A much anticipated and delayed start to the Formula 1 season finally got under way in Austria this weekend at a hot and humid Red Bull Ring. Unfortunately for the fans who normally crowd into the Spielberg circuit, this year’s Austrian Grand Prix took place as a closed event, much like many other spectator sports finding their feet again.
It was Valtteri Bottas that was the star of the weekend and not the reigning world champion, as he pipped Lewis Hamilton for pole position in Saturday’s qualifying and then went on to lead the race from start to finish yesterday, securing maximum points to lead the 2020 championship.
Although Hamilton crossed the finish line in second, his weekend did no go so well, receiving a late grid penalty putting him down into P5 and then being demoted to fourth after a five-second penalty for contact during the race with Alex Albon, handing the place to a surprised but happy Charles Leclerc. This also gave Lando Norris his first podium finish and a great result for a resurgent McLaren who were last on the podium back in 2014.
After a momentous Austrian Grand Prix, Bottas said: “Winning an F1 race is never easy, but today was particularly challenging. There were so many things going on in the race and it would have been quite easy to make a small mistake and lose it all. When the Safety Car came out the last time, I was thinking ‘Come on! Again!?’ I guess it was my chance to really master the restarts here. When you’re in the lead, you want things to be constant and trouble-free, but today felt more like dodging bullets, though things were never out of control. I could build a good margin in the first stint and look after the car and the tyres to make sure that we could stick to our planned strategy. In the second stint, there was more pressure, particularly after all the Safety Cars. We faced some reliability concerns during the race, which put quite a bit of pressure on us, but luckily we made it to the end with both cars. I think we’ve shown that we have a good package. We need to get on top of the reliability issues, but I have no doubts that our team can solve those. I’m looking forward to another race here next weekend.”
Hamilton summed up his weekend by saying: “The team did a really great job today and so did Valtteri. I drove my heart out in the race, I did everything I could – but it was just one of those weekends. There are lots of areas where I can improve. I didn’t do a great job in Qualifying yesterday and there’s only me to blame; then this morning was very unusual to get called up right before the race, but I just tried to keep my head down and drive hard. The scenario with Alex felt more like a racing incident to me. The time penalty meant that I lost the podium, but it is what it is. The car felt great, although reliability was a real issue for us today. But at least we finished, so we’ll take those points. Obviously, it’s a loss from a potential 1-2, but I’ll try to recover those in the coming races. Ultimately, this was not a good weekend for me, but it could be worse – I’ll take what I’ve got, try to learn from it and be better next time.”
The two Mercedes drivers enjoyed a noticeable performance advantage over the other teams. Although Ferrari struggled for performance at the Red Bull Ring, Charles Leclerc managed to find some pace in the second half of the race, coaxing his Ferrari into P3 by the time he crossed the finish line.
Leclerc said after the race that “The team did a fantastic job, both in terms of strategy and with the car itself. We knew we had to make the best of it today. I told myself that we had to take any opportunity we had and that’s the way I drove. I am very happy with the result – we didn’t expect to finish in second place.
While it was great to start off the season with a podium, we cannot ignore the fact that we aren’t where we want to be in terms of performance. We were lucky this weekend, with safety cars and retirements mixing things up, but we can’t expect to fight for the win at these next few races.
We have to stay motivated and I am sure that the whole factory is working very hard to bring us back stronger. And that’s the spirit we need to remain focused on our targets.”
If Ferrari thought they had a tough weekend, that was nothing compared to Max Verstappen, who suffered a loss of power after only 11 laps, putting pay to getting a third straight win at the Red Bull Ring. His teammate Albon also suffered a similar problem in his Red Bull on the penultimate lap of the race.
It was also a disappointing weekend for the Haas F1 Team, with both cars suffering brake issues due to overheating, forcing them to retire from the race. Team Principal, Guenther Steiner said after the race that “Obviously, it wasn’t the day we wanted today. We had brake issues because of overheating on both cars – it was the same thing. That’s what took us out of the race when there was a good possibility for us to get into the points. But ‘if and when’ didn’t work today. The good thing is the drivers seemed to be as happy as they could be with the car. They feel that the car is raceable, so it just feels like we missed an opportunity. If we work hard, we can get into the points going forward, so that’s what we’ll be doing.”
Carlos Sainz took fifth place to confirm McLaren’s strong performance, managing to get past Sergio Perez in the closing stages of the race, while Pierre Gasly scored valuable points in his debut with the new AlphaTauri team, crossing the line in seventh.
In total, nine drivers failed to finish the Austrian Grand Prix with the top ten being Valtteri Bottas, Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, who also took an extra point for the fastest lap, Lewis Hamilton, who was demoted to fourth, Carlos Sainz in fifth, Sergio Perez, sixth in his Racing Point BWT, Pierre Gasly in seventh, eighth was Esteban Ocon in his Renault, with Antonio Giovinazzi ninth in his Alfa Romeo and Sebastian Vettel rounding off a the top ten and disappointing weekend for the four-time world champion. Nicholas Latifi was the final driver to finish the race in his Williams in eleventh.
The next round of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship, the Styrian Grand Prix, takes place this coming Sunday 12th July once again at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a member of The Guild of Motoring Writers, professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.
Photographs courtesy of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team, Scuderia Ferrari Press Office, McLaren and Hass F1 Team (LAT Images)