Hysteria in Styria

The second round of the 2020 F1 Championship took place in the mountains of Spielberg at the Red Bull Ring. It is the first time in F1’s 70 year existence that the same venue has held back to back races, and is named after the region of Austria where the circuit is located. After last weekends hectic season opener, viewers were eagerly awaiting another chaotic showing. Ultimately, it didn’t match last weekend, but of course, it would take something exceptional to do so. There was one major factor which threatened to cause disruption; heavy rain cancelled FP3, and caused a manic qualifying session.

There was a long delay, the heavy rain threatened to cancel qualifying and be held Sunday morning instead. Thankfully, we got underway 45 minutes behind schedule. Q1 saw a green track as all the grip was washed away in the torrential rain. Every car pumped in fuel and went round setting laps that got progressively quicker. It was a case of the last car across the line setting the fastest laps, the biggest disappointment in Q1 was Perez getting dropped in 17th after Giovinazzi lost his rear at the last corner, causing a red flag to ruin everyone’s final lap.

The rain stopped in Q2, but with the track still wet, Racing Point showed their car really doesn’t suit the, with Stroll starting 12th. The highlight of the session was George Russell. Last week he was 0.07 tenths away from getting out of Q1, this week the Williams was 0.08 away from getting into Q3! Russell was 0.008 away from a Ferrari! Another weekend of poor qualifying showcase Ferrari’s struggles. They brought upgrades this weekend after a torrid weekend last time out, but 10th for Vettel, and 11th for Charles (later 14th for ignoring yellows) was all they could manage.     

Q3 saw the rain fall harder than before. Q3 brings the best out of the drivers, and this session saw some outstanding laps. Ocon put on a blinder to put his Renault on the third row in fifth. Sainz made it a second weekend in a row that a McLaren was going to start the race on the second row in third place. Verstappen looked like he was going to break the 1:20 barrier, already 4 tenths up going to into the final corner, sensationally dropping it getting on the power to early on the kerbs and spinning through onto the pit straight. But the dying seconds of the session saw an absolute masterpiece by the GOAT. Hamilton delivered a final lap that meant he was 1.2 seconds faster than Verstappen! He is firmly in the company of Schumacher and Senna in the god tier of wet weather driving. Lewis looked like he was in a championship by himself, no one was displacing him from pole position.  

Onto race day, where conditions were completely different. The Styrian anthem played out, and what a banger that was. Drivers took a knee in F1’s approach to end racism, some didn’t. I can understand some drivers taking the decision not to take a knee, but at the same time, I can be disappointed in their decision. The F1 directors, however, who took the decision to barely show the drivers taking a stand is disgraceful. Last week there was a lot of criticism about drivers not taking a knee, F1 probably opted to not show them for long to avoid further bad publicity. By not showing the drivers kneeling, instead a pre-recorded skydive by Red Bull, highlights what is wrong with the sport. The message, spearheaded by Hamilton, gets left behind due to publicity pressures, for Red Bull, against F1 as a sport.

Due to the rainy conditions the day before, drivers could pick any tyres to start the race on. Going into the race, I thought teams would split strategies, and we’d see a lot of drivers on different tyres. In the top 10, only Daniel Ricciardo opted to go mediums to softs. The race start mirrored last weeks, a Mercedes speeding off the line, a Red Bull struggling to keep up and a McLaren looking to go round the outside of the Red Bull but getting pushed off. It was clean, up until turn 3, where Charles Leclerc went for a gap that was always surely going to close. Consequently, he drove up the kerb and onto the rear wing of his teammate, retiring the pair. This was an important race for Ferrari who needed to test their new parts for their big aero update next week in Hungary. It ends an abysmal spell in the Spielberg mountains, with only 19 points to show for it. George Russell had a might start and was well within the action, Magnussen tried to go round the outside down the hill into turn 5. Russell kept it on the outside into 6, but lost control and span in the gravel. Whilst he got going, he languished last for most of the race before overtaking him teammate.

The opening stint of the race was of little action, minus the RP’s who quickly made their way through the field to the midfield after their dismal qualifying. Ricciardo looked the quickest in the midfield, being held up by his teammate Ocon. It took too long for Renault to swap the drivers, and Daniel wasn’t able to take advantage fully of his tyre advantage. Ocon then retired with cooling issues anyway.

Then the pit stops happened, Sainz led the midfield into the pits on lap 32. A second week with a slow stop meant that he dropped significantly, from a possible 4th to a sorry 9th. All boxing onto mediums, except Danny Ric onto the softs, and it looked like he could be on for a 4th position with the tyre advantage. Yet, he couldn’t push and struggled. Either the Renault doesn’t like the softer grade tyre, or he had to manage cooling issues. The fastest car for the period was Perez, quickly dispatching Stroll and Ricciardo and looked to close in on Albon for 4th.  

At the front, Verstappen boxed very early. Whilst Hamilton covered the undercut, Bottas went for the overcut. He pitted 10 laps later than Verstappen, eking everything out of his worn softs and allowing him to have fresher medium tyres towards the end. This proved a worldie strategy call from Mercedes, as the final laps of the race Bottas was able to close and overtake Verstappen on his fresher tyres for second place. Where was Hamilton after all this? Leading, very comfortably at the front, taking the race win.

The final few laps of the race were insane, and it all started with the decision by McLaren to swap Norris and Sainz. Lando had pitted 7 laps later, and really suited the medium tyre. Earlier it took too many laps for Ocon to let Ricciardo passed. The McLaren family help each other at all costs, Sainz was more than happy to let Norris overtake, giving him three DRS zone boosts to boot. This was on lap 66. In the next 4 laps, Lando closed a gap of 3.5 seconds, exhibiting mighty pace.

On lap 70, everything kicked off. Down the hill in turn 5, Perez who had been setting fastest laps had caught Albon. He tried to go up the inside, in a move very similar to last week. Perez oversteered wide and hit the rear wheel of Albon, destroying his front wing. RP will be bitterly disappointed because Perez should have exhibited patience for the final lap and should’ve eased off the throttle when he knew the corner had gone. At the same time, up the hill in turn 3, Stroll licked the stamp and absolutely sent it up the inside of Ricciardo. It was deemed a racing incident, although it forced Ricciardo off the track, Stroll not making the corner either. Norris went up the inside and took Ricciardo and had an amazing run on Stroll. Although, unlike Perez, he showed patience and waited for the final lap where he secured the inside and got passed Stroll easily. Whilst this was going on, Perez was limping home, and with one corner to go, Norris caught and overtook him. From 8th to 5th in two laps isn’t half bad, is it? Perez, Stroll and Ricciardo had a drag race to the line, separated by .204 of a second.

Where were the Alfa Romeo and Haas cars in all of this, I hear you ask? They were battling amongst each other from 11th to 14th, about to be lapped for the second time. A big F for all Ferrari powered cars this weekend.

Bottas leads the championship by 6 points, with Hamilton closing the gap with the win this time around. Verstappen is in sixth, 30 points behind, ensuring that this is still an all Mercedes race for the title. Lando Norris adds another 10 points to his total, and stays third in the championship, having already achieved half of his total from last season in just two races. In the Constructor Standings, Mercedes have already built up an incredible 80 points, 41 points ahead of McLaren. The papaya team will be very happy to leave the hills with 39 points. Their battle will be with the pink Racing Points, and they have already built up a 17 point gap.

The first triple header of the season concludes next weekend at the Hungarian Grand Prix. The Hungaroring is historically a good venue for the Mercedes, but a high downforce circuit will also suit the Red Bull. A 50% chance of rain during qualifying threatens to mix up the grid, hopefully it will live up to the standards the Red Bull Ring has given us these last two weekends.

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