Hyderabad, NFAPost: The weekend’s motorsport action at the Red Bull Ring was the perfect advertisement for Formula One, restarting after a hiatus owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Austrian Grand Prix had all the ingredients to make it a perfect weekend dessert.
What started as a routine 1-2 for Mercedes slowly snowballed into adrenaline rush in the later stages of the race, dominated by attrition, incidents, penalties and perseverance and had three Safety Car periods in the 71-laps race.
The start was as dramatic as it would get. The stewards dropped Lewis Hamilton from the front row to down fifth after he was found guilty of overspeeding on a yellow flag in qualifying. Red Bull had challenged the stewards’ call and it also meant Max Verstappen started in the front row alongside pole and eventual winner Valtteri Bottas. Many drivers, led by Hamilton, took a knee in support of ending racism and ‘Black Lives Matter’. However, Antonio Giovinazzi, Daniil Kvyat, Charles Leclerc, Kimi Raikkonen, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Verstappen did not take a knee.
Verstappen’s joy of promotion was shortlived as he retired on the 11th lap, the first of the nine, and 2018, 2019 winner couldn’t add the third cap in Austria in as many races. Former teammate Daniel Ricciardo, with Renault, joined Verstappen six laps later with a mechanical issue. Lance Stroll and Kevin Magnussen soon followed the two into the garages as the depleted field, led by Bottas, raced on.
Formula One had perfectly set the grand stage after meticulous planning and execution. There were no spectators- a first in Formula One’s history -, the social distancing was in place and of course, personal hygiene in terms of face masks was aptly used.
Mercedes, running on black cars from their original silver as part of an anti-racism campaign, had to be worried about gearbox sensors and warned both drivers to keep clear of the kerbs, something that they could fret over the next time too.
A struggling Ferrari looked a distant best from what it could offer. Loss of pace troubled both Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel with the issue compounding after Vettel’s misjudgment with Carlos Sainz, his replacement the next season, sent him into a wild spin – just once. Post the race, Vettel admitted to having been lucky to escape with just one spin.
Williams and Alfa Romeo also had their share of issues when Williams’ George Russell lost power on the 51st lap and Romeo’s Raikkonen lost his right front wheel in lap 55, just after a Safety Car restart, due to a cross-threaded wheel nut. Alfa Romeo was later handed out a €5,000 fine by the stewards.
The biggest surge of the race came when Hamilton forced Red Bull’s Alex Albon into the gravel while defending his second place and in the process shattering Albon’s plans of a podium finish. The move later cost Hamiton a five-second penalty thereby pushing him to fifth in the end with Leclerc and Lando Norris completing the podium.
A first is always special and the young Norris somehow was out of place on the podium – which followed social distancing norms. Very eager to celebrate, Norris decided to just pour his champagne over his own head getting fully drenched in champagne which prompted him to go for a new face mask later.
However, the race belonged to Bottas who led from pole to flag, having the perfect recipe for success tucked inside him. He wasn’t bothered by how the rest of the pack behind him went into collisions, spins, retirements, place swaps and all he had to be worried of was to have Hamilton a safe distance behind which he ensured to perfection with the three safety car periods not having any impact on his position as the race leader.
The final moments of the race could well set the tone for the remainder of the truncated season. The way Leclerc bounced back to take a lap to remember to surge ahead and finish second, from starting seventh, and young Norris’ first podium – McLaren’s first in a while – and the young Brit setting the record for the fastest lap, could just be a trailer of what’s in store in the season. Or, that’s how we all can hope for!