Formula 1 has returned for the second round at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. However, it’s been the off-track activities that had many focus their attention to before the second race of the season, the Formula 1 Pirelli Grosser Preis Der Steiermark 2020. The cause? Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. It was confirmed that the Spaniard would return to Formula 1 with Renault and he’ll fill the seat to be vacated by Daniel Ricciardo at the end of this year.
Vettel himself admits that he had discussed driving for the French team. “I’ve been such a long time in the paddock that I know a couple of people so yes I did have talks,” he said. “But obviously at no point concrete enough, or fundamental talks or real talks. As you’ve seen, they’ve gone a different direction. It doesn’t change much for me, it really depends on my decision, that I’m not pressured to take in the next couple of days, and I want to take the time that I need to decide.”
Renault themselves have stayed with experience for 2021, even with their development program opening up a younger driver possibility for a partnership with Esteban Ocon. The younger driver says he’s already been in contact with Alonso: “Fernando is very linked to the brand, and when you look at the success he had with the team, it’s fantastic, but we need to build something new. I had him on the text before yesterday, and he’s very keen to come back. We just chatted about the opportunities there are in the next years, and that the field is close, so there is a good chance of doing well if we work well.”
Practice and qualifying for the second race, which was called the Styrian F1 GP for this round, saw plenty of drama. Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault needed major repairs after the Australian felt the rear go loose and plowed into the tire barrier at high speed. Ricciardo later accepted blame for the crash after limping away with a bruised knee. He did, at least, have the benefit of practicing on a dry track as a torrential storm swept the Red Bull Ring on Saturday afternoon. The rain was heavy enough to see the third practice session canceled and far slower times than normal for the qualifying sessions.
Lewis Hamilton would describe the sessions as “terrifying” following the race. “There’s an element of fun in it, but then there’s a massive area of sheer terror,” he added. Visibility was reduced to mere meters, even with the tail-mounted rain lights flashing. The rain also highlighted the mysterious lack of pace from Ferrari. Charles Leclerc originally qualified in 11th and was demoted to 14th after a stewards’ investigation. It was deemed he had closed the door on Daniil Kvyat during the Russian’s attempts in Q2. This bumped George Russell and Lance Stroll up by one place, as it would Kvyat into 13th.
Q3 would see: 15. Kevin Magnussen, Haas; 16. Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo; 17. Sergio Perez, Racing Point; 18. Nicholas Latifi, Williams; 19. Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo, and 20. Romain Grosjean in his Haas.
Ferrari had added updates to their cars and both Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel felt that they had indeed improved the cars, but hadn’t actually translated into results. “Unfortunately we didn’t have the speed, we had a lot of aquaplaning in the car, struggled to get the tires to work, in particular the front, so it wasn’t easy to judge,” said Vettel. The German would qualify 10th.
The top ten managed to eke out respectable times at the end of Q3, and it would be Lewis Hamilton that will start the race on pole. In the last lap last-second dash, the reigning champion would come home ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and do so by an amazing 1.2 seconds. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz poled 3rd, ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon. Lando Norris, who had been complaining of chest pains prior to qualifying and said he wasn’t able to brake properly, still managed 6th, closing out Alexander Albon who was under serious pressure from Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri. The gap between 7th and 8th was just 0.02 of a second, while Ricciardo would claim 9th.
Bottas was disappointed at 4th, claiming the colder air temperatures had affected his braking, with a “glazing” not allowing the pads to properly grip the discs. Sainz, however, was jubilant with 3rd place. “Today, I did enjoy myself, but I must say it was quite stressful,” said Sainz. “It was a very stressful qualifying session.” Verstappen spun during his last run and said that he had nothing left that would have had him overtake Hamilton anyway.
The champion, however, struck a different tune. “I mean honestly, it was a fantastic lap, the last one,” said Hamilton. “I had one big moment the lap before the last, a big aquaplane which definitely had my heart in my mouth but I was able to improve on the next lap, nice and clean. I love these days.”
The Styrian F1 GP started at 15:10 local time, July 12. Overall, it was an unremarkable event bar on the first lap and the closing two or three. Hamilton led from start to finish and would claim victory over Bottas with nearly 14 seconds of space. But Ferrari’s woes went from bad to worse on lap one as Leclerc tried an aggressive move only to see his car rise, collect the right rear of his teammate Vettel, land with damage to his own car whilst Vettel’s machine had terminal rear damage. Both would retire straight away.
Esteban Ocon would be the only other retirement, with a repeat of the cooling issues that befell Ricciardo in the first race. Both cars had been performing strongly before Ocon’s retirement. Ricciardo was well in the pace and would fall to 8th only in the last two laps as his tires went off, plus Ricciardo became entangled in an enthralling dice with Lance Stroll. “On the incident, I did see Stroll coming but I felt if I turned in, we would have crashed, so I had to make that call,” said the Australian after the race. “I maybe should have blocked him and it’s a shame to lose a couple of positions from that one moment. The overriding feeling is frustration, but we’re up and running for the season now.”
He would finish just 2/10ths behind Sergio Perez and 1/10th behind Stroll. He could count himself unlucky to finish there as the three ahead of him were within reach at race end, with barely a second covering them. However, Renault filed a protest on the Racing Point cars after the race, with a result not declared at the time of writing. The claim is specific and deals with the high similarity between the Racing Point design to Mercedes.
Here’s the clause: Paragraph 1, article 2 (a) says: “A competitor shall, in respect of the Listed Parts to be used in its cars in Formula One, only use Listed Parts which are designed by it.” Article 2 (c) adds: “In the case of the Outsourcing of design, such third party shall not be a competitor or a party that directly or indirectly designs Listed Parts for any competitor.” This translates to Renault suggesting Racing Point is using a design that features elements that have not been designed themselves, as per the regulations.
Bottas drove magnificently to claim 2nd after seeing Max Verstappen off in the closing laps. The Dutchman had been in 2nd place for most of the Styrian GP, and would only fall to 3rd due to minor damage to his front wing slowing his pace. Front wing damage also happened to Perez after a touch up with Alexander Albon inside the last few laps. “I was pushing really hard on Albon, I didn’t have opportunity other than the one I took,” said Perez. “And unfortunately, I touched [his wheel] at the wrong angle and basically I understeered a bit towards the exit [of Turn 4], I’m opening up the steering wheel while picking up the power and then I broke the half front wing. I was very lucky to [only] lose one position from that.”
Behind them would be Carlos Sainz in 9th and the first of the rest of the field to not finish on the lead lap. Daniil Kvyat kept clear of Kimi Raikonnen for 10th and 11th while both Haas cars failed to impress for 12th and 13th. Antonio Giovinazzi drove solidly for 14th and would head Pierre Gasly who had initially started well. The struggling Williams team would round out the list of finishers with George Russell and Nicholas Latifi being lapped twice.
Winner Hamilton was relieved and delighted with the result. “This has tended to be one of my weaker tracks, so I am over the moon to have a performance like this today. So, so happy,” he said. “This feels like a long time coming since the final race of last year and it is a great step forward to come back from a difficult first weekend.”
The series heads to the Hungaroring, just a few hours drive away, for round three. F1 officials also confirmed prior to the second race that two more locations had been added to the calendar. Mugello at Tuscany in Italy will host over the weekend of September 11 to 13, with Sochi in Russia being awarded a round for September 27 to 29.