It has been over half a year since the last Grand Prix and many fans will argue that it was worth the wait.
The weather was perfect for the first Grand Prix of 2020, but drama erupted before the race even began. Lewis Hamilton was given a 5 place grid penalty after Red Bull successfully protested his qualifying lap. This placed the British driver in 7th, promoting Max Verstappen to the front row.
At 14:00, every driver chose to participate in a demonstration against racism. The message was further reinforced with banners around the entirety of the Austrian track.
As the race began, Valtteri Bottas nailed the start, pulling ahead from the batting pack behind. McLaren’s Lando Norris dropped back from his starting position, but managed to remain in the top 6. In 2nd, Max Verstappen maintained the gap, staying within 4 seconds of the leader. This was a promising sign, as the Dutch driver started on the harder compound tyre. However, his hard work unravelled on lap 11 as his car lost power and got stuck with anti stall. This would prove to be the first fatality in a race of attrition.
Next, Lance Stroll retired on lap 16, falling back after fighting for points. Daniel Ricciardo was next to join the retirees, his Renault appearing to get stuck in third gear. Kevin Magnussen then spun off after suffering a brake issue fighting Esteban Ocon, this brought out the first of 3 safety cars. During a hectic round of pit stops, Racing Point sent out Sergio Perez as Lando Norris passed his pit box. This led to a penalty for the Mexican, which arguably cost him a top 3 finish later on. As the safety car left the track, Sebastian Vettel dropped down the grid, spinning after an ambitious lunge on Carlos Sainz. Then, on lap 44, Mercedes started to have serious issues with both of their cars, similar to those that plagued their winter testing sessions. Both drivers were advised to stay off the kerbs for risk of a gearbox failure. After this was ignored by both battling drivers, lead engineer James Allison took to the radio to emphasise the critical situation both drivers were in.
A second safety car was called as George Russell retired his Williams from 13th. Pressure was now starting to mount on the leading Mercedes as Alex Albon, Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez and Lando Norris started to set their sights on the podium. As the safety car came in, Kimi Raikkonen suffered an extreme failure on his front right tyre, bringing out the safety car one final time. However, before the message was sent to the drivers, Alex Albon performed a sublime overtake on Sergio Perez for 3rd. Perez re-took the place back during the safety car period, but rescinded the position a few laps later.
Alex Albon was now in a superb position for the win. 2 places behind the lead and with fresh soft tyres bolted on his Red Bull, he started the charge immediately, hounding the back of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. But, while Albon was overtaking the Mercedes on lap 60, Lewis Hamilton did not leave him enough room, tapped the rear of his car and sent him careening into the gravel, reminiscent of Brazil 2019. This gave Hamilton a 5 second penalty and suddenly, the final podium place was up for grabs.
As Leclec managed to wrestle his Ferrari into 2nd, Lando Norris found himself 7 seconds behind Lewis Hamilton. With 2 laps to go, Norris pulled out two sensational laps, in an attempt to claim his first podium. As he passed the chequered flag on lap 71 he achieved the fastest lap and managed to snatch his first podium, beating Lewis Hamilton’s penalty by 0.1 of a second. A phenomenal result that sent the McLaren garage into a frenzy, as well as fans worldwide. However, Valtteri Bottas has repeated his his 2019 season with pole and a win, except this time, Lewis Hamilton is already much further adrift, 13 points behind. A tantalising prospect for the rest of the season.
An incredibly entertaining start to the 2020 season leaves fans with many questions. Will reliability issues plague the entire season? Where would Max Verstappen have finished? Is this the year of Valtteri Bottas? All eyes look to the second round of the championship taking place next Sunday.
Full Race Results:
- Raikkonen (RET)
- Russell (RET)
- Grosjean (RET)
- Magnussen (RET)
- Stroll (RET)
- Ricciardo (RET)
- Verstappen (RET)
Feature Image Credit: Formula1.com