Lewis Hamilton secured his 85th career Grand Prix win with an effortlessly dominate victory at the inaugural 2020 Styrian Grand Prix, quickly leaving challengers Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen in his wake from the start.
Never before in F1 history had a circuit been visited twice, in the same season, for a different Grand Prix race. With all the excitement of the 2020 COVID- influenced season-opener last week in the Austrian Grand Prix, the racing world expected another barn-burner for the Styrian Grand Prix.
The name comes from Austria’s Styria region, and Spielberg, home of the repeat-host track, Red Bull Ring. Unfortunately, the Styrian Grand Prix’s winner was essentially decided by Turn 1.
Hamilton is now just six victories short of Michael Schumacher’s record of 91. He is also only six points behind second-place finisher and series leader Valtteri Bottas in the championship, with the Finn keeping his lead thanks to transforming fourth on the grid into second place, by overtaking Verstappen for a Mercedes one-two. Verstappen held on for third place on the podium.
In hindsight, Hamilton’s Styrian Grand Prix romp was foretold on the soaking-wet final lap of Q3 Qualifying during Saturday afternoon’s deluge.
After a 40 minute delay to let a particularly formidable round of rain clear, the sessions went live, with starting positions changing with each driver’s latest qualifying lap. By Q3, it seemed the moment was ripe for an upset. Indeed, Max Verstappen’s brilliant 1:20.489 seemed to have taken pole with two minutes remaining.
Then, Lewis Hamilton, F1’s best-ever qualifier, emerged from the mist to peg a stunning 1:19.273, over 1.2s quicker than Verstappen’s most valiant effort. At the other end of the field, Ferrari was amid another miserable Saturday qualifying session. Last week, Vettel faced elimination in Q2, with Charles Leclerc barely able to qualify seventh. This week, Vettel’s best put his Ferrari 10th, with Leclerc four spots behind after a drop of 3 grid positions due to impeding of car 26 in turns 9 and 10.
The wet track made it a day for the younger driver’s to make an impression. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who loves severe conditions, took third on the grid ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who leads the championship courtesy of his win at the Austrian Grand Prix last weekend.
Renault’s Esteban Ocon took a polished fifth position, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris, penalised three places down the grid for ignoring a yellow flag. Red Bull’s Alex Albon moved up to take Norris’ third-row grid spot.
George Russell was another welcome performer, dragging the Williams into Q2 for the first time since the 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix. Russell finished 12th, the highest grid position of his F1 career.
It was Hamilton’s 89th career pole. Verstappen might have been closer, had he not spun in the middle of the last corner, but his first marker was fast enough to share the front row with Hamilton. Last weeks victor and Hamilton teammate would start fourth.
Hamilton bolted off the line at the start, as Verstappen defended his position from the fast-starting McLaren of Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard had just put his nose ahead before a full-pressure response from Verstappen forced him onto the Turn 1 run-off.
Daniel Ricciardo, looking to make up for his early exit a week ago, had said ahead of the race that he was planning to be aggressive – and he followed through, tapping the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly before nipping past to take seventh place.
As the field charged three-wide toward Turn 3, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari SF1000 was ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc, who’d started P14 and was looking to make up ground. As the pack condensed under braking, Leclerc thought he saw an opening inside Vettel. He lunged deep inside Vettel’s arc and ended up on the kerbs. His car bounced into the air and speared his team mate’s rear wing – while Leclerc’s lost his front wing and new prototype floor.
Vettel was virtually out on the spot, though he did make it back to the pits. Leclerc headed to the pits as well for a new nose. His attempt to salvage his disgrace lasted until just Lap 5.
The Monegasque accepted blame from the crash and for throwing away the Scuderia’s opportunity to gather vital dry-track race-test data for the team’s rushed next upgrade package before the next week’s Hungaroring. It was the second time a Leclerc/Vettel collision had caused the team a double DNF.
It had looked like Sergio Perez had his sights on finishing an outstanding fifth, but he picked up damage two laps from the flag while trying to pass Albon’s fourth-place Red Bull.It fell again to the charging Lando Norris to run down and pass Perez coming onto the front straight for fifth place, leaving Perez sixth.
Lance Stroll finished seventh behind Perez but was under investigation for possibly pushing Daniel Ricciardo Renault wide at Turn 3. The Aussie dropped from sixth to eighth as a result of the incident but finished ahead of Carlos Sainz in ninth and Daniil Kvyat, in tenth.