The wait was worth it. The 2020 Formula 2 World Championship could not have asked for a more exciting opening race as the season finally got underway, with retirements and Safety Car interruptions delivering a down-to-the-wire thriller at the Red Bull Ring.
While Coronavirus restrictions meant this was a fan-free event, those watching at home from their armchairs around the world were delivered an enthralling race from lights to flag. In the end, Valtteri Bottas claimed a controlled victory from pole position, but the identity of his fellow podium finishers was decided in an epic final lap.
It should have been a Mercedes-AMG 1-2 finish alongside defending World Champion Lewis Hamilton, but the Briton had a frustrating Sunday before the race even began. Having qualified on the front row behind his teammate, Hamilton was demoted to fifth on the grid less than an hour before the race start.
Red Bull Racing successfully appealed the FIA Stewards’ earlier ruling that he had no case to answer for failing to slow under yellow flags in qualifying – ironically caused by Bottas spinning off the circuit – and presented previously unavailable camera footage proving that Hamilton had indeed committed an offence. It was hardly the build-up he needed.
Nonetheless, Hamilton took centre stage alongside his fellow drivers in a pre-race show of solidarity to end racism. He knelt on the start-line, along with most of his peers, just before the national anthems were played.
Over 200 days had passed since the last Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, but finally the starting lights would go out. Bottas led the field from pole position, with Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, Alexander Albon and Hamilton slotting in behind. Norris struggled for pace early on, dropping to fifth behind Albon and Hamilton by Lap 4.
On Lap 9, Hamilton overtook Albon for third and began to close in on Verstappen, who was himself unable to keep pace with race leader Bottas. The Dutchman had pinned his hopes than an alternate tyre strategy and longer first would give him the edge in the latter stages of the race, but it looked like the factory Mercedes’ had enough pace in hand to counter any threat.
His woes were then compounded when his RB16 stuttered and slowed, its electrics having scrambled the Honda power unit’s settings. He crawled into the pits, but his race was done.
Verstappen’s retirement was the first of a number of DNFs in a race of surprisingly high attrition, which was perhaps unsurprising given this was the first time since February that any of these cars had run in anger.
Dominant all weekend and now running 1-2, Mercedes had the breathing space they needed over the rest of the field. Hamilton steadily reeled Bottas in and began pressuring his teammate.
The pair was in a battle of their own out front, but would have to watch their mirrors after a Safety Car interruption triggered by a brake failure-induced spin for Kevin Magnussen’s Haas Ferrari on Lap 25. The teammates pitted with a neat double-stack stop, and had enough in hand to ensure they remained in front as everyone else peeled into pit lane to change tyres.
They pulled clear at the restart, but by mid-distance there were increasingly worried faces on the Mercedes pit wall – their drivers’ constant striking of the kerbs was beginning to affect a number of gearbox sensors on both cars. If they did not temper their driving, then failure appeared imminent.
Bottas and Hamilton (predictably to a lesser extent) complied and held steady, but two further Safety Car interruptions late in the race seriously threatened their prospects of a clean run to the flag.
Williams’ George Russell ground to a halt with a loss of fuel pressure on Lap 51, triggering a second round of pit stops. Neither Mercedes pitted, reasoning they had enough tyre life in hand not to risk sacrificing a loss of track position – contrastingly Alexand Albon in the sole Red Bull Racing Honda opted for a switch to fresh Soft tyres. The Anglo-Thai driver was hungry for his first podium finish, and by opting to roll the dice he could even prove a dark horse for victory.
As soon as racing resumed, the Safety Car was out once again when the right-front wheel parted company from Kimi Räikkönen’s Alfa Romeo.
The green flags were waved with ten laps to go, setting up an epic run to the chequered flag. Albon swarmed all over the back of Hamilton at the restart and made a move around the outside of Turn 4. Hamilton drifted wide at the exit and tapped Albon into a spin – almost to script it is the second time they have collided.
A furious Albon rejoined but soon retired as his stone-clogged radiators sent his engine temperatures through the roof. Hamilton was issued a five-second time penalty for causing the contact, which left him at risk of finishing off the podium depending on how far behind the chasing Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris – who had just elbowed his way past Sergio Pérez’s Racing Point – would finish.
Leclerc, who had also made a late switch to Soft rubber, suddenly found his Ferrari a more competitive prospect and passed Pérez and Norris late in the race to claim an eventual second place. His car had little business finishing that high up the order, but to the Monégasque driver’s credit he had kept his nose clean throughout the 71-lap race and taken advantage of the opportunities as they came about.
Contrastingly, the same could not be said for teammate Sebastian Vettel, who perhaps underlined Ferrari’s decision not to renew his contract with another clumsy driving error. The German had a spin after an ill-advised lunge on the McLaren of Carlos Sainz Jr., leaving him to play catch-up. High attrition helped him to a tenth place finish, ahead only of the Williams of rookie Nicholas Latifi.
Encouraged by his McLaren team, Norris smelled the chance of claiming his first podium finish and clocked a breathtaking final lap – the fastest of the race – to gain 0.7 seconds on Hamilton and get within five seconds of the Mercedes to snatch third place. Overjoyed, the youngest British driver to ever stand on an F1 podium burst into tears on his slow-down lap.
Hamilton, Sainz and Pérez completed the top six, with the AlfaTauri of Pierre Gasly claiming seventh place – the Frenchman later admitted to ignoring the team’s suggestion to park his car early in the race when his gearbox temperatures climbed through the roof. It was a smart decision in the end.
Esteban Ocon finished in eighth place in a not particularly convincing return to F1. His Renault teammate Daniel Ricciardo was an early retiree thanks to overheating.
|FORMULA 1 ROLEX GROβER PREIS VON ÖSTERREICH 2020 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (71 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG F1 Team W11||71||1:30:55.739||25|
|2.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF1000||71||+ 2.700||18|
|3.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL35||71||+ 5.491||16|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG F1 Team W11||71||+ 5.689||12|
|5.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL35||71||+ 8.903||10|
|6.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP20||71||+ 15.092||8|
|7.||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia AlfaTauri AT01||71||+ 16.682||6|
|8.||Esteban Ocon||Renault F1 Team R.S.20||71||+ 17.456||4|
|9.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C39||71||+ 21.146||2|
|10.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF1000||71||+ 24.545||1|
|11.||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Racing FW43||71||+ 31.650|
|12.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia AlfaTauri AT01||69||Suspension|
|13.||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Racing RB16||67||Overheating|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason|
|DNF.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C39||53||Wheel|
|DNF.||George Russell||Williams Racing FW43||49||Fuel Pressure|
|DNF.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-20||49||Brakes|
|DNF.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-20||24||Brakes|
|DNF.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP20||20||Engine|
|DNF.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team R.S.20||17||Overheating|
|DNF.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB16||11||Electrical|
Points are awarded to the top 10 classified finishers on a 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 scale.
Lando Norris posted the fastest lap of the race and is awarded an additional 1 championship point.
- Lewis Hamilton – provisionally classified P2 – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for causing a collision with Alexander Albon.
- Sergio Pérez – provisionally classified P6 – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for speeding in the pit lane.
Images via Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team