As the Formula 1 season got under way last weekend in Austria, Valtteri Bottas again punished those who refuse to acknowledge the Mercedes number two as genuine World Drivers’ Championship material, as the quiet but increasingly metronomic Finn picked up the opening win of the campaign.
With the Red Bull Ring the backdrop once more for the first-ever running of the Styrian Grand Prix for Round 2, Bottas will be looking to arrive in Hungary in a seven days time at the top of the points table.
Bottas’ 2019 season was signified – and indeed book-ended – by two wins in his opening four races and a further double in the final five Rounds of last year, but the Finn looked at home as Mercedes’ also-ran last weekend.
As the ultimate team player during Hamilton’s F1 romp to three-successive titles, Bottas has played the dutiful lieutenant but should he leave Spielberg with a double of wins this weekend, F1 could have a new favourite for the title in December.
Hamilton bent on response
His teammate Hamilton meanwhile will be pondering a riposte on Styrian Grand Prix weekend. Set for a runners-up spot last time out – with the potential of switching-up of the race result via team orders – the Briton came in fourth after a late five-penalty was handed out following a collision with Alex Albon, as stewards deemed Hamilton to have unfairly closed the racing line on the Red Bull driver.
A less than perfect start the 35-year-old’s quest for F1 immortality perhaps, but the reigning world champion should not be downhearted after also missing out on top spot in last year’s curtain raiser in Melbourne – won by Bottas.
Circumstances and the environment may have changed significantly since then however and on a very differing F1 landscape also, the pretenders to the throne have not only doubled in number, but come at him with more might.
Leclerc’s latest second place was evidence of that, and now seemingly having disposed of Sebastian Vettel‘s hierarchical threat with the German’s departure at the end of the season, the Monagesque lurks to cause sizeable disruption to the title picture.
Coming from behind is not something Hamilton has struggled to do it any of the last three years, however the Briton now knows the task ahead is indeed tall. That makes his Styrian GP response all the more pivotal even at such an early stage in the calendar.
Verstappen seeks greater favour; Albon justice
For Red Bull, the Austrian GP was the scene of huge frustration to start to the 2020 season, as both Verstappen and Albon were forced to retire – the former after the power unit failed in his car barely ten laps into the race.
As the man who had dominated in Styria over the past two years – winning here since 2018 – last weekend’s failure would have been a setback for the Dutchman, whose monopoly of wins in Red Bull’s back yard could realistically have seen Verstappen leading the drivers’ championships heading toward a Silverstone double next month.
Red Bull’s Honda engine has been one one of the most consistent across the paddock for the past 12 months, so the Austrian GP would have left many dumbfounded. With a chance to right matters at the second attempt then, Verstappen will still hold out hopes of showcasing his very best.
That will be the same for Albon, who was again denied a podium spot at least, last time out. Forced to retire laps after his latest on-circuit reunion with Hamilton – the second in three races – the Thai driver similarly to his number one will be keen to avenge his injustice.
The 24-year-old London-born racer has grabbed his chance with both hands after replacing Esteban Ocon last season, but after a string of top five finishes at the back end of last campaign will be eager to be on the greater side of fortune for the Styrian show.
McLaren look for momentum
It was perhaps appropriate that Lando Norris claimed his maiden podium finish in Spielberg last weekend, as the Briton made headlines fitting of a Hollywood script.
As the 20-year-old Bristol native celebrated jubilantly on the Red Bull Ring track last weekend – doused in post-race bubbles – his team McLaren were equally joyous after a completing a team double success with Carlos Sainz finishing fifth also.
With the Spaniard Ferrari-bound next year, the Woking manufacturer may be about to lose their man on his way to the upper echelons of the sport, however in the meantime, McLaren could be set for a fruitful season with Norris in tow also.
In their second term together the Brit-Spanish combination have now recorded two podiums in three races and though the manufacturer may be considered the next best in the paddock after Mercedes, Scuderia and Red Bull, McLaren could surprise a few this season. The goal this weekend will surely be another top ten double – or better.
The Styrian Grand Prix takes place this weekend at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria
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