4 respectively.
The early part of the race was incident-free, with only Sebastian Vettel, who had a terrible qualifying time in his Ferrari, claiming 10th position from Renault's Daniel Ricciardo.
Albon and Hamilton both got past Norris with relative ease, and then Hamilton took P3 from Albon on lap 9. On lap 11 is when the drama started. Verstappen was the only driver on medium tyres and was looking to take P1 when Bottas and the rest of the drivers would pit as their soft tyres degraded faster. This strategy, however, was cut short when the Red Bull Honda suddenly slowed and limped to the pits with electrical issues. Although they managed to get it started again, it stalled as he pulled away and they retired the car.
On lap 16, Lance Stroll's Racing Point suffered a power loss, eventually retiring from the pit lane on lap 21. In the meantime, Ricciardo, who was chasing down Stroll, retired his Renault to the pits with overheating issues.
Reliability issues were the bain of many teams. Kevin Magnussen suffered brake failure in his Haas on lap 25, which brought out the first safety car. This allowed the drivers to pit for fresh tyres and, on the restart, Vettel attempted an overtake on the inside of the McLaren of Carlos Sainz Jr. The cars made contact and Vettel spun, relegating him to P15.
On lap 50, it was Roman Grosjean's time to retire as the brakes on his Haas failed. George Russel, meanwhile, pulled onto the grass with a fuel pressure failure in the Williams, deploying the second safety car. While his car was being recovered, eight drivers pitted for a tyre change, but the Mercedes duo decided to stay out.
The racing restarted on lap 54, but the drivers wouldn't get through the lap before the third safety car was needed after Kimi Räikkönen lost the front-right wheel of his Alfa Romeo.
With all the drama, and the pack bunching after each restart, Albon who had just passed Pérez for P3, attempted to overtake Hamilton on the outside of turn three. Hamilton's front wheel made contact with Albon's rear tyre, causing him to spin, returning to the track in 13th place. The stewards ruled that Hamilton was at fault, and issued a five-second fine. Albon, though, was not happy as he believed he had the pace to catch the two limping Mercedes cars for the win.
Yes, although the two Merc's were out in front, they had both received calls over the radio early on in the race, with the engineers suggesting they take it easy and avoid the rumble strips as they were damaging the gearbox on both cars. The rumble strips at the Red Bull ring notorious for rattling cars apart.
During all of the chaos, Charles Leclerc had made his way through the pack after starting the lacklustre Ferrari in p7. On lap 64, he claimed p4 from Norris and then Pérez two laps later for third. The latter driver also received a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane earlier in the race.
Lap 68 saw another retirement in the form of Albon with an electrical failure, while Norris found a way past Pérez on the same lap for fourth. There was more drama on the penultimate lap as a puncture on Daniil Kyvat's AlfaVenturi caused his suspension to break.
The final lap saw Sainz take P5 from Pérez, who was far enough in front of Pierre Gasly to be unaffected by his penalty, keeping P6. Bottas led every lap of the race and took the win for the second time at the Austrian GP. This is the 8th win for him in Formula 1 and a fantastic start to this compressed season. Hamilton crossed the line in second but had to give up P2 to Leclerc and P3 to Norris after his penalty was applied.
Norris managed to also steal the fastest lap time from Hamilton on the final lap, making him the fastest Brit on the grid instead of Hamilton for the first time since the opening race of 2014. He's also now the youngest Brit to take to the podium in history, and the third-youngest driver ever to finish in the top three.
Just 11 of the 20 cars finished the race, with 7 of the 9 retirements due to failures of some sort. This means that the teams have a lot of work to do before entering the same venue in a week time for the Styrian Grand Prix. If it's anything as action-packed as this race, we're all in for another terrific weekend of racing.
Check out highlights of all the action here.
1 Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes – Points: 25
2 Charles Leclerc – Ferrari – Points: 18
3 Lando Norris – McLaren-Renault – Points: 16
4 Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – Points: 12
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. – McLaren-Renault – Points: 10
6 Sergio Pérez – Racing Point-BWT Mercedes: Points: 8
7 Pierre Gasly – AlphaTauri-Honda – Points: 6
8 Esteban Ocon – Renault – Points: 4
9 Antonio Giovinazzi – Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari – Points: 2
10 Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari – Points: 1
11 Nicholas Latifi – Williams-Mercedes
12 Daniil Kvyat – AlphaTauri-Honda – DNF: L67 Puncture
13 Alexander Albon – Red Bull Racing-Honda – DNF: L67 Electronics
14 Kimi Räikkönen – Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari – DNF: L53 Lost Wheel
15 George Russell – Williams-Mercedes – DNF: L49 Fuel pressure
16 Romain Grosjean – Haas-Ferrari – DNF: L49 Brakes
17 Kevin Magnussen – Haas-Ferrari – DNF: L24 Brakes
18 Lance Stroll – Racing Point-BWT Mercedes – DNF: L20 Engine
19 Daniel Ricciardo – Renault – DNF: L17 Overheating
20 Max Verstappen – Red Bull Racing-Honda – DNF: L11 Electronics
Fastest lap: Lando Norris (McLaren-Renault) – 1:07.475 (lap 71)
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