Amazing race ... and fortunately we can do it all again this coming Sunday!
The peculiarities of the 2020 F1 season means that the teams will stay in Austria for the second race of the season which allows fans to see a completely new side of the series – how teams can adapt between one race and another with almost identical conditions.
This adds a degree of intrigue. Several teams have struggled with the kerbs and rumble strips at the Spielberg ring so mechanics will needs to make adjustments.
Drivers, having rubbed the sleepiness from the eyes, have tasted competition and will now have a feel for the moves that their competitors will make.
Will Red Bull repeat their strategy of sending out Verstappen on a different tyre in qualifying? He certainly felt that the mechanical failure cost him an ‘easy podium’ in last Sunday’s race.
Mentally both Mercedes and Hamilton committed too many mistakes. Fortunately their car appears so superior that they were almost able to ride it out. The team made several strategic errors, firstly by failing to change tyres when it would have been safe to do so under with the safety car deployed and, secondly, for allowing Hamilton to lose position so drastically in the final laps.
Perhaps distracted by the unwillingness of all the other drivers to conform with his Black Lives Matter campaign suggestions his problems started by allowing Bottas to claim pole.
The manner in which he was demoted three places on the grid an hour before the race (ironically as Red Bull used an official F1 tweet to overturn an earlier decision) was unusual even by F1’s standards.
Given that he had been instructed to stay away from the kerbs he was perhaps also a little unfortunate to concede the five second penalty. Yet Mercedes could have allowed him to pass Bottas and still give him the win.
LeClerc managed to secure second place by simply keeping out of trouble, which is more than can be said of Sebastien Vettel whose race disintegrated when he crashed into the man who will be replacing him next year, Carlos Sainz.
Admittedly, the Monegasque driver did show strong form in the later stages having switched to the medium compound tyre although the Ferrari will need to improve drastically.
While Albon secured the fans vote as best racer of the day, Lando Norris pushed him close, as he had on the track.
Setting the fastest lap of the race to secure his first podium was incredible racing. In the process he became the third youngest driver to ever finish on a podium while McLaren secured their first since 2014 in an opening race. This is also the first time since that year that Hamilton has not been the top-ranked British driver in a race.
No doubt the royal pat on the back he received live on TV spurred him on to third place!
As reported on our sister website, GDNonline, a shocked Norris received a call from His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Prime Minister of Bahrain, 24-hours earlier, after securing McLaren’s highest grid position since 2016.
The 20-year-old, Formula One’s youngest current driver, was quicker than both Ferraris as well as Red Bull’s Alex Albon and the Racing Point cars many had expected to be leading the midfield charge.
Interviewed on live Sky television in the paddock afterwards, the startled Briton was handed a mobile phone by McLaren Racing chief executive Zak Brown who informed him of the caller’s identity.
McLaren are majority-owned by Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat.
The other notable drive last weekend came from Williams’ George Russell who retired while placed 12th, unfortunately unable to benefit from the same consistency available when racing online!
However, for all the thrills and spills of this race, let’s not get too carried away – Bottas won the season opener last year too. Although, perhaps it is about time that Mercedes let their second driver claim the championship?
This was not a typical Austrian race. Last year there were no cars retiring – this time there were seven!
Formula One is not averse to controversy and disruption, usually resulting from rule changes and squabbles between teams and drivers, making it one of the more adaptable sports out there. Plenty has happened since the end of testing four months ago that has tested this belief.
The season (virtual) belatedly started in Bahrain and ended up being won, as mentioned earlier, by Russell of Williams, a team that is now up for sale. Let’s hope he is equally as impressive in his car this season and is able to prove his undoubted talent despite last weekend's woes.
Drivers have been moving teams before the season has even started while circuits will be doubling up on consecutive weekends to ensure that F1 can squeeze in as many races as possible.
At least the rule changes being introduced next year have been deferred, to an extent making this an 18-month season with two championships!
Red Bull must have been delighted when the revised schedule was announced with the opening two weekends being hosted at their home track, the Spielberg circuit in the Styrian mountains at which their leading driver, Max Verstappen, has won in each of the last two years.
In 2019 having joined Charles LeClerc in F1’s youngest ever pairing on the front row of the grid, he passed the Ferrari with an audacious (borderline illegal) overtaking manouever two laps from the finish to secure victory.
And despite all the disruption some things never change – like the likely dominance of Mercedes.
Their performance this year is said to be a result of yet another innovation – their revolutionary Dual Axis Steering System, a mechanism by which the drivers are able to push or pull the steering wheel to adjust the camber on the front wheels.
While this is clearly aiding their single lap performance, it is also aiding them overcome what last year was as close to an Achilles heel as they have – managing the wear on their tyres. If this new system neutralizes this while helping them manage the heat then I cannot see anyone getting close to them this season – and possibly next.
It’s unusual not to be writing more about Ferrari. They have had some well-publicised problems with the aerodynamics of the car having made a “wrong turn” when interpreting data in pre-season.
The upgrades to correct this are not expected until the race in Hungary leaving them feasting off meager scraps in mid-table.
With Vettel scheduled to leave Ferrari at the end of the season I am hoping that he will want to prove his worth although I have always had a sense that he lacks full motivation when not challenging near the front. If that continues to be the case will he perhaps leave early and leave the seat available?
I would love to see Alonso back at Ferrari even just for a short while.
The man who has signed for Ferrari next year is McLaren’s Sainz. I’m looking forward to watching him battle the “honey badger”, Daniel Ricciardo, who will be in the papaya colours in 2021.
If Ferrari continue to struggle and Red Bull remain inconsistent then the gap between these teams and 4th will hopefully narrow.
McLaren comfortably achieved that position last year and will be hoping to improve. The team have also introduced a new design, featuring a rainbow that is a “universal symbol of unity, solidarity and hope,” while it additionally recognises those key workers who put their lives at risk to save others. Commendably, they will also be donating profits from a special range of #WeRaceAsOne merchandise.
A challenging lockdown period saw the Woking-based team leap to the help of the NHS by joining Project Pitlane that saw them design and supply crucial medical equipment.
McLaren completed more than 800 laps in testing which hopefully for Bahrain fans will see them prove more consistent on the track.
Renault and Racing Point will be their main challengers yet I’m personally hoping to see them on the podium again. Many of these smaller battles can be more intriguing than what’s happening at the front.
If Mercedes do disappear into the distance then Lewis Hamilton and his team could break new records this year. He is only seven races behind Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 race wins while success for his team will see them eclipse Ferrari’s record of six consecutive constructor’s crowns.
Another more obscure record available to Hamilton – and Kimi Raikkonen – is the number of times they finish a race in the points. Both are on 213 chasing Schumacher’s total of 221. The Finn has achieved this from 312 race starts – only 10 behind the current record-holder, Rubens Barichello.
The first record likely to fall to Hamilton this season is the number of times he has reached the podium. Requiring only four to equal Schumi it would be fitting for him to achieve this at Silverstone.
After the first showing it would take some major accidents or uncommon failings to prevent Mercedes from winning – although in F1 there is always intrigue throughout the grid. With no fans allowed at any of the next seven races they can sit back and enjoy watching it all from their own armchair.
Let’s see what happens in race two.