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F1 Grand Prix of Austria: Bottas wins from the pole, Hamilton penalized twice

F1 Grand Prix of Austria: Bottas wins from the pole, Hamilton penalized twice

Spielberg, Austria, July 5/20 (GRW): After practice and qualifying had been run, it looked like the Mercedes team had a big edge over their now-traditional rivals, Ferrari and Red Bull. But as the race played out, the Mercedes edge only paid off partially. Valtteri Bottas, who started from the pole, led every one of the race’s 71 laps to take the win – but Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, who started in 7th place, came home in second while the McLaren driver Lando Norris was on the podium. Hamilton suffered a number of setbacks this weekend and he was lucky to end up scored in fourth place.

This became the first Grand Prix of the 2020 season after the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc with the original calendar. Like the NASCAR and IndyCar events that had been staged previously, it was run with no spectators and minimal personnel on site. Of course, it being Formula One, their idea of a minimum number of people on site seemed to be pretty generous.

The race included practice and qualifying sessions as per the normal race weekend protocol. In qualifying , Bottas set the fastest lap early in the final segment and Hamilton making every effort to beat his time. In the final seconds of the session, just as Hamilton was making one last shot at the pole, Bottas spun out, bringing out the yellow flag. Hamilton was right behind him and he pressed on going for the pole. But the yellow ‘flag’ had been displayed as Hamilton was driving past the spinning Bottas. With so many cameras in play, this mis-step was recorded. Once the stewards saw the tape the next morning, Hamilton was given a three position grid penalty dropping him back to fifth on the grid behind Bottas, Max Verstappen, Norris, and Alexander Albon.

PHOTO HAM BOTTASHamilton and Bottas in pit lane before the race. (Daimler AG)

On Sunday, Hamilton was determined to make up this deficit quickly. By the lap 9, he was already up to third place behind Bottas and Verstappen – clearly he was on a mission. But then, Verstappen slowed with a power issue and he crawled back around to the pits and his crew pushed the car into the garage, his race over.

With Verstappen out of the picture, it looked like the race was set up for a one-two Mercedes finish – but which driver would be on the top step of the virtual podium? As the laps reeled on, Hamilton was closing up on his teammate – to within four seconds. But then Kevin Magnussen suffered a brake failure in his HAAS car and he spun off at turn 4 (the former Bosch Kurve) and this brought out the Safety Car. Many cars pitted now – including Bottas and Hamilton.

When the track went green again, Hamilton was able to restart right up behind the race leader Bottas. Sebastian Vettel had qualified down in 11th place and now he had the misfortune to run into Carlos Sainz. The McLaren driver was able to continue without losing any places but Vettel dropped to the rear of the field.

The two Mercedes drivers were now running in line astern less than a second apart and one had to wonder if Hamilton was going to try to charge past Bottas into the lead. However, the Mercedes crew back in the pits had another opinion and they warned their drivers to totally avoid driving over the curbs. Apparently, they had detected a potential gearbox problem caused by the vibration of the tires going over the sawtooth curbing. This effectively put Hamilton under orders to not challenge Bottas and to bring his car home in second place, preserving a one-two finish for the team.

At this point the order was Bottas and Hamilton ahead of Albon (Red Bull), Sergio Perez (Racing Point) and Norris (McLaren).

On lap 49, Romain Grosjean had a second problem; he slowed and crawled back to the pits to retire. Then George Russell also had a problem but he came to a stop on the track, bringing out the Safety Car for a second time. No sooner had the track gone green again and we had a third Safety Car session after the right-front wheel on Kimi Räikkönen’s car fell off due to a cross-treaded nut.

During this third Safety Car kerfuffle, Perez got past Albon into third place. On the restart Albon and Perez fought for position and Albon who was on fresher tires got past Perez and he caught up to Hamilton. On lap 61, Albon went wide to go around the Briton and he almost made it. Just as his rear tire was about even with Hamilton’s front tire they touched and it sent Albon flying out of the race.

Now Leclerc made his run for the front and he passed Norris, and then Perez, to take over third place behind Hamilton. The word came down from the stewards that Hamilton was being given a five second penalty (to be applied in the final results after the race) for causing a collision when Albon was passing him for second place – small consolation for Albon who was now out of the race.

Perez was also given an five second penalty for speeding in the pit lane – which in the end had no effect on his sixth place finish.

On lap 71, Bottas took the checker ahead of Hamilton but, after his penalty was applied, he was classified in fourth place behind Leclerc and Norris. This was a welcome result for the Mclaren team which has had few good results in recent years. Norris added to this by setting the fastest lap on the final lap of the race.

“Winning an F1 race is never easy, but today was particularly challenging,” said Bottas. “There were so many things going on in the race and it would have been quite easy to make a small mistake and lose it all. When the Safety Car came out the last time, I was thinking ‘Come on! Again!?’ I guess it was my chance to really master the restarts here. When you’re in the lead, you want things to be constant and trouble-free, but today felt more like dodging bullets, though things were never out of control. I could build a good margin in the first stint and look after the car and the tyres to make sure that we could stick to our planned strategy. In the second stint, there was more pressure, particularly after all the Safety Cars. We faced some reliability concerns during the race, which put quite a bit of pressure on us, but luckily we made it to the end with both cars.”

Hamilton said, “The scenario with Alex [Albon] felt more like a racing incident to me. The time penalty meant that I lost the podium, but it is what it is. The car felt great, although reliability was a real issue for us today. But at least we finished, so we’ll take those points.”

• Click HERE for the finishing order and the points standing from this race.

• The next F1 race will be the Pirelli Grosser Preis der Steiermark (aka. The Styrian Grand Prix) run here at the same venue – the Red Bull Ring in Austria

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