What a return! What a dramatic race! Only 13 cars were classified as finishers, with just 11 cars crossed the finishing line at the end in a race of great attrition, with all nine cars that didn’t cross the finish line retiring due to mechanical issues, and with a number of others right on the edge of their reliability limits.
Despite this, the racing was first class, Valtteri Bottas winning the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix from pole position in what was one of the best performances of his career so far, leading all 71 Laps of the race, while Lewis Hamilton after receiving a three-place grid penalty for going too fast under yellow flags in qualifying, moved up from fifth to second by Lap 11 following the retirement of Max Verstappen due to electronic issues with his Red Bull Racing-Honda, pressured his teammate Bottas throughout the race while both Mercedes were battling gearbox issues, which were compounded to a degree by three safety car periods, the first on Lap 25 when Kevin Magnussen retired at Turn Two with brake issues for Haas-Ferrari, the second on Lap 50 when George Russell had to retire with a loss of fuel pressure in his Williams-Mercedes, and on Lap 54, the lap the second safety car period ended when Kimi Räikkönen of Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari lost his right-front wheel.
This was before Hamilton clashed with Verstappen’s teammate Alexander Albon on Lap 61 after Albon attempted to pass Hamilton around the outside of Turn Four, ending Albon’s hopes of a first podium in Formula One (although he retired (classified 13th) from the race on Lap 67 due to electronic issues), and Hamilton, who finished second on the track, received a five-second time penalty as a result.
This gave the opportunity for Charles Leclerc in a Ferrari that was no where near the quickest cars on merit during the weekend to pounce and grab a surprise second-place, while Lando Norris snatched his first podium in Formula One for McLaren-Renault by setting the fastest lap of the race on the final lap, beating Hamilton to third (after Hamilton’s time penalty) by 0.198 seconds!
That was just a small snapshot of the return of Formula One, which remains at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria this weekend for the first-ever running of the Styrian Grand Prix, Round Two of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship.
Bottas (25 points) leads the championship for Mercedes by seven points over Ferrari’s Leclerc (18 points) after the opening round of 2020. Ferrari, despite finishing second through the efforts of Leclerc, were never in the hunt for the race victory. Leclerc just managed to scrape into the third period (Top 10) of qualifying on Saturday, while his teammate Sebastian Vettel (one point), who finished the opening race of 2020 in 10th after spinning and almost colliding with McLaren-Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr., who incidentally will be replacing Vettel at Ferrari in 2021, on Lap 32 as the race resumed after the first safety car, just missed out on getting into the third period of qualifying.
Right now, Ferrari have the fifth-fastest car on paper, which is worse than expected, and are now going to bring updates to their car for the Styrian Grand Prix, instead of waiting for the following weekend at the Hungarian Grand Prix as they had originally intended. If the updates don’t work for Ferrari, then Leclerc’s second-place finish at the Austrian Grand Prix could well become a distant memory for the Prancing Horse.
Norris (16 points) is third in the standings for McLaren-Renault after becoming third-youngest driver in Formula One history to score a podium finish, while Hamilton (12 points) is fourth for Mercedes after his clash with Albon at Turn Four, which is the second time they have touched each other in the last three races after coming together last year in Brazil.
In my view, while the stewards were probably right to give Hamilton a five-second time penalty, I felt it was very close to a racing incident just because of the high degree of difficulty of making a pass around the outside of someone at Turn Four at the Red Bull Ring, especially around the outside of a six-time world champion.
If it had been Albon’s teammate Verstappen in that position rather than Albon, I think Verstappen would have made a successful pass around the outside of Hamilton due to the extra level of speed Verstappen has, thus the extra level of respect that Hamilton would have had for Verstappen due to his extra level of speed, and this extra level of respect is not the type of respect that you can earn over time!
It is the type of respect that you either born with, or not born with (relative to the opposition), and if Albon is going to be successful in his Formula One career, he is likely going to have to be done through greater hard work and grit, rather than going down the route of doing it via audaciousness and natural speed!
Carlos Sainz Jr. (10 points) is fifth in the world championship for McLaren-Renault, Sergio Pérez (eight points) is sixth for Racing Point-BWT Mercedes after receiving a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pit-lane, although that wouldn’t have moved him up any further, while Pierre Gasly (six points) for AlphaTauri-Honda, Esteban Ocon (four points) for Renault, Antonio Giovinazzi (two points) for Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari, and Vettel (one point) for Ferrari complete the points-scoring finishers, while Nicholas Latifi missed out on a points-scoring finish for Williams-Mercedes on his Formula One debut.
As for the other drivers who didn’t finish the race (that I haven’t mentioned), Daniel Ricciardo retired on Lap 17 for Renault due to overheating and cooling issues with his car, Lance Stroll was a casualty for Racing Point-BWT Mercedes three laps later with an engine issue, while Romain Grosjean (brakes) and Daniil Kvyat (suspension) retired on Lap 49 and Lap 69 for Haas-Ferrari and AlphaTauri-Honda respectively, with Kvyat classified in 12th.
As far as the Constructors’ Championship is concerned, Mercedes (37 points) lead by 11 points over McLaren-Renault (26 points), with Ferrari (19 points) a further seven points adrift, while Racing Point-BWT Mercedes (eight points), AlphaTauri-Honda (six points), Renault (four points), Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari (two points) all claimed points in a car-breaking grand prix, with Williams-Mercedes (zero points), Red Bull Racing-Honda (zero points), and Haas-Ferrari (zero points) yet to get off the mark.
So, who will win the inaugural Styrian Grand Prix?
If the conditions are cooler this weekend, particularly for race day, then you would expect a more predictable race, especially in terms of reliability, and likewise a more predictable final result. If Mercedes are reliable, they should finish first and second, and if that is the case, I tip Lewis Hamilton to bounce back to his very best this weekend!
However, if rain or car reliability (through failures or grid penalties) affects the weekend, then all bets will be off once again, but regardless of what happens, it should be another great race!