The race produced drama and excitement beyond my expectations.
Race winner Valtteri Bottas with the trophy after winning last week's season opening Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Last Sunday’s first race of the 2020 Formula One season, the Austrian Grand Prix, rapidly re-established the normality of F1, as protests and squabbles from last year and the preseason testing were revived, including the Ferrari engine investigation.
After a mediocre start to the 2019 season, Ferrari needed to up their game and following the summer break, the team demonstrated an improvement, resulting in three consecutive victories and five consecutive pole positions – prompting an FIA investigation. It was suggested the Scuderia were exceeding the prescribed maximum fuel flow. Amazingly, the Italian team’s miraculous power advantage vaporised and strangely, the results of the investigation were never published.
The FIA announced an agreement had been reached with Ferrari, and that was that. Angry Red Bull and Mercedes bosses correctly stated either the engine was legal or it was not, but nothing has been disclosed. So, would the new car be better? After last Saturday’s qualifying, the answer was an emphatic no. Will we ever know the truth? It looks highly unlikely.
Then there was Red Bull’s concern regarding the legality of the Mercedes’ Dual Axis Steering (DAS), although Red Bull’s Christian Horner described it as a clarification rather than a protest. Though previously approved by the FIA, Horner wants confirmation it does not constitute an infringement of the regulations. We await the result of this one. The predicted protest regarding the legality of Racing Point’s car, christened the “Pink Mercedes” by other teams, seems to have faded from the limelight. I think it is gone but not forgotten and an objection could still arise before the end of the season.
After three practice sessions and qualifying, it looked as though normality had genuinely been restored and it was business as usual, with the usual suspects fighting for top honours. The grid did offer a ray of hope once past the Mercedes and Red Bull cars, with McLaren, Racing Point and Renault in the mix, plus Ferrari down in 10th and 11th. It was an all-Mercedes front row, with Valtteri Bottas on pole, but the stewards imposed a three-position grid penalty and a two-point penalty on Lewis Hamilton’s Super License, for failing to slow under yellow flag conditions during qualifying.
This moved Max Verstappen’s Red Bull to second on the grid, with Lando Norris’ McLaren third and Alex Albon’s Red Bull fourth, ahead of the demoted Hamilton. Bottas was in control from the start, immediately pulling away from Verstappen, Hamilton began to move through the field, and it began to look like a continuation of Mercedes domination. The only competition was from Verstappen, but that was to end on lap 11, when the Red Bull lost power and the Dutchman was forced to retire.
Seven laps later, it was the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo out with a cooling issue, and then on lap 21 Lance Stroll’s Mercedes-powered Racing Point developed a “sensor” issue and headed for the pits. This problem was to raise its head with both the factory Mercedes a little later. Brake failure sidelined Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, resulting in the first of three safety car deployments during the race, the second on lap 52, when the Williams of George Russell retired with fuel pressure loss, and immediately at the restart on lap 55, when Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo shed its
right front wheel.
On lap 42, race-leader Bottas was told: “Urgent chassis default 21.” One lap later, both the Finn and now second-positioned Hamilton were told to stay off the kerbs, with apparently a gearbox issue for both cars. On lap 47, Bottas was informed that the issue was “critical” and his problem was worse than his teammate’s. Albon made use of the final safety car period, pitting for a set of soft compound tyres in an attempt to challenge Hamilton.
On lap 61, Albon did so but was squeezed out and into a spin. The incident was investigated and Hamilton received a five-second penalty. Charles Leclerc had passed the Englishman for second spot, and Hamilton now found his mirrors full of the rapid McLaren of Norris, who put in the fastest lap of the race, and with the help of Hamilton’s penalty grabbed the final podium step, his first in F1. What a way to start the season. The race produced drama and excitement beyond my expectations.
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