Austrian Grand Prix 2020 Race Review

After enduring the longest spell in Formula 1 history between races, we were thoroughly rewarded with what turned out to be a great race.

It wasn’t always heading that way though, when Max Verstappen retired on Lap 12 after sitting in a very handy 2nd place on a contra-strategy to the Mercedes’, I thought it would be a pretty dull race from then on in.

Whereas safety cars normally spice things up, the first of the three deployed on Sunday came at a time when a lot of cars were about to make their first stop anyway. It seemed as if it was going to be a mundane race from there on in with all cars bar Perez on the hard tyres to the end.

However, the race completely flipped on its head when the Safety Car was deployed on Lap 51, as it prompted some to make the switch to fresh tyres whilst others decided to stay out and maintain track position- the perfect recipe for an exciting end to the race.

All of a sudden, Merc’s comfortable lead over 3rd place had been eliminated. Not only was it more difficult manage their gearbox issues, but their chances of a 1-2 had taken a massive blow as Alex Albon was on fresher and two-grade softer tyres than Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

After overtaking Perez just before the third safety car of the race was deployed, Albon was in prime position to attack once the race resumed once again on Lap 61, and he didn’t wait in trying to get past the six-time world champion.

Hamilton Albon Austria 2020
Hamilton and Albon’s crash was the most controversial incident on Sunday. Image: F1 Technical

After rewatching the incident several times, I’m still finding it difficult to outright blame Hamilton. At the time, it seemed like an unfortunate racing incident to me but I do understand why the Brit received a 5-second penalty from the Stewards, which was probably more so because of the outcome.

I’ve heard many people say that Albon shouldn’t have tried to make the move where he did. He should have waited until the next lap or when DRS was enabled, where he would have been able to make a less risky move.

And yes, I agree, trying to go around the outside of Lewis Hamilton at Turn 4 was perhaps a touch naïve. At the same time, I find it hard to criticise Albon for doing what I want to see happen more often in F1 which is wheel-wheel racing and drivers attempting to make daring moves.

Albon went onto eventually retire due to an issue with his car, so there’s no real point in discussing if whether he would have overtaken Bottas too had he made the move on Hamilton stick.

Max Verstappen Austria 2020
Max Verstappen’s mechanical failure prevented the Dutchman from winning three-in-a-row in Austria. Image: Stadium Astro

Like his Red Bull teammate, Verstappen would have been gutted with his race, as he retired so early on. He will have surely fancied at his chances at a third successive Austrian GP win.

Personally, I think even without the safety cars, he would’ve been there or thereabouts challenging for the lead, and if he was in his teammates opportune shoes with 10 laps left and fresher tyres, you would have backed him to get the job done.

In what could’ve very well been 25 points for Verstappen, he heads into the second race stuck on zero. For his championship’s sake, he really needs a good points haul at the Styrian GP and then at Budapest too given the four races succeeding Hungary, (Silverstone, Spa and Monza) are all tracks where Mercedes are notoriously very strong at.

Norris podium Austria 2020
Lando Norris became the third-youngest man to stand on an F1 podium on Sunday. Image: ESPN

Lando Norris drove brilliantly to claim a very well deserved and popular maiden podium finish in Formula 1. When I interviewed the young Brit back in 2017, when he was 17 years of age and in the Formula 3 European Championship, I did not think that he would secure his first podium in F1 less than 3 years down the line.

Norris has really impressed since joining the sport last season, and it’s exciting to see what he can achieve in the coming years in a McLaren team that is on the up. His final lap was absolutely mega, and that alone deserved a podium finish for me.

I saw a stat after the race which said that no McLaren has ranked in the top three fastest laps at any race in the past two seasons which puts into perspective how impressive Norris’ achievement really was.

Leclerc Austria 2020
Charles Leclerc’s second place was arguably the most surprising result of the weekend. Image: Ferrari

Another driver who had a cracking race was Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari was way off the pace in qualifying and their race pace wasn’t a whole lot better, as Leclerc found himself struggling to get past Racing Points and McLaren’s for much of the race.

For Leclerc to end up 2nd though is quite remarkable, and is reminiscent of many of Alonso’s great drives for the Scuderia where he often managed to drag his inferior car way higher than it should have finished.

Leclerc’s overtake around the outside of Norris was impressive and his Danny Ric-esque move on Perez was outstanding and meant that for a team that has so often underachieved in races in years gone by, they massively overachieved on Sunday.

The opening 2 races were always going to be about damaged limitations for Ferrari before their supposedly big upgrade arriving in Budapest.

There was a danger that they could already be out of the championship fight by race 3, but if Leclerc can score decently again this weekend, they may head into Hungary not as far off in terms of points as they may have feared.

It will then come down to how much the upgrade improves their performance- given their pace in Austria, you’d think it needs to pretty substantial for them to mount any sort of credible challenge.

Like Red Bull, Racing Point will be disappointed they didn’t come away with more points as it looks like they have a very solid car this season. Not pitting Perez under the safety car was a crucial mistake, and even though 6th is still a respectable finish for the Mexican, it could’ve and should’ve been a lot better.

F1 Grand Prix of Austria
Valtteri Bottas did a brilliant job to win the race despite mechanical issues. Image: Formula 1

Despite not securing the 1-2 which they would have been expecting, Merc, I’m sure will be pleased with their 1-4 in Austria, especially considering the extent to the gearbox issues they were battling against during the race.

Williams will be disappointed not to have scored a point in what surely was one of their best chances this season given the Austrian GP was a race of attrition with only 11 finishers. It would’ve been great to see George Russell secure his first top 10 finish in F1, given his strong performance all weekend.

Without his mechanical failure, he very well could have walked away with a championship point.

If the coronavirus pandemic has benefitted F1 in anyway, its that we get to do that all over again in less than a weeks time, and frankly, I cannot wait!

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more race reaction? George Howson, Louis Edwards, Sam Thatcher and Alex Booth stared in Grid Talk’s Austria 2020 review. Video and audio version of the show are linked below:

For the latest Grid Talk Podcast, check out our Podcast section here. For the full back catalogue of shows, check out the F1 Chronicle’s website here.

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