Hamilton cruises to Styrian GP victory

Lewis Hamilton has taken his first win of the season in a one-two victory for Mercedes at the Styrian Grand Prix.

The Briton had been untouchable since recording his masterful pole position in the wet from Max Verstappen on Saturday afternoon. The Red Bull Racing driver expected to challenge Hamilton for victory come the race, but the reigning world champion never gave him a chance, acing his start and nailing the single safety car restart to keep the Dutchman at arm’s length throughout.

The margin at the chequered flag was 13.7 seconds, and Hamilton was serene in rejoining the winners circle in 2020.

This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.

“Firstly I have to say a big thank you to my team,” he said. “What a weird year it is, but it’s great to be back up here and to be driving — and to be driving with this kind of performance.

“To come back this weekend after a difficult weekend at the first weekend last week [finishing fourth with a penalty], this is a great, great step forward.”

Verstappen couldn’t hold onto second place, surrendering it to Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes four laps from home.

The two Mercedes cars sandwiched Verstappen early in the first stint to force him to make an early pit stop to cover the approaching Bottas behind. The Finn then ran 10 laps longer before pitting, which meant he could use his younger tyres to snatch second place near the end of the race.

Verstappen didn’t make it easy for him though, rebuffing a move into turn four by hanging onto his outside to take the inside line into turn six and hold the place. But his unlikely defence lasted only one more lap, the pace difference overwhelming.

“It was a good battle with him,” Bottas said. “Obviously I had quite a bit more pace at the end than him as we extended the stint. Racing closely is always good fun.

“I think today was damage limitation. Still got good points, still leading [the championship], so not too bad.”

Red Bull Racing was snookered by a lack of support from Alex Albon in the sister machine. The Thai driver was woefully off the leading pace in fourth and by lap 20 was out of Hamilton’s pit stop window.

It meant Verstappen had no choice but to fall into the Mercedes trap and take the early stop, which left him defenceless late.

“I tried but we are just a bit too slow,” Verstappen admitted. “I pushed as hard as I could.

“The podium is good, but still a lot of work to do.”

While Mercedes and Red Bull Racing battled for the podium, Ferrari was again absent from contention, this week thanks to a nasty lap-one crash between teammates Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc.

Leclerc lost control of his car trying to sneak down Vettel’s inside at the third turn. He rocketed over the kerbs, lifting the rear of his SF1000 into the air and dropping it onto Vettel’s rear wing, tearing it from its chassis.

Both drivers retired with irreparable damage, with Leclerc accepting blame for the disaster that extended Ferrari’s painful start to the season.

Albon ultimately finished fourth, but only after staving off a fast-finishing Sergio Perez, who was making a mammoth recovery from 17th on the grid.

The two made contact on lap 69 of 71, resulting in damage to the Mexican’s front wing that sent him tumbling towards the rest of the midfield.

It generated an almighty fight for fifth place that ran all the way to finishing line, with Lando Norris just sneaking ahead in the final seconds of the race, his third overtake in two laps.

The sister Racing point of Lance Stroll almost demoted Perez to sixth, but the Canadian missed out in a photo finish, falling short by just 0.066 seconds.

Daniel Ricciardo was the biggest loser of the final frenetic laps. Having steadfastly defended sixth place for much of the second half of the race, an ugly move by Stroll on the penultimate lap dropped him to seventh and then eighth in short order to the opportunistic Norris.

Carlos Sainz finished ninth after making a late pit stop for soft tyres to score a point for fastest lap of the race, and Daniil Kvyat completed the top 10.