Bottas, who has now won his third Austrian Grands Prix at the Red Bull Ring, crossed the line 0.6-seconds clear of Hamilton, who received an immediate 5-second time addition penalty, promoting McLaren’s Lando Norris into third for his first F1 career podium.
Hamilton’s incident with Albon happened after the end of the race’s third safety car period and following Mercedes race engineers warning both its drivers to slow due to critical gearbox reliability warnings after they ran over track curbing.
Albon looked like a contender for victory in the closing stages when he passed the slower Hamilton on Lap 60 around the outside of Turn 4. The reigning world champion allowed his Mercedes’ path to move up into Albon’s right rear tyre, spinning the Red Bull, echoing the contact between the pair at last year’s Brazilian GP. The stewards deemed Hamilton, with his vast racing knowledge, to be at fault.
In all nine drivers failed to make the finish – including the eternally luckless Albon and team-mate Max Verstappen, who had run a strong second to Bottas early on before his Red Bull car suffered a suspected electrical meltdown.
Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix was 217 days – or 31 weeks – since the last Formula 1 championship event. The rapid spread of the current coronavirus pandemic delayed the 2020 season by nearly four months from its original starting point – the cancelled Australian Grand Prix in March.
Austria’s F1 race was the first of eight confirmed events for the new season, with a second Grand Prix scheduled for the Red Bull Ring next Sunday as part of a hopeful schedule of an additional 13-18 races from this summer into mid-December.
For the first time in its existence, the Formula 1 World Championship proceeds with an unknown number of races and an unknown number of points required to win the Constructor’s and Driver’s Championships. Thus, going forward, every pass, every point and every finishing position could be critical for the 2020 championship titles.
Also equal in season-long effects were three surprising developments surrounding four leading drivers for 2020.
Max Verstappen signed a three-year Red Bull contract renewal, extending beyond Honda’s existing commitment to the team, taking the Dutchman off the driver market for the foreseeable future.
Ferrari came to a private agreement with the FIA over system questions about their mighty 2019 engine that allowed Charles Leclerc to claim seven poles. In 2020 pre-season testing Ferrari’s SF1000 revealed a lacked straight-line speed and high-speed downforce.
Finally, Ferrari confirmed that Sebastian Vettel would not receive a contract extension beyond the end of 2020. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz would take his seat. McLaren countered by signing Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo to replace Sainz.
Valtteri Bottas joined the likes of Niki Lauda and Rene Arnoux with a third Austrian GP pole to their name. Even though Hamilton led all three practice sessions, Bottas’ 1min 02.939sec lap topped the Brit by a couple of hundredths when it counted.
Verstappen gambled on a medium tyre for Q2, and it paid off by allowing him to start on the harder tyre, run an extended stint and then take on softer tyres let his fuel-lightened RB16 run for the victory. Thanks to Hamilton’s three-place penalty for speeding during a caution period, Verstappen would start second, up from third.
On the other end, Ferrari’s Vettel did not make it into Q3 – with an incredulous Leclerc taking a 10th starting spot. Why the reaction? He was 0.920s slower than his pole time at last year’s same venue.
Bottas blasted off the line and jumped to a two-second lead at the end of Lap 1, as Verstappen – starting on the medium tyre efficiently handled pressure from Norris, Hamilton and Leclerc. Hamilton found it more difficult than he thought to overtake Norris and Albon, but he was presented with a golden opportunity when Verstappen’s RB16 dropped to a crawl.
The Dutchman suddenly lost power approaching Turn 1 on Lap 11 of 71. He bump-started his car back to the pits and attempted to reset the suspected electrical problem with a new steering wheel, but had to abandon the chase before he could use his alternate strategy.
Kevin Magnussen spun off at Turn 3 while battling Esteban Ocon on Lap 26 and brought the Safety Car. The Mercedes pair dove for the pits – the team stacking the change to the “hard” tyre. Bottas held the lead, but soon, was Hamilton applying plenty of pressure. With Verstappen out, it looked to be a typical “Hamilton-stalk-and-win-race”.
However, the racing gods had other ideas.
Bottas-Hamilton duo raced closer together, both cars’ gearbox sensors sent out substantial “critical warnings.” Engines turned down the pair looked to stay off the curbs to win at the slowest speed.
The situation stabilised on Lap 51 when George Russell’s Williams stopped at Turn 4 and brought out the second safety car.
The Red Bull engineers decided to roll the dice. They brought Albon in for new soft tyres, while the Mercedes pair stayed out. He returned on the tail of Hamilton and the slowing Bottas just as the third Safety Car emerged for Kimi Raikkonen, who had lost his Alfa Romeo’s left front tyre due to cross-threaded wheel nut.
With ten laps remaining, Albon shot past Hamilton, only to have the Brit spin him out of the race. In the struggle, Charles Leclerc turned up the wick in his Ferrari, passing Norris and Perez. He was now third on the track, and with Hamilton’s penalty, he vaulted into a genuinely heroic second place at the flag.
We can’t wait for round two at the Ring.