After months of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Formula 1 exploded back into life with a thrilling season-opener in Austria. 

Valtteri Bottas won a dramatic Austrian Grand Prix in a race of attrition, having survived Mercedes’ reliability concerns to prevail to victory in a wild opening round at the Red Bull Ring

Some teams and drivers will come away from the first race of the revised 2020 season satisfied, while others will be glad for a quick turnaround and chance of redemption at the second consecutive race in Austria - dubbed the Styrian Grand Prix - this weekend…

Winners 

F1

Four months after the original season-opening Australian Grand Prix was cancelled at the 11th hour, and the subsequent criticism that fell the sport’s way for its poor handling of the situation, F1 couldn’t have hoped for a better start to the campaign. 

Not only did the racing deliver on-track with an incident-filled and action-packed grand prix that saw only 11 drivers take the chequered flag, but F1 also succeeded in its bid to resume the heavily-delayed season in a safe manner with its 'closed door’ format. 

F1 has created a controlled ‘biosphere’ environment thanks to months of rigorous planning to get the season off the ground and the first race in Austria proved a triumph. 

Stringent new hygiene protocols have been put in place to keep all F1 personnel on the ground safe and reduce the risk of spreading the virus, including the mandatory use of face masks and social distancing measures. F1’s strict testing procedure resulted in no positive cases of COVID-19 in more than 4,000 tests carried out across the opening weekend. 

The biggest shame was that no fans could be present in the grandstands to enjoy what was an exhilarating race to kickstart a much-anticipated and eagerly awaited 2020 season. 

It was truly worth waiting for.

Valtteri Bottas 

Valtteri Bottas drew first blood in the title race with a perfect start to his campaign, first pipping Mercedes teammate and championship-favourite Lewis Hamilton to pole position, before going on to lead all 71 laps en route to his eighth career victory. 

It wasn’t all plain-sailing for the Finn, however. He had to negotiate three Safety Car restarts, all of which he nailed, as well as nursing sensor problems relating to his gearbox that plagued both Mercedes cars and had the team seriously concerned about facing a repeat of its double retirement from 2018. That all while coming under intense, race-long pressure from Hamilton. 

But Bottas held his nerve and didn’t put a foot wrong as he usurped Hamilton to move into an early 13-point lead in the championship. After his strong performance in Spielberg, a track he enjoys, Bottas will be licking his lips at the prospect of another race in quick succession at the same venue. 

What’s more, Mercedes looks to have further strengthened its superiority over the rest of the field amid a dominant display throughout the weekend. 

McLaren 

McLaren headed into the new campaign quietly confident but wary about its prospects after a brilliant campaign last year, but any concerns would have been quickly eradicated thanks to its performance in Austria. 

Lando Norris came of age with his best performance to date since making his grand prix debut in 2019. Norris impressed on his way to claiming fourth place on the grid with an effort that was just over 0.6s shy of Bottas’ pole lap, before achieving his maiden F1 podium with a sublime drive on Sunday. 

In a sensational climax to the race, the Briton posted the fastest lap of the race on the final tour to take advantage of a time penalty for Hamilton and become the third-youngest driver in F1 history to stand on the rostrum in third place. 

Teammate Carlos Sainz capped off a strong weekend for the Woking outfit by finishing fifth. A 26-point haul puts McLaren second in the championship standings, behind only Mercedes. 

Notable mentions must also go to Racing Point and Williams, with both teams enjoying better fortunes this season with their much-improved respective 2020 cars. 

Losers 

Ferrari 

What has happened to Ferrari? 

F1’s most famous team had been downplaying its chances this year ever since a low-key performance in pre-season. It has also been forced to redesign its car after discovering aerodynamic flaws with its SF1000 concept. 

An upgrade is expected in time for the third race of the season in Hungary later this month, but team boss Mattia Binotto warned it “will not be the final solution” to Ferrari’s problems after an awful display in Austria. According to Binotto, Ferrari is losing 0.3s in the corners and up to 0.7s on the straights compared to its rivals. 

In total, Ferrari appears to have lost around a second in performance compared to last season. 

Charles Leclerc saved Ferrari’s blushes with a superb drive to salvage an unexpected second place on race-day, having only just sneaked through into Q3 and qualified seventh. 

But in contrast, teammate Sebastian Vettel, who is leaving Ferrari when his contract expires at the end of the year, endured a disastrous weekend. First, he was eliminated in Q2 and left to settle with 11th on the grid, before his struggles continued in the race. 

The four-times world champion suffered a clumsy spin after tangling with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz - the driver who will replace him at Ferrari next year - and dropped to plum last, before recovering to finish 10th out of just 11 runners who made it to the end.

Vettel noted he was happy to have only spun once after describing his 2020 Ferrari as underivable in Austria, having complained about a lack of grip and overall stability in his car.

With little time to address the issues between back-to-back races, the Italian squad will be bracing itself for another tough weekend...

Red Bull 

Red Bull had high hopes of challenging Mercedes this year for both world championships, but the team has already suffered a major blow to its bid with a non-score from the opening round. 

Max Verstappen, the driver tipped to give reigning world champion Hamilton the biggest headache this year, wound up half a second adrift of the dominant Mercedes pair in qualifying and lacked pace to keep up with the front-running duo in the opening stint, though he was on harder tyres with Red Bull alternating its strategy in a bid to get in the mix for victory. 

But any hopes of doing that were crushed on Lap 11 when Verstappen suddenly slowed coming out of Turn 1 and dropped down the order. The Dutchman was ultimately forced into retirement with a suspected electrical issue on his RB16. 

Red Bull’s pain was doubled late on when Alex Albon’s race also ended after coming together with Hamilton at Turn 4. Albon had been attempting a bold around-the-outside pass having switched onto Soft tyres following the final Safety Car period when the pair collided. Without the collision, both he and the team felt a win was possible. 

Verstappen and Red Bull already find themselves with a mountain to climb to get back on terms with Mercedes and will need to hit back instantly at the Styrian Grand Prix to avoid falling further behind. 

Lewis Hamilton

For the second year in a row, Hamilton lost out to Valtteri Bottas at the first race of the season. But unlike last year in Australia when he finished runner-up to Bottas, Hamilton was off the podium this time round. 

It was not the start to his title defence and quest for a record-equalling seventh world championship that Hamilton was looking for, though it started well enough as he comfortably led the way in all three practice sessions. 

Bottas turned the tables on Hamilton in qualifying and claimed pole by the finest of margins. And it was on Saturday where Hamilton’s weekend began to unravel. 

The Briton was hit with a three-place grid drop just an hour before the race for failing to slow sufficiently for yellow flags in Q3 caused, rather ironically, by Bottas after he had taken a trip across the grass.

Things got worse in the race after an initial promising start saw Hamilton work his way up to second from fifth. He had applied race-long pressure to Bottas and looked to be the quicker of the two Mercedes, but found himself defending from the racey Albon, who was on much fresher and gripper rubber following a pit stop during the final Safety Car period. 

As Albon launched his attack around the outside at Turn 4, Hamilton held his line and his front left wheel connected with Albon’s right rear, sending the Red Bull driver spinning off into the gravel. Hamilton received a five-second time penalty as punishment and dropped from second on the road to fourth once it was applied immediately after the race concluded. 

With a 13-point deficit to Bottas in the championship, Hamilton finds himself with work to do heading into the second event in Austria this weekend. 

It was also a bad weekend for Alfa Romeo and Haas, with both teams struggling for pace, while the latter suffered a double DNF due to brake-related failures.

 

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