ANALYSIS: Assessing the field – 2020 Styrian GP

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RED BULL RING, AUSTRIA - JULY 12: Race winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 on the podium with the champagne during the Styrian GP at Red Bull Ring on Sunday July 12, 2020 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images)

Formula 1 returned to the Red Bull Ring this weekend to mark the second race of the season, and the first at the circuit under the Styrian Grand Prix moniker. Saturday’s sessions were hampered by a deluge of rain, which saw off Free Practice 3 and almost qualifying. The afternoon qualifying session was delayed by 45 minutes seeing the drivers battle against the elements to place their fastest laps. 

Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team’s Lewis Hamilton was a master in the rain, claiming pole position in extremely wet conditions. The weather played a huge part in mixing up the starting grid, which in turn provided plenty of action on the track come race day in spite of Hamilton’s lights to flag victory. 

Top of the class

Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -1.428 | Race margin to team-mate: -13.719s

There’s not a lot to say about Lewis’ performance this weekend other than the word: Epic. His qualifying lap was something to behold in the treacherous conditions presented on Saturday, and then the gap he had to the rest of the pack throughout the 71 lap Styrian Grand Prix was more than just comfortable. The Brit ended the race 13.7 seconds clear of his teammate Valterri Bottas in second place. 

Sergio Perez – BWT Racing Point Formula 1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +1.962s | Race margin to team-mate: -0.138s

Perez had a shocker of a qualifying session, starting 17th on the grid in the wet, however the dry track conditions on race day lent themselves to the Mexican who stormed up the pack into the top 10. Perez was on for a fifth place finish behind the Aston Martin Red Bull of Alex Albon, but with damage caused by a small collision with Albon to his front wing, the gap between Perez and his Racing Point team-mate Lance Stroll closed. A lunge from Stroll led the pair to go wide off the track which left them in the clutches of Lando Norris. Perez’s race would score an 8/10 for effort, as it wasn’t until the latter stages of the race where small errors of judgement were made, seeing him drop down the order. 

Max Verstappen

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.522s | Race margin to team-mate: -10.702s

The stronger out of the Red Bulls, and the only driver to really challenge the Mercedes duo, Verstappen had a strong qualifying session,qualifying second and starting on the front row. A charge into the first corner proved successful for Max as he was able to hold position behind Hamilton and about 13 seconds ahead of third place, until the latter stages of the race as Bottas played catch up, closing a gap down, as Verstappen suffered with front wing damage. Bottas overtook him to claim second in the end. If this race performance was anything to go by, can we expect another podium from Max in Hungary? 

Lando Norris – McLaren F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.522s | Race margin to team-mate: – 1 lap

Lando started the race with a grid penalty from ignoring a yellow flag during Free Practice 1, and it looked like the Brit has settled for position at the tail end of the top 10 for the majority of the race, however this is Lando we are talking about here… A late battle commenced between the number 4 McLaren, Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll. Perez had sustained damaged and Norris took advantage of the gap closing between the trio in the last lap of the race taking them both on turn six to claim fifth place at the flag. Norris has had two successive strong performances 

Homework to do

Ferrari, just Ferrari 

The Scuderia worked hard during the past week to implement, and bring forward the updates to the SF1000 we expected to see next time out at the Hungaroring. The team struggled to qualify both cars in the top 10 with Sebastian Vettel only just scraping ahead of 11th placed Charles Leclerc who was then demoted three places due to a penalty for blocking AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat. 

By turn three of the first lap of the race, it was all over for Ferrari. Vettel claimed he was conservative in his approach in an interview immediately following his retirement, keeping to the centre of the track. At this point the Ferraris were three abreast, Kevin Magnussen on the outside, and Leclerc on the inside of Vettel. Leclerc took the inside line bouncing off the kerb into the rear of Vettel, in what was a disaster move for the team. Vettel retired immediately with heavy damage to the wing, Leclerc two laps later with unsafe levels of damage to the floor of his SF1000. 

Leclerc did, however, take full responsibility for the crash, but it was a collision that could’ve been avoided had the Monegasque driver yielded and waited a bit longer to challenge for position, something he later wished he had done in a statement he released on social media saying he was “too eager to gain those places in the first lap”, and that he would “learn from it”. 

A repeat of Leclerc’s podium from the season opener would be a welcome sight at the Hungaroring this weekend coming, but at this point, having Ferrari finish the race with both cars in the points is the best we can pray for. Let’s hope the updates are worth the heartache felt by the Tifosi this weekend. 

The rest of the field… 

I feel like it was unfair to band any of the other drivers in the same category as Ferrari, considering small yet costly errors were made by the likes of George Russell who threw away position as he tried to make a move on Magnussen from P12. The spin left him at the back of the pack unable to recover. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz dropped position following a lengthy pit stop having started third on the grid in his best qualifying position to date, leaving him in ninth. A saving grace was a late tyre change which allowed the Spaniard to collect an extra point for fastest lap. Esteban Ocon retired his Renault R.S.20 following a mechanical issue while he was running in the top eight in the latter stages of the race. 

Lance Stroll had one of his best races to date finishing behind teammate after holding sixth place for most of the race before both the Canadian and his teammate Perez being overtaken by Norris in the last laps of the race. The Racing Points are definitely ones to watch this season. 

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