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ANALYSIS: 2020 Austrian Grand Prix – Assessing The Field

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Credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team / LAT Images

The first race of the 2020 FIA Formula 1 World Championship finally got underway at the Red Bull Ring, 110 days after the season was postponed and 217 days since the last time we saw an F1 race. The FIA and F1 cancelled the season due to the coronavirus outbreak just before free practice 1 of the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, Melbourne. 

During those very restless 110 days of lockdown, fans were entertained by the antics of the young guns as they took to online sim racing and streaming, however, all were itching for the season to get back underway and it was well worth the wait! I think I speak for everyone, we did not expect that thriller. Maybe the Mercedes win, but not everything else that happened behind race winner and leader Valterri Bottas. Definitely not the retirements of half of the grid, a Ferrari on the Podium and a Williams nearly scoring a point. We are still trying to process it as we enter another race week. 

Bottas delivered a faultless performance in the race having out-qualified his Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team mate Lewis Hamilton by 0.012 seconds to take pole position. An error on turn four led the Finn to go wide into the gravel, but it did not compromise his lap times. On race day, he pulled out into the lead as the rest of the field scrambled to make position behind him. A bonus for Bottas, was probably his team mate Hamilton’s grid penalties as it released the usual threat of attack.

It was however the young ones who were the ones to watch during the Austrian Grand Prix. In the top five on the starting grid alone, we had McLaren F1 Team’s Lando Norris, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and Alex Albon, top and tailed by the Mercedes of Bottas and Hamilton.

Top of The Class

Lando Norris – McLaren F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.345s | Race margin to team-mate: -3.412s

Permission to say: “LAAANNNDDDDOOOOOO”. Wow, what a race it was for the young Brit. Scoring his best-ever F1 career result and his first podium place, finishing third, but it was not without drama. He qualified in fourth, before being promoted to third place on the grid due to Lewis Hamilton’s yellow flag penalty. The pace set by Norris in qualifying suggested that he was on for a strong result in Sunday’s race, what was not expected was the nail-biting clincher on the final lap. 

Hamilton’s grid penalty for the collision with Albon, meant Lando had the third place in his sights but the gap between him and Hamilton had to be within those five seconds with the penalty applied. The 20-year-old didn’t disappoint by setting the fastest lap of the race posting a time of 1:07.475s which left him 0.2s ahead of the six-time world champion overall. 

Lando was gifted the title of the Third Youngest Podium Finisher at the age of 20 years and 235 days old. 

Charles Leclerc – Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.283s | Race margin to team-mate: -22.155s

Even Charles was surprised by his unexpected place on the podium. Everyone knows the Ferrari F1000 isn’t the strongest, in terms of performance, on the grid. The car has received no updates since testing in Barcelona, and it isn’t expected to see any major changes until the third race of the season in Hungary in a couple of weeks time. Ferrari are behind their rivals Mercedes in the straight line speed traps, a characteric noticed first in testing.  

Leclerc qualified in eighth place, two places ahead of his teammate, four times world champion Sebastian Vettel. Critics aware that this is not the performance expected of Ferrari at this point in the season would be in for a wild ride during the race. Leclerc climbed up the order with some clean battles, capitalising on the retirements that happened in front of him. 

At the helm of what his teammate described as an “undrivable car”, the Monegasque racer found himself on the podium in second place. In post-race interviews, he expressed his shock and surprise at finishing the race in second but acknowledged that the team had some work to do ahead of the Styrian Grand Prix. 

Credit: Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Alex Albon – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing 

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.391s | Race margin to team-mate: DNF

He wasn’t voted Driver of The Day for nothing. After posting a brilliant time in qualifying, starting fourth on the grid, it was all set up for Albon to battle for a podium position. It looked promising, it looked as if he was going to reap the rewards of the effort he’s put in since he joined the F1 championship but in a cruel twist of fate it was taken from him in the latter stages of the race. 

A rivalry we didn’t expect to blossom was that between Albon and Lewis Hamilton. At the beginning of the race on turn one, they nearly came together but Hamilton yielded, avoiding a first corner knock-out of the pair. However it was on lap 61 of the race, the pair came together. The Mercedes duo were suffering from gearbox sensor issues, which meant both drivers were warned off the kerbs by engineers, causing them both to take wider lines around the circuit. Albon left room for Hamilton to take the corner (take that as you will) however Hamilton closed the door into the corner, causing the Albon to spin off, losing precious position. But Albon’s woes were further added to when on lap 69, two laps before the chequered flag, he was forced to retire with power unit problems. 

Homework to do… 

Sebastian Vettel – Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.283s | Race margin to team-mate: +22.155s

Another unexpected result at Ferrari, with the four-time world champion crossing the line in the same position he started the race in – tenth. 

Having stated the car was undrivable, the woes for Vettel continued through the weekend. Earlier he’d admitted that there were no negotiations involved in contracts with the team for 2021, and he then was out-qualified by his teammate Leclerc, and then finished the race eight places behind him.

In the early stages of the race, Vettel was slowly but surely picking off place after place, but an incident on lap 31 with the man set to replace him, Carlos Sainz Jr., left Vettel back at square one having to work for position all over again, however, he remained in tenth place.  

Fans and critics likened the move on Sainz as a classic Vettel, with David Coulthard exclaiming on Channel 4 F1 that “everyone saw that coming” – a mistake that Vettel should’ve recognised as he tried to take a dive on Sainz, leaving him spinning across the track. Better luck next weekend Seb!

Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: + 0.012s | Race margin to team-mate: +5.689s

In general, the Austrian Grand Prix weekend was one of admiration for Lewis, however, it was his stints in the car which have left him with some pointers before the next race, this Sunday. Namely the collision with Albon on lap 61. Both Mercedes drivers were warned to stay off the kerbs due to issues with their gearbox sensors, a collision occurred when Albon was making a move on Hamilton. Knowing of the Mercedes issues, plenty of room was left, however, Hamilton closed the door on Albon with the pair touching and the Red Bull racer sent spinning into the gravel. Hamilton received a five-place penalty for this move, his second penalty of the weekend. We know Hamilton is not one for making mistakes that ultimately lead to punishments. 

Let’s hope he has a penalty-free weekend as the F1 circus returns to the Red Bull for the Styrian Grand Prix this week. 

The rest of the field… 

Well, where do we start? Carlos Sainz Jr. was the top finisher in this class.The McLaren racer finished in fifth place, having started eighth on the grid. He held his ground during the 71 lap race but didn’t do anything spectacular that would’ve banded him in either of the above categories. Sainz had a safe race with a brilliant result to top off McLaren’s weekend of celebrations.  

Nicholas Latifi made his Formula 1 debut this weekend for Williams racing and despite qualifying at the back of the grid, the Canadian just missed off scoring his first ever point finishing the race in 11th. Latifi’s teammate George Russell retired on lap 51 with fuel pressure issues. 

BWT Racing Point Formula One Team were enjoying one of their strongest weekends in the championship with the podium in sight, before it was thwarted by an unsafe release involving Sergio Perez earning the Mexican a grid place penalty and a retirement for Lance Stroll due to a loss of power on lap 22. 

The retirements thwarted the race for some of the best in the current field including Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. Ricciardo retired around lap 18 with cooling issues with his Renault R.S.20 and Verstappen slowing down while in second place due to a power issue on lap 11 before retiring from the race on lap 13 in the pit lane as the Red Bull mechanics worked to try and refire the engine from the pit box. 

All of the retirements were caused by mechanical faults, with the exception of Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda’s Daniil Kvyat on lap 69, where he believes an earlier incident involving the Renault DP World F1 Team car of Esteban Ocon caused a suspension failure. 

Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN’s Kimi Raikkonen retired following a pitstop and safety car stint, when as racing was getting back underway a wheel nut vibrated off his right front wheel causing it to come bouncing off the car just after the final turn. His team mate Antonio Giovinazzi had a relatively drama-free race bringing his C39 back home in ninth place. 

Let’s just say, despite providing a thriller of a race, the drivers could do with some much needed luck this weekend as we head to the second race of the season, at the Red Bull Ring, with the Styrian Grand Prix. 

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