Formula 1 seems a strange place when Lewis Hamilton doesn’t end up at the front of the grid.
This was the case a week back where the six-time world champion registered a slightly underwhelming P4 at the season-opener; the very track where he raced away to a sensational 85th career win today as he led a strong Mercedes 1-2 on a rather forgettable weekend for the red cars with both Ferraris race-retiring after coming to blows in an opening lap skirmish.
But this did little to dissuade the pole-sitter as Hamilton chipped away comfortably from Max Verstappen at the start, the Dutchman starting his Styrian GP 2020 from second.
And though he looked rather sedate and insipid in the early stages, Valtteri Bottas would claw into action post the halfway stage, eventually passing Verstappen to finish with a strong second.
Though, the intense battle for second between Verstappen and Bottas, particularly during the closing stages, would become one of the dominant features of the Styrian GP 2020, with Bottas, at one stage closing down the gap to less than three-tenths of a second with only a handful of laps to go.
In the end, however, Bottas would sneak out on the inside to gain on Verstappen, only for Max to fight back and reclaim his second, which the Dutchman was eventually forced to yield with F1 pundits putting it down to the front-wing damage on Max’s car as the reason for the position change.
But before the Finn gained on Verstappen, who defended with all his might, it was all drama that decorated the opening sequence of a pretty straight forward Mercedes-driven contest.
Right at the start, the Ferrari drivers tangled in the run down to Turn 3, with Leclerc proceeding with an ill-considered dive down the inside of his experienced teammate, Sebastian Vettel.
One could argue, this was borne out of the frustration and the added pressure of beginning from fourteenth on the grid.
Nonetheless, as a result, while Vettel emerged with severe damage on the rear-wing, the important component of his SF1000 barely hanging in there by a thread, Leclerc sustained severe floor damage, the collision prompting the deployment of a Safety Car.
The duo would soon race-retire. Further down the grid, Kimi Raikkonen slipped from sixteenth to eighteenth, the Iceman finding himself caught up in the dramatic Ferrari-fueled collision, while the two Williams seemed quick and unperturbed.
Meanwhile, at the front, Hamilton had already opened an easy two-second gap on Verstappen, never really looking in hot pursuit.
There were close battles in the midfield with the two Renaults fighting each other closely with Ocon defending brilliantly from his Australian teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
But in the initial stages of the 71-lap Styrian GP 2020, it wasn’t all that smooth for Carlos Sainz Jr., who seemed to be struggling with race pace, eventually clocking the fastest lap of the race at 1:05:619 (Lap 68).
Norris was moving in quickly and was attacking Albon and Gasly and was firmly in control of a race he would later decorate with immense grit and race-pace.
Later, on Lap 25, Esteban Ocon, who had put in all the hard work thanks to a wonderful qualifying a day earlier that enabled him to begin his Styrian GP 2020 challenge from fifth in the grid was forced into retirement, a suspect cooling issue undoing his race.
Meanwhile, there were gains for Ricciardo, who had until such time been gaining nearly half a second on his teammate.
At around the same time, there were close duels being fought by the Racing Point of Sergio Perez with the likes of Gasly, Kvyat, the Mexican attacking with dominant pace.
Voted the driver of the day, the man we’ve habitually come to see on the Baku podium led a recovery drive with quintessential grit, putting his nose ahead for further up the grid, having begun no better than seventeenth.
A defining part of Perez’ race, however, would be his late overtake on his teammate Lance Stroll, post which he’d take the eventual fight to Alex Albon, the Thai-British stationed in fourth for the better part of the race, especially post the halfway stage.
At all these times, Lewis Hamilton looked utterly comfortably, having opened a big gap to Verstappen, who tried to work the undercut, which eventually proved to be unsuccessful for Red Bull.
On Lap 35, so immense was Hamilton’s charge at the Styrian GP 2020 that he nearly disappeared into the lead of the race, as Verstappen had successfully opened an 8-second gap over Bottas. A lap later, Verstappen was 4.9 seconds behind Hamilton.
Meanwhile, Daniel, then fourth, pitted and emerged seventh, emerging just ahead of Sainz.
A close battle would immediately hold the attention of millions of eyeballs as Perez and Sainz would race on for a close battle for eighth, the Mexican yielding and then eventually, reclaiming his P8.
Bottas catches Max, Lando dives into action, Perez goes quick
With 24 laps to go, Bottas was gaining significantly on Verstappen, the Dutchman finding chinks in his armor against the Finn, the gap between the two now reduced to only 2.8 seconds.
Soon, further at the back of the grid, Kimi Raikkonen, who retired from the opener a week back was busy mounting a comeback drive first passing both Williams, then the Haas of Kevin Magnussen before finally putting his nose right behind the rear of his teammate’s Alfa Romeo on Lap 49.
Meanwhile, Lando Norris was finding great straight-line speed and was moving steadily as Perez, who had gained significantly was now targeting Alex Albon’s fourth even more resolutely. Their fight would become even more intense from the onset of lap 54.
There were more overtakes a few laps later as Kimi would pass his teammate eventually on Lap 61 with only 10 to play. The Finn was stuck behind Daniil Kvyat, on tenth, but was holding well on eleventh.
At all this time, Hamilton proved the superior driver, and was hardly ever in trouble.
Ricciardo, meanwhile, was fighting against the faster car in pursuit, Lance Stroll’s Racing Point pushing the Renault on to the edge. At this time, Perez was inching even closer, now only three-tenths behind Albon’s Red Bull.
And right at the front, Bottas all but passed Verstappen in the run to Turn 4, the Dutchman immediately fighting back his lost second. But the inevitable was obvious.
Thanks to better race-pace of the Mercedes and a deteriorating Red Bull of Verstappen, the fight for second would be settled soon, Bottas was the faster man ahead and in control, Max finding little answer for a marauding Valtteri.
The best bit of the race, however, was due to come shortly afterward.
Nearing the final lap, Stroll passed Daniel in the final few corners, but not before going really wide in his attacking move. This proved to be advantageous for the McLaren of Lando Norris, who sensed an opportunity and dived into the tangle. He’d first pass Daniel’s Renault on the straights and nearly a lap later, get Stroll.
The highlight, however, would come seconds from the finish line as Norris would also successfully pass Sergio Perez in a steely move on Turn 10 to go end fifth in the end.
Hamilton, at all this time, was sublime and simply untouchable, raising up a fighting 1-2 for Mercedes, his sights now set to gather another win as the Hungarian GP weekend approaches.