Kurt Verlin
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2020 Austrian/Styrian Grands Prix Recaps

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2020 Austrian GP - Gasly leads Honda
Photo: Honda
2020 Austrian GP Top 10

After a long wait, Formula One was finally back to racing in Austria, the first time since the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix that an F1 season has kicked off in Europe. With 217 days since the last race of the 2019 season, it was also the longest period in the sport’s history without an official championship race — and boy was it worth the wait.

The Red Bull Ring, located in Austria’s Styria, played host to not one but two F1 races over the last two weekends. Officially dubbed the Austrian and Styrian Grands Prix, respectively, they both provided heaps of entertainment, something we’ve come to expect of the lovely venue.

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The first race was, for the drivers, spoiled by numerous reliability issues. Nine of the 20 drivers retired, including Max Verstappen, who had been running in second place when an electrical issue forced him to the pits.

The Mercedes was the class of the field, and Valtteri Bottas was rather helped by Lewis Hamilton making several errors. In qualifying, the six-time champion failed to slow down for yellow flags, earning him a penalty that set him back three places on the grid. He then received an additional penalty in the race, this one worth five seconds, for making contact with Alexander Albon. It was a repeat of their incident at the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix, where Hamilton had, as in Austria, denied the Thai his first podium.

The penalty allowed Lando Norris to steal third place with a mega final lap that put him within only 4.8 seconds of Hamilton at the line, earning the Twitch.tv star his own first career F1 podium as well as his first fastest lap (worth one championship point since 2019). Charles Leclerc also did well to finish second in a Ferrari that looked to be slower than the 2019 car, though there’s no doubt he was helped by the multiple safety cars and retirements.

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2020 Styrian GP Top 10

Indeed, Ferrari had barely managed to qualify in Q3 at the Austrian Grand Prix, and its struggles were repeated at the Styrian Grand Prix a week later. However, there would be no podium champagne for the Scuderia to enjoy that time. Leclerc went for an opportunistic move on Sebastian Vettel at the start of the race, rode the curb too hard, and practically went flying. He took out his teammate’s rear wing while damaging his own car’s floor, and by the end of lap 4, both cars were out of the race. This time, though, they would be two of only three total retirements.

In that second race, despite a herculean effort that made teammate Albon look like a second-rate driver, Max Verstappen was unable to steal either of the top spots from the Mercedes drivers. Hamilton won that race ahead of Bottas, who had celebrated victory just a week before. In the minds of many, he had already earned it after his sublime performance in wet qualifying.

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The midfield was also full of exciting racing. Norris was once more involved in late-race glory as he caught both Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo with only a few laps to go. Stroll had been stuck behind Ricciardo for most of his second stint, and it was his final scrap with the Renault driver that allowed Norris to come through and ultimately pass both of them.

Further up the road, Sergio Pérez had broken his front wing while attempting to pass Albon for fourth place. As there were only two laps to go, Pérez attempted to limp home rather than pit for a new front wing, but the 15-second gap he had built to Ricciardo — and now Norris — was dropping perilously fast. Indeed, Norris caught him with only one more corner to go before the end of the race and swiftly made his move on the inside. Pérez was then left drag-racing both Stroll and Ricciardo for a photo-finish, with all three drivers separated by only 0.204 seconds at the checkered flag.

Though F1 races typically take place every other weekend, there won’t be as many breaks as usual following the COVID-induced delay to the start of the 2020 season. The Hungarian Grand Prix will take place this weekend, and August will kick off with back-to-back-to-back races as well, the first two taking place at Silverstone.

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