Valtteri Bottas entered the season-opener-2020 Austrian Grand Prix- as the driver with most laps led at Spielberg.
That didn’t change upon the completion of the race as the composed Finnish driver went on to bag his second win at a track where he looks at home, and utterly in control.
A dominant performance where he led every single lap and won from pole also ensured continuity of the fine form one witnessed on Saturday where Bottas grabbed his third pole at Austria, and thus, his twelfth in F1.
Although, what did change were the very tense and dramatic circumstances amid which the Mercedes driver raced past the checkered flag.
After a clean getaway at the start which helped Valtteri open up a big gap, there were immediate tussles, first between the McLaren of Sainz and the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, though the latter got the better of his future teammate defending with all his might.
And later between Hamilton and Albon, with the Briton eventually passing the young Red Bull driver even before approaching Turn Four as he made most of the high-performance output of that irrepressible Mercedes.
Any doubts that Hamilton would seem fatigued having been served a two-place grid penalty (on account of Stewards finally responding to Red Bull’s protest on LH’s quali gaffe), that demoted him to fourth were clearly unfounded.
The defending champion was raring to go.
Although the scrap with Albon would not be the only occasion where the duo would entangle. More drama was to follow later.
By Lap 5, Vettel, beginning from eleventh, was on tenth, and Valtteri Bottas had opened a comfortable 15-second gap over the next drivers.
Meanwhile, Perez, Norris, Sainz, and Leclerc were fighting away at the front as further down the field, Ocon seemed impressive in his Renault as the Alpha Tauris and the Alfa Romeos struggled for pace.
But the race was riddled by collisions, retirements, and multiple safety car deployments, even as the leader drove away to a clinical race-win. And yet, Mercedes weren’t the only fast cars as the Racing Points and McLarens too, had their fair share of say.
So what were the big talking points from Round 1 of the 2020 F1 season?
Memorable return for Ocon, not so much for Ricciardo
Of all the performances, Esteban Ocon’s effort for Renault should surely go down as one of the most impressive drives from the much-anticipated weekend.
Having spent an entire year from the sport watching the others drive away to glories, the Evreux-born driver collected a significantly important P8. But who would’ve expected that?
Would a finish inside points have been easy as Ocon was competing after a year’s hiatus, and not to mention, against a significantly faster teammate in Daniel Ricciardo?
While at the start, Ocon, beginning from fourteenth on the grid worked his way up to break into the top ten, his real battle started when he had to combat the Haas of Magnussen in front with Kimi fighting from behind.
In the end, in a race where nothing quite worked out for Daniel Ricciardo, who retired on Lap 17 due to a mechanical fault, the Frenchman did well to get Renault off the mark, collecting 4 useful points in the end.
The driver of the day: Alex Albon
He may not have finished the race, but Red Bull’s young driver did well enough to garner attention for his fighting abilities all throughout the 71-lap contest. Right at the start, Alex Albon found himself challenged by the superior pace of Hamilton’s Mercedes.
But Albon kept pushing and never really backed out of top ten for the better part of the Spielberg’s enthralling contest, to give himself a good chance at points finish.
Quicker than McLaren and nearly as fast as the imperious Racing Point, Albon was firmly positioned on third and looking all set for a podium finish when things took a dramatic turn on Lap 61.
Finding himself closer and closer to Hamilton, the Thai driver vaulted outside of the Silver Arrows at Turn 4, and nearly managed to pull the move which is when the Briton turned the front end of the car into the Red Bull.
As a result, Albon would fall to the back of the grid, in a similar fashion to 2019 Brazil, and eventually race- retire.
Spare a thought for Max
History is written by the winners, it is said. But what about those who persist?
We’ve seen how Max Verstappen has turned the tables on his oppressors in the past at a track where Red Bull finally went onto collect their maiden home win not before 2018, and all thanks to the Dutchman.
But there was little Max could do, as, by Lap 11, Verstappen developed power issues in the engine and was forced to retire.
But by then, he had looked so good that Martin Brundle and Crofty even wondered if the outcome of the contest would’ve borne a different fate had the flying Dutchman continued unupset by mechanical problems?
Lest it is forgotten that before retiring, he was fighting in second, next best to only Valtteri Bottas.
One thing that 2020 Austrian Grand Prix proved
Truly speaking the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix served an important lesson. And it’s that Lewis Hamilton, a giant of the sport, a man with an imperious record against his name is after all- beatable.
While Hamilton did endure a tough race, both before entering the 71-lap drama and whilst competing in it never did it appear that he was the one who could win it without much ado.
If anything, the astounding straight-line speed of both Racing Point and McLaren- the true remarkable saga from Spielberg- should serve a friendly warning to the finest driver on the grid that he cannot take the fight for a seventh world title for granted.
How often does one see a driver so habitual of winning finishing at fourth, it must be asked?
A race riddled with action-packed non-stop drama
You know it’s a close contest when you have three or four cars retiring. That’s the usual F1 drama. Happens all the time.
But what do you make of a contest where not four or five but nine drivers bow out due to harsh run-ins with luck and car troubles?
The 2020 season-opener proved to be an enticing contest for the big gainers at the front- the indomitable Valtteri Bottas who kept his cool and got the better multiple safety car deployments while persisting with a steerling-sensor issue and Charles Leclerc who pulled in a few late lunges to move up on the two McLarens.
But what about those who couldn’t beat the checkered flag?
How often has Austria unfolded a race where only 11 cars go past the finish line?
Surely, those who missed out- and there were a lot many- Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Stroll, Russell, Magnussen, Grosjean, Verstappen, Albon would want to accept their fate with a pinch of salt and come back stronger.
After all, there’s no kneeling down in Formula 1.