F1 puts on a show in Austria as 2020 season finally gets underway

05/07/2020
NEWS STORY

Understandably, after three months of waiting for the season to get underway, the tension is palpable.

As the lights for the 2020 Formula One season finally look set to signal game on, even sections of the media that usually dismiss the sport as elitist and damaging to the environment are looking on with keen interest.

Sadly however, the interest isn't in terms of whether Ferrari has been sand-bagging, Racing Point can upset the formbook or Max Verstappen can take the fight to Mercedes, but rather what happens in the moments before the race.

Two hours before the start, Charles Leclerc tweeted that he will not be 'taking the knee', though he was keen to make clear that this doesn't compromise his belief in the sport's aim to increase diversity and "end racism".

Sadly, the briefest of looks at the various responses to his tweet reveal all you need to know.

Not for the first time, the sport is looking set to make it into the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Unfortunately for Charles, Knee-gate is unlikely to be the only issue he has to contend with today, for the Ferrari is proving to be even worse than predicted, and rest assured those predictions were not good.

Following weeks of speculation over Sebastian Vettel's future, and the lack of prospects for the German, with this year's car due to be used again next season it looks as though Ferrari has actually done the four-time world champion a favour.

Toto Wolff has summed up the situation pretty succinctly - though without resorting to the terminology used by Max Verstappen - the Austrian admitting that he is sick to death of Ferrari blaming its lack of pace on its aero, when the world and its dog knows that the Italian team has never recovered its form after last year's Flow-gate saga.

Much is being made of Vettel starting from eleventh and therefore with a free choice of start tyre, but the fact is that to have any reasonable hope the German needs one of those pre- Flow-gate power units.

Talking of grey areas of the rules... the pace of the Racing Point today will likely be matched, or even exceeded, by the speed with which at least one team will post a protest at race end, Cyril Abiteboul probably clutching the document as we type...

These things don't go away - we refer you to Red Bull's protest of Mercedes' DAS at the start of the weekend - and now that their worst fears have been realised even those teams willing to turn a blind eye to the (t)Racing Point are likely to be beating a path to the stewards office in the hours that follow.

Qualifying didn't go as well as Renault wished, Ricciardo losing out when Bottas made his late mistake. Race pace looked good in the sims however, and consequently both cars should be in a position to challenge for points.

Norris gave McLaren its best qualifying position for six years yesterday, and though we do not expect the Woking team to be worrying the likes of Mercedes or Red Bull, it should enjoy a good scrap with Renault, Ferrari and possibly Racing Point.

The Points, of course, are looking good, as well they might, and one suspects the ever-reliable Perez should bag a decent points haul. Stroll has looked a little wobbly at times this weekend, but may well settle down once the lights go out. After all, he hardly has to worry about job security.

The AlphaTauris are further down the grid than expected, but with the Honda in the back - and that smart paint job - Kvyat and Gasly should be in the thick of the midfield fight.

Haas and Alfa Romeo appear to have the same, ahem... "aero issues" that are affecting Ferrari, so expect to see Raikkonen doing his level best to avoid Grosjean and Magnussen lest it end in tears.

Williams remain at the back, but Russell doesn't appear to have received the message. Could the boy spring a surprise in the real world following his success in the virtual version?

Out front, while it looks to be all about Mercedes, one can never rule Verstappen out of the equation, especially as he has won here for the last two years.

The opening three practice sessions suggested that it was business as usual, with Hamilton leading the way. However, Bottas turned everything on its head in Q3, the Finn suggesting that version 3.0 is about to make his debut.

With Ferrari seemingly out of the mix, Verstappen will be keen to take the fight to Mercedes, and though he doesn't have the Orange Army cheering him on from the stands, he is on home ground.

The only one of the top ten starting on mediums, Verstappen is going to be interesting to watch in the opening laps.

A strong showing from Albon also yesterday suggests that Red Bull has strength in depth.

In a late bit of drama, Hamilton was called to the stewards after Red Bull requested a review of the incident in Q3 in which Hamilton failed to slow for the waved yellow.

Having lost the DAS protest, the Austrian team clearly hasn't given up.

The warmer weather today will mix things up a little, especially in terms of tyre wear.

The fastest strategy is a one-stopper, starting on the softs for 24 to 28 laps, before switching to the hards. Alternatively, start on mediums for 27 to 32 laps, before finishing on hards. These two strategies have a more or less identical total race time, but the latter offers slightly more flexibility.

The second-quickest strategy is to start on the softs for 30 to 34 laps, then go to mediums to the end.

A two-stop strategy is definitely slower, but it would go like this: two stints on the soft tyre of 16 to 18 laps each, then finish the race on either the medium or the hard compound, depending on how things were looking at that point.

And 40 minutes before the start, the stewards announce that Hamilton has been given a 3-place grid penalty which means he will start 5th, while Verstappen starts 2nd and Albon 4th.

The pitlane opens and one by one the drivers head out to take their place on a rather strange looking - read almost deserted, certainly in terms of 'celebrities' - grid in front of empty grandstands.

Sainz reports a light puncture, while Vettel asks to be brought his helmet screwdriver.

Ahead of the national anthem, 14 drivers 'take the knee'... after which we cut to the podium where a sextet, all wearing national costume, plays Land der Berge.

Air temperature is 29 degrees C, while the track temperature is 56 degrees.

Other than Verstappen, all bar the other drivers in the top ten start on the yellow-banded rubber.

The field heads off on the warm-up lap.

The grid forms.

They're away... and heading into T1 Bottas is just ahead of Verstappen as both make strong starts. Heading into the corner Norris is alongside the Red Bull but runs wide at the exit.

Behind, Leclerc runs wide also as he battle Perez.

Heading to T3, Bottas has a clear lead, as Norris continues to hound Verstappen and Hamilton is alongside Albon.

At T4 Hamilton has to back off or risk a collision with Albon, while Perez, Norris and Leclerc scrap behind.

Leclerc attempts to make a move on the Mexican but the Racing Point has the advantage of the Ferrari.

Check out our Race Day gallery from Spielberg, here.

Verstappen finally loses Norris out of his slipstream, and the Red Bull driver can now set about hunting down the race leader.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Bottas, Verstappen, Norris, Albon, Hamilton, Perez, Leclerc, Sainz, Stroll, and Vettel.

"Look after that car," Bottas is told.

Albon passes Norris to take third, the Thai taking immediate advantage of DRS as it is enabled.

As Hamilton cruises past Norris it is clear that McLaren isn't yet ready to play with the big guns. Number 5 in a series of sentences we never thought we'd write.

On the other hand, Perez now closes on Norris, as Bottas extends his lead to 2.3s.

Leclerc reports that Perez' engine is smoking.

After 7 laps, Bottas leads by 3s with Verstappen 3s clear of Albon who has Hamilton all over his exhaust.

Elsewhere, in what is currently a static order, Giovinazzi is pressuring Magnussen, while Russell is all over Grosjean.

Hamilton makes a nice move, courtesy of DRS, on Albon in T4 to take third. This leaves the Briton 4s down on Verstappen and 7.4s down on the leader.

Suddenly on lap 10 Verstappen slows, the Red Bull appearing to have lost power. "Can we go back with the settings," he shouts as he falls down through the field.

Though the Honda sounds dreadful he continues going, his head nodding inside the cockpit as though he's willing the car on. "I keep getting anti-stall," he reports.

He pits, his race over.

Meanwhile, Bottas maintains a 7s advantage over his Mercedes teammate, as Stroll is told he has an engine problem which the team is trying to manage.

As Norris is told that Leclerc is losing ground, Ricciardo slows, while Vettel, who was ahead of the Australian, passes Stroll for 8th.

Like Verstappen, Ricciardo is pushed back into his garage, though in this case the examination of the car is a little less frantic.

In just a few laps, Albon has lost 8s to Hamilton, while Norris remains 4s behind.

Stroll's problems continue, the Canadian now passed by Gasly.

"Antonio will let you by in T3," Raikkonen is told, as Grosjean takes a trip through the gravel in T4.

At the end of lap 20, Stroll drives into the pits and straight into his garage.

Moments later, Grosjean makes the first scheduled pit stop of the afternoon.

A string of fastest laps sees Hamilton close to within 5.3s of the leader.

Having told Leclerc to pit, there's a change of heart at Ferrari and the crew return to their bubble with the tyres.

Hamilton is advised that Stroll's failure was due to a sensor issue and therefore he must look after his car... in other words stay off the kerbs. "Target plus3," his teammate is told.

As Raikkonen pits at the end of lap 24, Ocon is all over Magnussen. At which point the Dane appears to suffer brake failure at T3 and heads off into the wilderness.

The safety car is deployed in order to remove the stranded Haas, at which point the driver, en masse, head from the hills and into the pitlane.

Perez and Norris head down the pitlane side-by-side, and though there is no touching it was clearly an unsafe release by the Mexican's crew.

All bar Latifi pit, as Bottas remains in the lead, Mercedes pulling off another double-stack with typical style, ahead of Hamilton, Albon, Norris, Perez, Leclerc, Sainz, Vettel, Gasly and Kvyat.

Interestingly, all are now running behind the safety car on hards, bar Perez who is on mediums. The Mexican an acknowledged expert in terms of tyre management.

Not for the first time, Hamilton queries the team's choice of tyres,, the Briton baffled that he's on the same compound as his teammate.

The safety car is withdrawn at the end of lap 30.

Sainz is immediately battling Leclerc... and as they head into T3 Vettel tries a sneaky move on the Spaniard but clouts the rear of the McLaren and spins. He drops down to 15th in the process.

The stewards are to investigate the pitlane incident involving Norris and Perez.

1.6s down on Albon, Norris is under pressure from Perez who has Leclerc in his wake. The Mexican makes short (DRS) work of the McLaren and sets off closing the 1.6s gap to Albon.

Lap 34 sees a new fastest lap from Hamilton (8.258) as he closes to within 0.640s of his teammate.

As he attempts to fend off Vettel, Grosjean exceeds the track limits and is accordingly shown the black and white flag.

In the midst of all this, Russell is up to 12th.

As the order settles down, other than the two Mercedes, the most interesting potential scraps involve Kvyat and Ocon for 10th and Vettel who is hunting down his former teammate Raikkonen.

Bottas posts an 8.131 but Hamilton responds with an 8.058.

"Plan A, Plan A, maximum pace," Norris is told.

Separated by 0.740s, the Black Arrows are lapping just 0.005s within one another.

"Sensor issue seen in both cars," Bottas is warned, "please stay off the kerbs."

Hamilton closes to within 0.305 then immediately drops back, as if he's trying to prove a point.

Hamilton is given the same warning as his teammate. The Briton replies that Bottas is using the kerbs more than him, at which point his on-board (a sore subject for Lewis today) somewhat proves his point.

Raikkonen has passes Russell, who is 0.729s ahead of Vettel.

"Valtteri, the is James, the gearbox (sensor) issue is critical to both cars, please stay off the kerbs." "That's the red and white things," Hamilton is told.

"You're in worst shape," Bottas is warned.

10s behind those pesky Mercedes, after 49 laps, Albon has a 2s advantage over Perez.

Elsewhere, the Kvyat battle with Ocon for ninth continues.

Grosjean is driving along the escape road at T4, a road he is somewhat familiar with. Another brake issue?

Check out our Race Day gallery from Spielberg, here.

Oh dear, Russell has slowed, and moments after being passed by his teammate, with smoke billowing from the rear of the car, he pulls off to the side of the track.

The safety car is deployed again.

Once again the pits become a hive of manic, social-distancing activity.

With around 18 laps remaining, some drivers switch to the softs.

The Mercedes pair don't pit, nor does Perez, while Albon pits for softs and rejoins in 4th.

Mercedes is going to be under pressure at the re-start, for other than the gearbox issues they'll have the pack on the heels not least Albon on softs.

Behind the safety car, it's: Bottas, Hamilton, Perez, Albon, Norris, Leclerc, Gasly, Ocon, Sainz and Giovinazzi. Of those, only Albon, Norris, Leclerc and Sainz took advantage of the safety car for a second stop.

The safety car withdraws at the end of lap 55, and at T3 Albon makes a great move on Perez for third.

However, the field immediately slows as Raikkonen has crashed on the pit straight, his Alfa having lost its left-front wheel.

"What the ****, I've lost the whole front-right corner," declares the Finn.

The safety car is deployed for the third time this afternoon.

Giovinazzi is the only driver to pit.

With Raikkonen's car stranded on the pit straight, the safety car leads the field through the pitlane.

As the safety car prepares to pull off, Perez is told to hand back third to Albon following discussions over the timing of the safety car.

The safety car withdraws at the end of lap 60, once again Bottas holds position.

Albon is all over Hamilton while Perez is all over Norris.

Albon and Hamilton touch, the Thai attempting to go round the outside at T4 is forced even wider by the world champion. He's spins off and heads into the gravel.

All of which has allowed Bottas to build a 1.4s lead.

The stewards are to investigate the Albon/Hamilton clash.

Sainz posts a new fastest lap (7.974) as he hounds 5th placed Leclerc, the Spaniard having passed Gasly in the process.

Moments later however the Monegasque makes a bold move on the other McLaren to claim 4th.

Leclerc posts a new fastest lap (7.842) as he hunts down Perez. He makes a great move on the Mexican to take the final podium position.

As the McLaren pair battle, Hamilton is handed a 5s penalty for causing the collision with Albon.

2.083s down on Bottas, Hamilton has Leclerc 2.3s behind as the Briton posts a new fastest lap (7.712)

At the other end of the field, Vettel is holding off Albon as the German battles Kvyat for tenth.

Oh no... Albon has slowed... he clearly has a major problem.

Norris passes Perez for 4th, the pair almost clashing a la Albon and Hamilton.

Vettel passes Kvyat for tenth, and moments later the Russian stops having lost his rear-left wheel.

"Puncture," reports the Russian, but it looked a lot more serious (suspension?) than that.

On the last lap Norris posts the fastest lap of the race (7.475), to compound a brilliant day for the Briton.

Bottas takes the flag, ahead of Hamilton, Leclerc, Norris, Sainz, Perez, Gasly, Ocon, Giovinazzi and Vettel. Latifi is eleventh, the only other driver to finish.

The 5s penalty drops Hamilton to 4th, meaning that Leclerc is second, while Norris makes his debut on the (F1) podium.

Phew!

Well, what can you say... other than welcome back F1, we've missed you, and after the long, long wait you've done us proud.

A day of high drama and with another race here next week it remains to be seen whether lessons will be learned in terms of strategy, driver tactics, performance and reliability... though a couple of
those technical failures were worrying.

Check out our Race Day gallery from Spielberg, here.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 05/07/2020
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