AUSTRIAN GRAND PRIX
By Aniket Panja
- Norris secures first ever podium berth as Bottas takes the chequered flag.
- Leclerc finishes 2nd in an exciting race but Ferrari have a lot of work to do to catch up with the silver arrows
As the lights went out and Valtteri Bottas cannoned into the lead, it seemed like a routine race would be on the cards. There were no untoward incidents heading into turn 1 and after a few laps the most eye raising thing was Ferrari’s pace or the lack of it.
The Prancing Horse had not done enough to be competitive in the first race of a curtailed season in Austria owing to the coronavirus and they were the fifth fastest team on the blocks. Max Verstappen on the other hand was going well and looked like the only one capable of challenging Hamilton and Bottas later on.
When Max Verstappen was forced to retire a few laps after the start, it was evident things were not all right. Verstappen pulled up with an engine issue but somehow managed to make it back to the pits. Daniel Ricciardo driving for Renault was not so lucky and his car stopped just as he was pulling up close to Sebastian Vettel who was having a torrid time.
Meanwhile cars started malfunctioning, with the engine letting them down, braking issues and unsafe releases. With the safety car deployed numerous times throughout the race Mercedes’s lead was cut back several times but given their superior speed Hamiltion and Bottas never looked in trouble.
Meanwhile Leclerc was fighting against McLaren, including his teammate for next year Carlos Sainz, as well the Racing Point, just managing to stay ahead of the latter. As Hamilton was chasing Bottas down, a team message from Mercedes made everything clear. Both cars were suffering from reliability issues and were given strict instructions to stay off the kerbs.
It was not a problem for both the drivers as they had a sizeable lead and enough pace to outlast the others. That was until another safety car incident. Soon, Alex Albon, Charles Leclerc and the McLarens were right on top of the Mercedes. Bottas managed to pull away but Hamiltion was not so lucky.
As Albon comfortably passed him on the outside and looked to pull through there was contact and once again just as in Brazil, the Red Bull Racing driver spun of the track. It was heartbreaking to say the least because it was fairly certain that Albon would have got the first podium finish of his career barring the crash.
But his misfortune opened the doors for Leclerc and Lando Norris. Hamiltion was slapped with a five second time penalty meaning LeClerc went up to second place. With nine drivers failing to finish the race the remaining eleven all had a chance to better their original expectations. However it was not to be for Sebastian Vettel as another baffling move to overtake saw him spin off the tracks and drop back. He eventually finished eleventh only one ahead of new kid Latifi in the Williams.
With second place all but secured for Ferrari, all eyes were whether Hamiltion could hold on to third. Lando Norris had other plans as he had the drive of his life and on the final lap, he registered the fastest lap time to pip Hamilton by seven-tenths of a second. Some would say justice served but that is hardly consolation for Alex Albon.
It was another great opportunity missed but Norris lapped up his moment in the spotlight and secured his first ever podium finish. Just like last year, Bottas won the first race but Mercedes will have to quickly solve their reliability issues when the lights go out in Austria in two days’ time.
After a long time, luck turned in Ferrari’s favour but for how long? Mattia Binotto’s team will have to work really hard to match the speed of their rivals which now includes McLaren and Racing point as well. It is to be seen how quickly Ferrari can match the race pace because with only eight races confirmed so far every point counts. Everyone in the Italian team’s garage will know that they cannot count on the safety car to bail them out every time and nor on Sebastian Vettel for that matter.
For some reason, the German has been struggling for some time now and his much younger teammate has displayed more grit and common sense to emerge the number one driver as shocking as that may seem. As for Lando Norris, it was a fantastic moment, one which he will never forget. It is not often that someone other than Hamilton is the leading British driver in a Grand Prix.
While there is little doubt that Hamilton will come back stronger, Max Verstappen and Red Bull will have a point to prove. The two teams have emerged as the main rivals this season with Ferrari dropping back and the shorter season could make things interesting.
Add to it the other teams that are more than enough to challenge Ferrari, this could well be the most unpredictable Formula One season in recent times- something the sport has been lacking of.
Perhaps the Styrian Grand Prix come Sunday will provide more. All in all the lights are out and the battle lines have been draw. Time will tell who will come out on top. Will Hamilton equal Schumacher’s record seven world championships? Will this be Bottas’ year? Can Verstappen do it for Red Bull and how far can Ferrari go? We can’t wait for answers.