After more than 200 days without any Formula 1 action, the racing finally resumed at the Red Bull Ring to start the 2020 season. There were quite a few surprises throughout the weekend and it all culminated in one of the most exciting podiums of recent years.
A few pre-race storms were blowing around in the paddock, chief amongst which involved the top three teams. Ferrari were shockingly slow in practice and even in qualifying. Vettel dropped details surrounding his exit from the team, stating that there was no discussion. I suppose you could say Sebastian is simply serving his notice period in the red Scud.
Red Bull, eager to have a three-peat of victories at their home circuit, was busy filing complaints against the quicker Mercedes boys. The first protest was over the use of the new Dual-Axis Steering (DAS) system that Mercedes use, as previewed during pre-season testing. A late protest considering the FIA already allowed its use in the 2020 season and was thus quickly overruled. The next one was over the events in qualifying.
The Silver Arrows or rather the Black Arrows in their 2020 livery, had been outpacing everyone most of the weekend with Valtteri Bottas being the fastest one in the timesheets. In the final run, the Finn made a mistake and ended up going for a short drive across the gravel. He eventually got the car back on track but nevertheless, it did temporarily bring out the yellow flags for that whole sector which means everybody else had to slow down. But Lewis Hamilton did not. He was called to the steward’s room where it was concluded that the mixed signals from the digital flag lights justified Lewis’ actions which would validate his lap time and allow him to start second on the grid. Just under an hour before the race was to be underway, Red Bull filed a complaint regarding the same and the stewards reversed their decision, handing Lewis a three-spot grid penalty.
So when the cars lined up for the race, the top 10 were in this order — Valtteri Bottas, Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, Alex Albon, Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Perez, Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz, Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo. Yep, Vettel didn’t make it into Q3 because he just didn’t have the pace. The German commented post-race that the car was almost undrivable in the aero package that Ferrari are using at the circuit.
Everyone had a good start but that meant Bottas stayed ahead and luckily there were no spins or crashes at Turn 1. The top order remained the same for the first few laps with Bottas already opening up a gap, Norris trying to chase Verstappen, Albon holding off Hamilton and Leclerc trying to keep up with Perez while dealing with Sainz. The McLarens clearly weren’t on the same pace as Red Bull or Mercedes but they were pretty competitive, at least until DRS kicked in. It wasn’t long before Norris was passed by both Albon and Hamilton and found himself being hunted by Perez. A lap or two later, Lewis used the DRS to make quick work of Alex to start his chase for Verstappen and race-leader Bottas who was already 8 seconds ahead.
On Lap 11, the cameras cut to a coasting Red Bull. It was Max. He was visibly urging his car to start working normally again but to no avail. The Dutchman couldn’t get the car into the right gear because of the anti-stall function and even though he was able to bring it into the pits, there was nothing the team could do. Lap 12 and it was looking like another Mercedes one-two to kick off the season. Luckily for us viewers, there were going to be many more retirements to follow and some would necessitate the Safety Car as well.
All weekend, the teams had observed that the kerbs which the drivers love to stay on when lapping around the Red Bull Ring, was rattling up the cars pretty bad. It was suspected that Max’s car troubles could have been caused by the same. The next car to drop out from mechanical failure a few laps later was another fan favourite – Dani Ric. A poor start to his last season with Renault as he parked up in the pitlane. On Lap 20, Lance Stroll, who’d been doing decently in the top 10 with the newfound pace of the RP 20, also pitted to retire his ailing car. That was three cars with three different engines retiring in the first half of the race.
On Lap 26 of 71, as Esteban Ocon was making his way past Kevin Magnussen down the inside of Turn 3, the Haas decided to keep going straight off the track. The Danish driver was able to keep it out of the barriers by spinning it around but the car was out of the race and needed to be collected. This one didn’t seem to be an engine/gearbox issue and instead, it was a brake disc failure. So no alarm bells were rung over in Ferrari, both of their drivers being outside of the top 5 anyway. Magnussen’s off still brought out the safety car, thereby nullifying the comfy lead of the Mercedes duo. Of course, most drivers took this opportunity to make their pit stops as well and almost everyone except Perez switched to the Hard compound tyres. In fact, the Racing Point crew released the Mexican straight the path of Norris in the pit lane, narrowly avoiding a crash. While the FIA noted it for investigation, it was pretty obvious that Sergio was going to get a penalty for that blatant error.
After a few laps behind the AMG GT-R safety car, racing resumed and Bottas managed to stay ahead of Hamilton. Norris was still ahead of Perez who was ahead of Leclerc followed by Sainz (his future teammate) and Vettel just behind. Being all bunched up for the restart, Charles and Carlos were battling for position as they headed down the fastest bit of the track and into the super-tight, right-hand Turn 3. Vettel lined up behind them in P8 and decided to go for a gap that simply was not there, locked up his front right tyre, bumped into Sainz and spun around. A classic Vettel pirouette. What makes it worse than the usual times is that this was him colliding into his replacement and coming off worse. A little bit further ahead, Perez is able to capitalise on the softer Medium compound tyres to get past Lando Norris and into P4.
In the paddock, Mercedes were able to identify a high-risk problem with their gearbox sensors. The excessive vibrations from driving over the kerbs could trigger a mechanical failure. Hamilton had caught up to Bottas but wasn’t being too aggressive about getting ahead of him, staying within the DRS range. Both drivers received the message to stay off the kerbs as much as possible and in typical racing driver fashion, seemingly ignored it for a whole lap. Unsurprisingly, there was a second call to both drivers from James, a more senior person in the team’s engineering department and that’s when both drivers actually listened and were seen avoiding kerbs quite intently. However, their pace advantage still put them 10 seconds clear of third-place Albon.
The next retirement came in the form of George Russell on Lap 51, also suffering from a mechanical failure. Unlike previous retirements, he wasn’t able to bring his Williams to the pits and had to park up along the side of the track which brought out the safety car once again. This allowed some of the front runners to switch from the hard tyres to the medium tyres. Bottas and Hamilton just happened to miss the pit opening when the safety car was deployed and had to stay on the mediums. Red Bull opted to put Albon on the softer tyres to launch an attack for the win.
At the time of the race restart, it was still Bottas in the lead followed by Hamilton with Perez (didn’t pit either) in third and ahead of Albon. Norris and Leclerc were right behind the leaders on fresher tyres. Unfortunately, the race was immediately slowed down as the front right wheel came off of Kimi Raikkonen’s car just before the final turn. Luckily, Kimi was able to make the turn and come to a stop on the main straight with no collision. As a result, the drivers had to pass through the pit lane while under the safety car. Alex was able to get ahead of Perez just before the protocol was deployed which allowed him to line up in P3 for the final restart on Lap 61.
Bottas managed to get another good start to pull away from Lewis. Albon was able to use the fresher tyres and slipstream to line up an overtake on the defending world champion. Hamilton took the defensive line by driving the inside line into the corner and Albon tried to go around the outside, on Turn 3 and then on Turn 4. Unfortunately for the Red Bull driver, that’s not a great spot to overtake from the outside as that side is pretty much all gravel. Lewis shut the door on the youngster and the resulting clash spun the Red Bull around and out of the running. A sad repeat of their incident at the Brazilian GP in 2019. Worse yet, Albon had to retire the car and thus Red Bull Racing had a double DNF at their home race.
On Lap 64, Leclerc and Norris both had DRS advantage to try and catch up to Perez. The slower Ferrari was somehow able to pull ahead of the McLaren into Turn 4. Leclerc also went to overtake Norris around the outside but since he already had his nose in front and made the move stick. A short lesson for Albon there. Two laps later, Charles was on the tail of Sergio heading into Turn 3 and dove down the inside for the overtake and made that one stick too. A lesson for Vettel. Somehow, the shockingly slow Ferrari SF1000 was now in P3.
With 5 laps to go, the stewards handed Hamilton a 5-second penalty for the incident with Albon. All Charles needed to do was to stay within 5 seconds of that black Mercedes for the last few laps and he pretty much had P2 in the bag. However, this also presented an opportunity for Sergio and Lando to claim P3 by closing in on the leaders. Bottas was still in the lead, a couple of seconds clear of his teammate.
Norris was almost overtaken by his teammate but the young Brit was able to get his head down to get within 5 seconds of Hamilton. His first target was to pass Perez who also had a 5-second penalty for the pit lane incident. On Lap 69, the No.4 McLaren went down the inside of the Racing Point on Turn 3, banged wheels but made the overtake. Lando has less than two laps left to close the gap to Leclerc by just over a second. This man put in the most incredible lap of the race in the final lap to not only get within 5 seconds of Lewis to snatch P3, but he also clocked the fastest lap of the race which earns him an extra point in the championship. Watch this epic lap below:
Even though it was a Mercedes one-two across the chequered flag, the final podium results were far more satisfying. Valtteri Bottas secured a praiseworthy win, fending off Hamilton for most of the race. It is his second win at Austrian GP after his third pole position start around this circuit. Leclerc managed to haul that Ferrari to a P2 finish for the second year in a row at the Red Bull Ring. Not the most aggressive drive from him but a solid effort, capitalising on the chaos of those ahead of him and getting that car across the line. But the most celebrated result was to see McLaren’s Lando Norris secure his maiden podium in P3.
The awards ceremony under the new coronavirus precaution protocols was held at the track itself. While the drivers could still celebrate with spraying that special champagne, they had to maintain social distance with each other and most of their crew. As the commentators stated, McLaren has continued its tradition of unique podium circumstances, referring to Sainz’ delayed podium in Brazil 2019.
In the final classifications, Hamilton finished P4. Carlos Sainz was able to get past Perez too to secure P5. Pierre Gasly finished P7 to earn AlphaTauri some points at the start of the season. Unfortunately, Daniil Kvyat also had a wheel come off on Lap 70 but since he was able to direct it off track and out of harm’s way, there wasn’t a safety car on the final lap. It allowed Ocon to finish P8 and Antonio Giovinazzi in P9 while Vettel crossed the line in P10. The last one to finish the race was F1 debutant Nicholas Latifi in P11.
The next race will also be at the Red Bull Ring and it will be the following weekend itself. Expect Ferrari to still be off-pace but it will be interesting to see how teams deal with the issue of the kerbs. Were you equally excited by today’s podium results? Feel free to share your thoughts on the race in the comments below.
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Final race standings
- V. Bottas Mercedes — 1:30:55.739
- C. Leclerc Ferrari +2.700
- L. Norris McLaren Renault +5.491
- L. Hamilton Mercedes +5.689
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault +8.903
- S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes +15.092
- P. Gasly AlphaTauri Honda +16.682
- E. Ocon Renault +17.456
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +21.146
- S. Vettel Ferrari +24.545
- N. Latifi Williams Racing Mercedes +31.650
- D. Kvyat AlphaTauri Honda DNF
- A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda DNF
- K. Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari DNF
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes DNF
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari DNF
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari DNF
- L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes DNF
- D. Ricciardo Renault DNF DNF
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda DNF