Valtteri Bottas has survived an Austrian Grand Prix of high attrition to claim the first win of the 2020 Formula One season.
The Finn led every lap, but his race was far from easy. The grand prix featured three safety car interventions and only 11 finishers at the chequered flag, and Bottas had to manage “critical” gearbox issues that prevented him from exploiting the full performance of his car.
He also had to absorb pressure from teammate Lewis Hamilton in the middle part of the race, though the Briton’s threat faded a little past half distance after becoming afflicted with similar reliability problems.
This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.
“One safety car was okay, but the last safety car was like, ‘Come on, again?’,” Bottas said. “There were so many chances for Lewis to get the lead if I made even a small mistake — he was really quick today — but I managed to keep it together and really could control the race form my side.
“We had to manage the car quite a lot, I couldn’t really use all the kerbs. At some point I was slightly worried.
“I’m glad we managed to finish, and I think in the teams standings we are leading, so that’s a very good start.”
But while Bottas was able to keep the variables of the unpredictable race under control, teammate Hamilton couldn’t so handle his race.
Hamilton came under fire late from a resurgent Alex Albon, who used substantially fresher tyres equipped during the late second safety car to launch an ambitious move around the outside of the Mercedes at turn four on lap 59.
But the two made contact, the Briton understeering into the Thai and pushing him into the gravel, from where he tumbled down the order.
Hamilton was adjudged the guilty party by the stewards and handed a five-second penalty, blowing open the battle for the podium.
Max Verstappen should have been perfectly positioned to capitalise, but the Dutchman, winner of the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix, had retired on lap 11 with electronics problems in his Honda power unit.
Three teams entered the battle. Racing Point’s Sergio Perez was the incumbent ahead of McLaren duo Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz, but Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc made himself the unlikely recipient of second place.
The Monegasque had started a lowly seventh on the grid, but a well-judged second pit stop onto the medium tyre offered him the pace advantage he needed to charge past both McLarens. Perez was then easy meat owing to his own ageing rubber, promoting Leclerc into third on the road, which became second after the application of Hamilton’s penalty.
It was a strong turnaround, if fortuitous, from Ferrari’s devastating Saturday pace that saw the team struggle to make it into the top 10.
“I did not expect it!” Leclerc enthused. “I think we did everything perfectly today, to be honest.
“That was the goal — to take every opportunity we had even though we didn’t have the pace to finish where we were.
“I wanted to be very aggressive because after every safety car I was seeing I was struggling. I knew that my opportunity would come if somebody would do a mistake.”
The final podium place boiled down to a fight between Hamilton, weighed down by his penalty; Perez, who was struggling with his tyres; and Norris, who was trying to follow Leclerc up the road.
The Briton seized the initiative, muscling past Perez on the apex of turn three before setting the fastest lap of the race on the final tour, just slipping inside Hamilton’s penalty window by less than 0.2 seconds and promoting himself to third place in the process.
“I’m speechless!” Norris said. “I think there were a few points in the race where I thought I’d fudged it up quite a bit.
“It was a long race, but I kept going, giving it my all.”
“I’m proud of the team. Considering where we were a few years ago, to last year to now I think is a pretty good achievement.”
Sainz finished fifth behind the penalised Hamilton after slipping past Perez after his teammate. Perez was himself later penalised five seconds for speeding in the pit lane, but the Mexican was far enough ahead of the rest of the field to maintain sixth.
Pierre Gasly finished seventh for AlphaTauri, fending off Renault’s Esteban Ocon, the pair separated by 0.774 seconds at the flag.
Antonio Giovinazzi finished ninth ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who was fortunate to score the final point of the race after crashing with Carlos Sainz at the first safety car resumption in a botched overtaking attempt at turn three that sent him tumbling to the back of the field.
Debutant Nicholas Latifi was the final driver to see the flag in his Williams. AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat and Red Bull Racing’s Alex Albon were classified in 12th and 13th despite both failing to make the finish, the former for a delaminated rear tyre and the latter with a loss of power.