Four talking points from the Styrian Grand Prix

12th July 2020
Damien Smith

It wasn’t quite the thriller offered up by the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring a week earlier, but the Styrian Grand Prix still had its moments on Sunday, as Lewis Hamilton bounced back from his disappointing first round of 2020 in emphatic style to win the second with consummate ease.


Pressure, Lewis? What pressure?

Defeat by team-mate Valtteri Bottas, two penalties in one day and a lost podium on the last lap left Hamilton under considerable pressure heading into the second consecutive weekend at the picturesque circuit in the Styrian mountains. Were he to lose again, in a season that will inevitably feature fewer races than normal, the six-time world champion would have been forced firmly on to the back foot in his bid for a seventh title. But Hamilton batted away any suggestion his on-going campaign for the Black Lives Matter movement has distracted his focus and motivation. He was simply unbeatable this time around.

The 35-year-old’s performance during a drenched qualifying session, in which he ended up an eye-watering 1.2 seconds faster than nearest rival Max Verstappen, was among the finest of his long career. Then on Sunday, Hamilton delivered his 85th Formula 1 win with familiar, calm lights-to-flag domination to comfortably beat Bottas, who rose from fourth on the grid to pass Verstappen for second on the 67th of 71 laps.

On the face of it, a win, a second and a six-point championship lead over Hamilton is a pretty decent return for Bottas from Austria’s double-header. But the look in his eye in the post-race interview and his shrug judgement “it could have been better” made his feeling over Hamilton’s advantage this time all too obvious. As past experience proves, the Finn knows it will be vital he immediately regains the upper hand and the momentum in round three, which takes place this coming weekend at the Hungaroring.

Meanwhile, Verstappen, clearly disheartened by Red Bull-Honda’s deficiency to Mercedes in Austria, will be hoping the tight, downforce-craving circuit near Budapest will better suit his needs to get among the black cars – and this time remain there.

Disaster for Ferrari, Leclerc and Vettel

Seven days after he’d shone on his way to an almost miraculous second place in a worryingly uncompetitive Ferrari, Charles Leclerc stumbled under a cloud as black as those that had dropped a deluge on the Red Bull Ring during Saturday. His clumsy move on team-mate Sebastian Vettel at Turn Three on lap one, after the pair had started a penalised 13th and 11th respectively, had echoes of the blunder the four-time world champion had made at the same corner in the Austrian GP – but this time the consequences were far worse.

Both Ferraris were out, Vettel with a broken rear wing and Leclerc with a damaged floor, and the younger man was quick to accept the blame, in a genuinely contrite manner that remains both unusual and refreshing for an F1 driver. “I am disappointed in myself,” he said. “I’m sorry, but being sorry is not enough. Seb hasn’t got any faults today.”

To rub salt deeper, Ferrari had rushed a batch of technical updates on to the SF1000 in a desperate bid to raise the team from its midfield slump. It would have been handy for both cars to finish the 71 laps rather than return limping from the first lap, to learn if they had worked – as Leclerc acknowledged with another crack of his self-flagellation whip… Was this rock bottom? We, the team and the drivers don’t have long to wait to find out.


Norris pulls another fast one

Last week he grabbed his first podium with a Hamilton-defeating effort on the last lap. This time, Lando Norris took advantage of Lance Stroll’s flat-footed move on Daniel Ricciardo at Turn Three, then caught Sergio Perez limping for the line with a broken front wing to rise three places in the final minutes and claim a dramatic fifth place.

McLaren’s 20-year-old had endured something of a comedown after his podium-snatching heroics last week. He required painkillers to get him through qualifying after back pain made driving difficult on Friday, but already knew he’d been pinged with a three-place grid penalty for overtaking under yellow flags in the first free practice session. To add to his gloom, team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr. had outshone him to qualify a brilliant third.

But in the race Sainz slipped backwards and with Norris on his tail and on a better tyre strategy, McLaren made a good call to switch them around. An extra point for fastest lap, after a late stop for fresh rubber, was some consolation for ninth-placed Sainz. But it was Norris who again took the lion’s share of the McLaren limelight to continue a lucrative start to the season for a team that currently lies only second to Mercedes in the constructors’ standings. Norris finds himself third in the drivers’ points behind Hamilton and Bottas.


Pérez shines as Renault protests Racing Point

Spare a thought for Sergio Pérez, the veteran Mexican who drove superbly to rise from 17th on the grid to challenge Red Bull’s Alex Albon for fourth. On the penultimate lap Albon must have had a dreaded sense of déjà vu when the Racing Point tapped him at Turn Four, just as Hamilton had a week earlier. But this time Albon could thank his lucky stars and continued to claim his fourth place, while Perez was unlucky to break his front wing in the unintentional contact. He was so close to making it home in fifth until Norris caught him at the final turn, but just clung on from team-mate Stroll and Ricciardo, the latter annoyed at Lance’s desperate lunge at Turn Three that effectively cost him two hard-earned places.

Renault was even more put out and chose to lodge its long-awaited protest against Racing Point; not for this niggly, minor incident, but for the much more serious and fundamental claim that Perez and Stroll are driving a pink Mercedes. This row has been brewing since pre-season testing back in February and looks set to explode as F1 heads to Hungary.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Formula 1

  • F1 2020

  • 2020

  • Lewis Hamilton

  • Valtteri Bottas

  • Max Verstappen

  • Charles Leclerc

  • Sebastian Vettel

  • Ferrari

  • Mercedes

  • Lando Norris

  • McLaren

  • Sergio Perez

  • Racing Point

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