Returning Formula 1 Lives Up To Expectation With Dramatic Weekend

Lando Norris’ maiden Formula One podium topped off a spectacular first race weekend of the long-awaited 2020 season.

After a 217-day wait, the longest to the start of a season in Formula One history, Spielberg in Austria gave us motor racing fans the fix we had been dying for.

Starting with qualifying, McLaren’s Lando Norris started a career-best third on the grid after Red Bull reported Lewis Hamilton to the stewards for ignoring yellow flags during qualifying which caused the defending champion to suffer a five-place grid penalty.

Ferrari meanwhile were well off the pace, particularly in qualifying as Leclerc and Vettel started in seventh and eleventh respectively, the latter running wide onto the sausage curbs at turn one, costing him vital fractions of a second.

More on the curbs later, but for the first couple of races, it could seem that Mercedes could be relatively unchallenged as Ferrari’s upgrade package won’t arrive until the third race at the Hungaroring.

Staying in qualifying, it didn’t seem that much had changed as Mercedes and Red Bull set the pace.

However, Williams, whilst not getting out of Q1, were much closer to the pace of their rivals.

At the 2019 Austrian GP, they were over a second away from advancing to Q2.

In 2020, that gap had reduced to less then a tenth of a second.

So, despite the financial issues and the changing of their livery due to a sponsor change, Williams appear to be on the up, although this is only the first race, of course.

Talking of a livery change, Mercedes unveiled their new black livery this weekend.

The German team altered their ever-so recognisable silver livery to black to show solidarity with the black community and the Black Lives Matter movement which Lewis Hamilton is a huge advocate of and was seen protesting in London just weeks before the Grand Prix.

The defending champion himself set up his own commission to improve diversity and inclusiveness in motorsport, which F1 themselves followed ‘suit launching their #WeRaceAsOne campaign.

Many drivers took the knee before the race, but six of the 20 drivers chose not to, including Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

He stated on Twitter: “I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism. But I believe everyone has the right to themself at a time and in a way that suits them.”

However, all drivers wore black t-shirts with ‘End Racism’ branded across the front, except for Hamilton – Formula One’s only black driver on the grid – who opted for ‘Black Lives Matter’.

The message was also printed across the start finish line, and the three drivers on the podium at the end of the race held up one of the shirts in front of the cameras.

Hopefully these messages and practices won’t be abandoned soon and aren’t just a knee-flex reaction to the protests seen around the world.

Going into the race itself, it was mostly uneventful in my view.

Sure, there were retirements, but I didn’t feel like there was much on-track action for a good half of the race.

Overall, there were eight retirements, including both Haas’s and Red Bulls with Max Verstappen the first to get out of the car on lap 11 as a power and electrical fault caused him to pull into the pits.

Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll also suffered mechanical failures, bringing their first races since December 2019 to an early end.

Just under halfway through the race, Vettel had worked his way into the top ten and ahead of him in P7 was the man taking the seat of his prancing horse – Carlos Sainz.

Vettel locked up and the two cars touched into the hairpin of turn three which sent the four-time world champion into a pirouette as he dropped to the back of the pack and the ‘SBINALLA’ memes resurged in full force.

The Williams of George Russell – who had been driving superbly and was looking for his first point in Formula One – came to a grinding halt on lap 51, creating a safety car.

It was at this point; all hell broke loose at the Red Bull Ring.

As soon as the safety car pulled in to let the cars go racing again, it had to be deployed straight away.

Kimi Raikkonen’s front right tyre decided it didn’t want to be part of the car any longer.

We had heard about the curbs and the vibrations they were causing, but we didn’t think they would cause a tyre to come off the wheel.

With Verstappen out, Alex Albon was the only Red Bull left in the race and was eyeing up his first F1 podium.

But we all went back in time to Brazil 2019 as Hamilton touched Albon, forcing him into the gravel and retiring the car.

The Mercedes driver received a fairly lenient penalty of just five seconds.

With Albon out, Racing Point’s Sergio Perez moved into a podium position, but Charles Leclerc had other ideas, going rampant in the last ten laps and climbed up to second due to Hamilton’s penalty.

Then, with just two laps to go, the curbs claimed another victim, this time the AlphaTauri of Daniil Kvyat as his left rear tyre burst but didn’t warrant a safety car.

On the final lap, Lando Norris, driving in fourth, was 5.7 seconds behind Hamilton.

The young McLaren driver put his foot to the floor and recorded the fastest lap of the race, scoring himself an extra point and closing the gap to 4.8 seconds, giving McLaren their second podium in three races, and Norris’ first of his career.

A race which looked to pan out into another Mercedes domination turned upside down in the last 20 laps, as F1 fans beg for it to be a repeat at the same track next week.

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