After a four-month delay to proceedings, the opening race of the 2020 Formula 1 did not disappoint as the Red Bull Ring saw a dramatic 71 laps unfold on the Styrian plain.
With Valtteri Bottas picking up from his impressive late-season form of last term, the Finn came home first at the Austrian Grand Prix, however his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton – in pursuit of F1 history this season – finished off the podium in fourth after being penalised after a late incident at Turn 4 with Alex Albon.
Seeing Charles Leclerc take the runner-up spot also – with the retirement of no less than nine cars this past Sunday – the evidence is clear for all that the chasing pack are closing in on the reigning and three-time-succesive champion.
Hamilton has fought back from adversity before in recent years, but his task of reaching sporting immortality could be his biggest mountain to climb yet. Happily for the Briton, the chance to remedy matters in Austria comes along immediately this weekend.
Verstappen denied triple
If Hamilton’s Austrian Grand Prix had not gone to plan, the same was true for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who was denied the chance of even defending his position as two-time successive winner in Spielberg, after suffering power loss on lap 11.
As one of the main contenders for the F1 crown, the Dutchman’s false-start to the campaign will be a blow to his hopes of leaving the Styrian GP next week at the top of the points pile, whilst also giving his rivals a points head-start going into the early races of what will be a chaotic and condensed season.
The opening race of this term in particular was always set to deal an unpredictable hand across the paddock, and in those terms Verstappen must simply move on.
After a consistent first six races in 2019, the new and unprecedented era has began in disappointing fashion for the champion-in-waiting however, and for a driver who has suffered more than his fair share of mechanical issues with his car, will hope to correct matters for the Styrian GP in mere days.
Norris and McLaren rise to occasion
As the new season embraced its’ very different surroundings, the chance for a new face to emerge from the pack was realised as Lando Norris claimed his first Formula 1 podium place, after an impressive performance across the weekend in Austria.
The man dubbed the ‘new Hamilton’ made light work of any new-term nerves and with a sprinkle of fortune in coming on the fortunate side of a late chassis altercation with Sebastian Vettel – not to mention a certain six-time champion’s late penalty – the Bristolian finally showed why so many suggest Norris could be the heir to the British F1 throne.
As his mechanics revelled in an unlikely top three finish, his team McLaren also enjoyed their best showing in recent years, with Carlos Sainz‘s fifth-placed finish completing a superb double top-five berth for the Woking manufacturer.
In just his second season the 20-year-old is showing the instinct of his more illustrious compatriot on the track, and after just 22 races has achieved a feat few other drivers have accomplished at such a tender age.
Indeed, Norris has even eclipsed Hamilton in becoming the youngest Briton in F1 history to stand on the podium – doing so with a break-neck final lap time – and his success in Spielberg could point to a break-out season in 2020 also.
For McLaren on a wider scale, with Daniel Ricciardo‘s obvious and still burning talents to arrive in 2021, the British former constructors champions who have not had a World champion on their books since Hamilton in 2008 – but who dominated the late ’80s to early ’90s – could be building something special and with a British core.
Albon must learn F1 savvy
Staying with a homegrown flavour, one Brit’s success was paved by the misfortune of another former member as Alex Albon was again left frustrated after being denied his own first top three finish, after a late collision with Hamilton.
Completing a rare and miserable weekend for Red Bull on home tarmac this past weekend, the London-born Thai driver had threatened to challenge for the race lead after one of a plethora of late safety restarts, but was left licking his wounds for the second time against the Briton – similarly to Brazil last year – with a very realistic of a headline-making result.
Forced to retire three laps from the end after his meeting with the gravel trap, Albon was too eager to impress and win at all costs, where a dash of patience and thought in attempting to manoeuvre past the reigning champion could have resulted is a more successful outcome.
Following a gamble of near-genius to switch to soft tyres during the second safety car period, Albon’s chances were doused with the chance of glory beckoning, an occurrence which Team Principal Christian Horner believes Hamilton owes his number two an apology for.
“It was just a misjudgement by Lewis at the end of the day and it’d be good if he apologised for it.”
To his credit, Hamilton has openly taken the blame for the incident, but that will be of little consolation to the rising Albon. After taking the drive of the under-performing Esteban Ocon in the mid-point of last term however, the latter has taken his chance with both hands. If he can develop more of a steel on the track, Albon could be the real deal this season.
Vettel faces tough Ferrari swan-song
Across the paddock at Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel endured the first of what could be a difficult swan-song season for Scuderia, with the news that German will be replaced by Sainz in partnering Leclerc from next season.
As if to rub salt in the four-time champion’s wounds, the veteran concluded an awkward weekend in Styria with a collision with the aforementioned Spaniard, heaping both misery and irony on the tenth-finishing Vettel.
After last season’s position as Ferrari number one, the rise of teammate Leclerc has directly impacted the German’s chances of competing once more with Hamilton, and after a number of high-profile fallings-out last term, now faces what could be an uncomfortable season in the Prancing Horse cockpit having been ushered out.
With his best days behind him and the bright young things of F1 increasing in number, it is forgotten that Vettel has been one of the sport’s lynch-pins for over 15 years, however with one season left with famed Italian giant, the upcoming one could bring great uncertainty.
The inaugural Styrian Grand Prix takes place this weekend, at the Red Bull Ring, Spielberg, Austria.
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