It’s hard to keep a track of the records of firsts and nths resulting from the chaos that is 2020, but an undeniable reality was that Lewis Hamilton nailed the second part of the double-header at the Red Bull Ring.
The majority of the race itself was a bit of a snoozefest, especially in comparison to the Sunday before it. But the wet qualifying session really threw a curveball at most competitors, demanding them to showcase the best of their driving skill to navigate a 1000hp+ RWD racecar, in the pouring rain, around the track as fast as possible.
As stereotypes suggest, the British drivers were able to put in some quick laps as did wet-race specialist Max Verstappen. Ferrari’s woes continued despite the prime-ordered aero update as Charles Leclerc failed to make it to Q2 and Sebastian Vettel ended up starting 10th on the grid. George Russell was only 8 milliseconds slower than Leclerc in his Williams Mercedes.
The battle for Pole was closest between Valterri Bottas, Hamilton and Verstappen. Bottas ended up being just fourth fastest and Verstappen had a spin to end his last flying lap, granted that he might have been distracted by the car entering the pit lane as he rounded the penultimate corner (a treacherous pit entry that one). But it was Lewis who managed to set the fastest lap with the quickest time in each sector to take Pole position in the wet. Here’s the onboard of this phenomenal display of car control:
The Dutchman had to settle for second on the grid, still a front-row start. Meanwhile, Bottas would line up next to the orange McLaren of Carlos Sainz who was third fastest in qualifying. Another surprisingly good result was to see Esteban Ocon set the fifth-fastest time after being knocked out in Q2 last time around. Lando Norris was sixth-fastest but a three-place grid penalty for overtaking under yellow flags during Friday practice meant he’d line up 9th on the grid. Alex Albon seemed to be struggling for pace in Q3 as he couldn’t better his 7th fastest time ahead of Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri. Daniel Ricciardo made it to Q3 again but was only ninth fastest in the Renault. Things got worse for Ferrari as Leclerc was also given a three-place grid penalty for impeding Kvyat during qualifying (unintentional but a mistake nonetheless) and he would line up on the 14th spot with Vettel staring 10th.
Sunday ended up being quite dry but cloudy which meant that the temperatures wouldn’t run as high as the week before. Hamilton got off the line quick, Sainz getting a near-perfect start to be side by side with Verstappen as they rounded Turn 1, the McLaren having to go off the tarmac for just a bit. Everybody behind them managed to get around it too without much hassle but the pack was still very much bunched up heading into the long straight before the Turn 3 hairpin.
The top 9 got around it without a hitch while behind them, people were going into the corner four-wide. Vettel had lost a couple of places because of his poor start and Leclerc was right behind him. As they braked for Turn 3, Vettel was using the inside line with three cars to the left of him. Leclerc decided to send it for a gap that just wasn’t there down the inside of his teammate’s car and ended up crashing into him. Their rear tyres caught each other’s spin, sending the No.16 Ferrari’s rear up to crash down onto the rear wing of the No. 5 Ferrari. Both cars out of the running. Vettel with no rear end to speak off and Leclerc with a wrecked barge board. Charles accepted the full brunt of the blame, as he should since it was his mistake, but it seems Ferrari will be fighting the middle order for the rest of 2020 with its underpowered-but-legal power unit and confused aero package.
Further up the order, Hamilton was making the most of the lead to increase his gap from the others. Verstappen was kept busy in the early laps by Sainz with Bottas tucked in behind them both. Albon had already got past Ocon and Ricciardo had gotten ahead of Gasly on the first lap. After the first few laps, Verstappen had made it past Sainz to chase Lewis who was around 1.5 seconds ahead. The McLaren was being caught up by Bottas as well while Albon was taking it relatively easy, the Red Bull being quicker than the rest of the midfielders. Russell was doing well fighting for a point-scoring position before going off mid-battle and ending up at the back of the pack as usual.
From here till the pit window, the Styrian GP was a bit of a snooze fest with the occasional dash of overtaking behind the leaders, like Daniel getting past Ocon. Red Bull tried to do the undercut by pitting Max after 24 laps on the soft tyres but it didn’t quite work as Hamilton was able to maintain his pace for a few extra laps before switching to the Medium tyres on Lap 27. The defending world champion rejoined the race ahead of the Dutchman and on fresher tyres. Bottas stayed out for another 7 laps before making his change to the medium compound tyre, a late-game strategy that ensures extra grip towards the end of the race to get past Verstappen.
During the pit window, Renault decided to retire Ocon whose car was suffering from temperature issues, leaving Daniel out on track who had started on the medium compound changed to the soft for the remaining 34 laps. Lando Norris ended up doing the longest stint on the soft compound tyres – 39 laps, pitting just after Sergio Perez. Both Norris and Sainz had longer pit stops due to an issue with one of the wheel guns but luckily no wheels came off later in the race. Most of the track action in the second half was between McLaren, Racing Point and the lone Renault.
Up ahead, Lewis was maintaining a comfortable lead of 10 seconds or more over Max. By Lap 66, Valtteri had caught up with the Red Bull but as expected, he didn’t get past without a fight. Heading into Turn 4 with DRS, the Finn got ahead but Max went around the outside and got level with the Mercedes. Both cars were side by side until the end of Turn 6. Bottas set himself up to make the overtake after Turn 3 yet again, easily done on fresher rubber with DRS open, and planted his car in the defensive line to close off Max’s options into Turn 4 and made the move stick. Once that move was completed, the Red Bull did not have the pace to catch the Mercedes again and Max had to settle for P3.
The other Red Bull was a long way behind though in P4. After the disappointing outcome of the first race, Albon seemed to have decided on a safe drive to ensure some points for the team and was not on the pace all weekend. Towards the closing laps, he got caught by Perez who had also been robbed off a decent result the previous weekend due to a penalty (not his fault, pit crew error). In a dangerously close repeat of the Austrian GP, Perez lined up to get past Albon down the inside of Turn 4, made contact on the exit almost pushing the Red Bull into the gravel yet again. But Albon managed to keep his car pointing the right way and stayed ahead of the pink Merc..uhh Racing Point. That close-quarter action resulted in a damaged front wing for the Mexican racer, slowing him significantly and putting him within the reach of the hot battle behind him.
The hot battle was for P6, a position that Daniel had been clinging on for most of the second half. He’d been fending off the other Racing Point, i.e., Lance Stroll, who was on the medium compound tyres after his pit stop. Lap after lap, Stroll would get really close but the extra grip from the soft tyres and the Aussie’s late-braking talent meant the Canadian could never get past the Renault. As they waged their battle, slowing each other in the process, they were being hunted by the tenacious Norris who was on much fresher rubber. The young Brit had claimed his first F1 podium around the same track last time around and was aiming to get as close as possible yet again. It all came down to the final 2 laps for the McLaren driver (a repeat of the Sunday before). He was within DRS range of Stroll and Ricciardo as they neared Turn 3 on Lap 70. A likely frustrated Lance dove down inside of Daniel but locked up the front right and ended up going wide. Daniel saw Stroll’s mistake, swerved to avoid getting hit and ended up going wide on the exit too. Both cars rejoined the track, still side by side but with Lando right behind their wings. Stroll and Norris DRS and blasted past Ricciardo towards Turn 4 with the rear wings wide open. The Racing Point picked the inside line so the McLaren chose the outside option, making the most of the grippier tyres. Stroll almost squeezed Norris off track but the Brit cut back behind him, tucked in behind the Racing Point as they made their way around to start their last lap. Once again, using DRS to close the gap, waiting till they round the tight-left-uphill right-hander (Turn 3) and using the final DRS zone to shoot ahead and complete the overtake as you approach Turn 4. That’s what Norris did and made it stick but it wasn’t over just yet. Up ahead was the limping Racing Point of Perez in P5 and just four corners left. Lando got past Sergio just before the final corner to clinch P5. Behind him, Stroll and Ricciardo were right behind Perez. The Canadian went wide to block off the Renault, creating an epic photo finish as both Racing Points finished ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. You can also see the onboard footage from all four drivers for these last two laps below:
Those last two laps made up for all boring 65 laps or so of the Styrian GP in my opinion. Another wonderful performance from Lando Norris and a solid result for McLaren. Norris’ charge would not have been possible without the compliance of teammate Sainz who had fallen a long way behind after the pitstop fiasco as he let the Brit past just in time. Sainz opted to switch to fresh rubber while running comfortably in P9 in the closing laps and got an extra point for the fastest lap of the race. The Spaniard was likely hoping for more after starting third on the grid but its a positive result nonetheless.
It was a Mercedes one-two for the Styrian GP with Hamilton taking a comfy win and Valtteri settling for P2. The Finn will head to Hungary as the leader of the driver’s championship, 6 points clear of his teammate. Verstappen managed to get his first podium of the season at the Red Bull Ring which is less than most expect of him. Combined with the DNF in the first race, the Dutchman is leaving Austria with a lot fewer points than expected. Albon’s P4 also helped Red Bull get some useful points in the constructor’s championship. Lando’s P5 was was good enough to keep him third in the driver’s title race with McLaren being second in the constructor’s standings.
Sergio finished P6 with teammate Lance in P7, ahead of Daniel. The final points finish was secured by Daniil Kvyat, helping AlphaTauri get some points for two consecutive races. Alfa Romeo still has only one point as Kimi Raikkonen had another slow weekend and finished the race in P11 ahead of teammate Antonio Giovinazzi who was P14. The Haas team is still searching for points but both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen did get their cars to the chequered flag this time. Williams finished at the back of the pack as usual with Russell ahead of Nicholas Latifi. A surprisingly awful result for Gasly who finished P15 despite starting seventh on the grid.
Luckily, there’s no gap in racing just yet as the action moves to Hungary this week. The Hungaroring is a tight and twisty circuit and the usual questions leading up to it – Will Mercedes and Hamilton run away with the title again? Can Red Bull find a strategy to overcome the speed deficit? Will we see McLaren fighting near podium positions? Will both Ferraris be able to make it to Q3 for the first time this year? Lots to look forward to then so be sure you stay tuned and subscribe to the Auto Loons blog and follow us on Twitter & Instagram too (@autoloons).
Final race standings
- L. Hamilton Mercedes — 1:22:50.683
- V. Bottas Mercedes +13.719
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +33.698
- A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +44.400
- L. Norris McLaren Renault +61.470
- S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes +62.387
- L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes +62.453
- D. Ricciardo Renault +62.591
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault +1 lap
- D. Kvyat AlphaTauri Honda +1 lap
- K. Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari 1 lap
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari +1 lap
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +1 lap
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 lap
- P. Gasly AlphaTauri Honda +1 lap
- N. Latifi Williams Racing Mercedes +2 laps
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes +2 laps
- E. Ocon Renault DNF
- C. Leclerc Ferrari DNF
- S. Vettel Ferrari DNF