F1 – 2020 AUSTRIAN GP – RACE
Hallo, MiniFans! We can finally say the 2020 season has kicked off! Almost four months of uncertainty have come to an end with a tightly packed calendar that will see a race almost every weekend, including the novelty of double headers in the same circuit. It’s also the first time the season starts on European soil since 1966, when the honour fell on Monaco.
Even before the start of the race, we were given another incentive to watch it: the front row lockdown achieved by Mercedes would be broken. A complaint filed by Red Bull with videos obtained from social media went through and achieved what it was looking for, a grid penalty for Hamilton that would allow Verstappen to climb up to second and put Norris in a place McLaren hasn’t enjoyed in years, the third spot on the grid. It was carried out in an unorthodox manner, with the teams prepping their final grid places for their drivers without an official confirmation that led to speculation.
The start was what one expects from the Red Bull Ring: cars on the outside of the track, close calls among a midfield that has grown in size and the ever present Mercedes speeding off into the distance a mere couple of corners in. Ferrari saw their cars in an unusual position and setting, not being able to close the distance to the Racing Points, each of the red cars seeing a pink blur in front, even when Stroll claimed he had power problems with his engine. Norris would soon drop from P3 to P5, showing a cold head he hadn’t had the first time he faced a similar situation, this time around knowing where his fight was. The first big shock came in the eleventh lap, when Verstappen’s car broke down, engaged the anti-stall and needed to be retired, due to Red Bull not being able to point out and fix the problem. A podium place, previously occupied by the Dutch driver, was suddenly up for grabs.
More cars started to have problems soon after Verstappen’s retirement, such as Stroll, whose car was lacking electrical power from his engine, and Ricciardo, whose car gave up on him as well. The first pit stops were prompted by a controversial safety car, as Magnussen’s car was far away from the track. Hard tyres were put on every car that pitted, with the exception of Pérez, who would have to fight with mediums for more than 40 laps if he didn’t want to change them once more. The restart saw Vettel trying to overtake Sainz and spinning in the process, damaging his Ferrari. The race calmed down after the first lap without the safety car, the entertainment coming from the prospective fight between both Mercedes, advised not to go on the kerbs due to gearbox sensor problems, eventually being told to stay off of them completely.
The fifth retirement came thanks to Russell, his Williams giving out on him in a bad spot and forcing a new safety car. A few drivers entered the pits, Albon getting softs and the rest using mediums. The sixth was Grosjean and the seventh, causing yet another Safety Car by losing his front right tyre, was Raikkonen. A small disagreement between Albon and Pérez about their position was swiftly corrected and the race was soon underway. Albon tried unsuccessfully to overtake Hamilon, ending up in the gravel himself, and Sainz overtook two cars, scoring the fastest lap on his pursuit of Leclerc and, later, his own teammate. A five second penalty awarded to Hamilton gave the last handful of laps one more push of excitement, due to both McLaren cars and Pérez being in the fight for the last step of the podium, but the Mexican driver got awarded another five second penalty. The very last laps gave us two more retirements: Albon due to engine issues and Kvyat due to his left rear tyre exploding.
The first race since December 1st didn’t disappoint. The beginning of the race didn’t look too promising, with Bottas quickly running away and Verstappen, on whom many had their hopes for a fun race, retired early. However, three safety cars and nine retirements from different problems later, the ending was not something anyone could have guessed. Norris scored the last step of the podium with the fastest lap of the race, Bottas won, Leclerc snatched the second place after a terrible weekend by the prancing horses. Looking back, the grid penalty for the reigning champion almost feels foreboding. McLaren came back strong, Mercedes engines were problematic all race long and Ferrari managed to save face with Leclerc. Let’s hope we can enjoy a race similar to this one next week, when we come back for the second race on Austrian soil.