Austrian Grand Prix
Valtteri Bottas wins F1 season opener in black Mercedes
London — Valtteri Bottas won an action-packed Austrian Grand Prix for champions Mercedes on Sunday as Formula One started its delayed season with plenty of drama, if no spectators, in a race with only 11 finishers.
Mercedes changed their cars from silver to black as part of an antiracism campaign.
Charles Leclerc finished a surprise second for Ferrari with McLaren’s Lando Norris celebrating a first podium after a time penalty dropped Mercedes’ six-times world champion Lewis Hamilton to fourth.
“I managed to keep it together and control the race from my side and it’s a good start to the season,” said Finn Bottas, who had to keep his cool through three safety car periods.
Norris, at 20 the youngest driver in the race and now the youngest Briton to stand on an F1 podium, set the fastest lap.
The race, on a sunny afternoon at the scenic Red Bull Ring was held in front of empty grandstands and no fans for the first time due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz made it a double points haul for McLaren in fifth, with Sergio Perez sixth for Racing Point and Pierre Gasly seventh for AlphaTauri.
Esteban Ocon, who last raced in 2018, took eighth for Renault on his return, while Antonio Giovinazzi bagged ninth for Alfa Romeo and Sebastian Vettel, who had another nightmare, completed the top 10 for Ferrari.
Canadian Nicholas Latifi was the last car running with 11th for Williams.
There was drama even before the race when stewards performed a U-turn after a Red Bull challenge and dropped Hamilton from the front row to fifth on the grid for a breach in Saturday’s qualifying. That also promoted Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to the front row alongside Bottas on pole position.
Any hopes the Dutch youngster had of completing a hat-trick of Austrian wins, after 2018 and 2019, disappeared when he suffered an early technical problem and became the season’s first retirement.
In a race with three safety car periods, Bottas soon had Hamilton in his mirrors but the Briton’s challenge vanished when he was handed a five-second time penalty for causing a collision with Red Bull’s Alex Albon while defending second place. The Thai spun off into the gravel, his podium hopes shattered.
Leclerc, whose team had struggled in qualifying with Sebastian Vettel failing even to make the top 10, moved up to third against all expectations — which became second after the chequered flag.
“I did not expect it. A huge surprise, but a good one,” said the Monegasque. “It feels like a victory today.”
Racing Point’s Mexican Perez, who had run as high as third in the 2019 Mercedes lookalike, lost fourth place to Norris two laps from the end but was already carrying a time penalty for exceeding the pit lane speed limit.
Anyone who had feared Mercedes running away in a race of their own, after the champions dominated practice and qualifying, need not have worried. Mercedes fretted about gearbox sensors and warned both drivers to keep clear of the kerbs.
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