Formula 1 has returned, finally, for 2020. With a rejigged calendar seeing the first two races being held at the Austrian Red Bull Ring, before heading to Hungary and U.K. for two races there, then Spain, Belgium, and Italy for the currently scheduled eight races, the compressed season will bring a level of competition not seen in F1 for decades. This weekend also sees the teams roll out the 2020 spec cars in anger for the first time, and with some new looks amongst them.
The first race weekend has also brought along its own controversy. Mercedes have chosen to run their controversial “dual-axis steering” or DAS system, which allows the drivers to not just turn their multi-thousand dollars worth of steering wheel, but pull and push it. The push and pull changes the toe-in angle on the front wheels to generate heat in the rubber through corners, and although already declared illegal for the 2021 season, it’s currently not yet been blacklisted for this year.
Red Bull did file a formal complaint however the FIA confirmed on July 4 that the system was legal. For now. Christian Horner from Red Bull had stated he wished clarification on the legality of the DAS and hinted that Red Bull themselves may try it.
As the year marches onwards, there was still no news from Sebastian Vettel in regards to finding a drive for 2021. Considering the rumor mill, which is normally a good go-to source for news of what is happening behind the scenes, seems to have nothing new in the Vettel finds a drive department, unless something drastic occurs in the next few weeks, it does appear that F1 will lose a precocious talent.
That same rumor mill has Renault suggesting some names to fill the seat to be vacated by Daniel Ricciardo at year’s end. Although the German has been mentioned, there appears to be more strength in Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas, off-contract from Mercedes come 2020’s end, joining the French team.
However, Renault is said to be also considering promotion from within the ranks, with their Sports Academy having names such as Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard who are racing in F2 this season being possibilities. Cyril Abiteboul, the Renault Team Principal, may also have hinted at an internal promotion. “We need a quick driver, we need a talented driver, and we need a driver that can understand and buy into Renault’s project,” said Abiteboul. “We are very clear about the nature of our team, we are a bit of a unique team in the F1 landscape, at the same time very loyal to Formula 1 but also a young team, still in the making with some struggles, in particular last year.”
Practice for the Formula 1 Rolex Grosser Preis Von Österreich 2020 had light rainfall early in FP1, with Max Verstappen spinning on a damp track. Lewis Hamilton and Bottas topped the timesheets here, with McLaren‘s Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez in his Racing Point the top five. FP2 was drier and saw Hamilton head the list again, whilst Vettel and Ricciardo showed good pace at just 0.6 seconds from Hamilton. FP3 was much the same, with Charles LeClerc managing to jump into the top five instead. However, qualifying changed all that.
Austrian Grand Prix Qualifying Results
1. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes. 2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes. 3. Max Verstappen, Red Bull. 4. Lando Norris, McLaren. 5. Alexander Albon, Red Bull. 6. Sergio Perez, Racing Point. 7. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari. 8. Carlos Sainz, McLaren. 9. Lance Stroll, Racing Point. 10. Daniel Ricciardo, Renault. Ricciardo’s 10th was more an indication of a closing session mishap with Bottas going wide and forcing Ricciardo to slow under yellows.
Out in Q2
11. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari. 12. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri. 13. Daniil Kvyat, AlphaTauri. 14. Esteban Ocon, Renault. 15. Romain Grosjean, Haas.
Out in Q1
16. Kevin Magnussen, Haas. 17. George Russell, Williams. 18. Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo. 19. Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo. 20. Nicholas Latifi, Williams.
The race itself had plenty of entertainment for those watching from afar, if not so for some of the drivers. Hamilton had been penalized late on Saturday for an infraction, dropping him to 5th on the grid before the race had started. Pre-race and a silent acknowledgment by most of the drivers for the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Race start and Bottas had made a superb start, as had Lando Norris, only to have Max Verstappen close in on Norris. A quick off-track excursion and Norris rejoined without issue. Hamilton would have contact with Alexander Albon early and would again later in the race, with a post-race penalty being applied to the Briton. Verstappen’s early pace on medium rubber, the only driver in the top ten to do so, would come to naught on lap 11 with a terminal power failure. He was able to limp the car to the garage however the diagnosis wasn’t favorable at all.
The next ten laps then saw two drivers withdraw: Australian Ricciardo and Canadian Lance Stroll would both retire, with the Canadian having radioed the garage to advise of sensor problems whilst the Renault had overheated. Into the early 20s lap count of 71 and Romain Grosjean spun. On lap 26, his teammate Kevin Magnussen had a brake failure and he exited at speed. The safety car was called and lead to a flurry of pit stops with Bottas staying in the lead.
The season restart for Vettel continued to be miserable. Attempting a pass on the man that will fill his seat in 2021, Carlos Sainz, a touch had Vettel’s Ferrari sent into a spin and forcing him to 15th. Bottas and Hamilton were dominating the field and with the race more than half completed, their radios would crackle into life with a message to stay off the ripple strips. It appeared that the heavy vibrations were upsetting the stability of the sensors for the gearboxes.
Another safety car with first Grosjean then George Russell both retiring and there are 20 laps left. That break had Red Bull call Albon in for a rubber swap, however, the two Mercedes drivers were left alone. Vettel was recovering but there were signs from Vettel that his car wasn’t happy. Having qualified 11th, Vettel would say after the race that his Ferrari was “undriveable.”
Race restart and just minutes later on lap 55 Kimi Raikkonen had a front tire completely detach from for the wheel. This bunched the field and Albon, who had re-entered in P4, managed to squeeze through on Sergio Perez. Looking quick, Albon was in touch with Bottas and Hamilton, only to have contact with Hamilton at Turn 4 shoulder him into the dirt and out of podium contention. Although Albon would retire just a few laps, presumably as a result of the contact, it didn’t stop Hamilton being handed a five-second penalty and dropping him off the podium also.
Charles Leclerc had been quiet however a late tire change had reinvigorated his Ferrari, with a pass on Norris then Perez for P2 with two laps to go. And that is how Leclerc would finish, 2.7 seconds adrift of Bottas and ahead of Norris who would also gain the extra point for the race’s fastest lap. Hamilton would be declared 4th ahead of Sainz, with the two McLarens finishing in the top five and an early sign for Ricciardo when he joins the team next year.
Perez had dropped to 6th, ahead of a quiet Pierre Gasly in the renamed Alphatauri. Renault’s new recruit for 2020, Esteban Ocon would finish at P8, with Antonio Giovinazzi and Vettel closing the top ten. Rookie Nicholas Latifi claimed 11th on debut, whilst an uncharacteristically quiet Daniil Kvyat finished 12th after retiring on lap 67.
F1 returns to the Red Bull Ring this weekend for the Formula 1 Pirelli Grosser Preis Der Steiermark 2020. With one race completed, the very early signs are on Mercedes to continue their dominance, Red Bull have work to do as do Renault, whilst there’s promise for McLaren. Ferrari? Mixed messages and race 2 for the restarted season will need to be completed before a proper call can be made there.