It is advantage Valtteri Bottas after the Finnish driver dealt the first blow of 2020 by claiming victory in the Austrian Grand Prix while Mercedes stablemate and title rival Lewis Hamilton was penalised for a collision ten laps from the finish.
Hamilton nerfed Red Bull’s Alex Albon into a spin in a late safety car restart to earn himself his second penalty of the afternoon after the incumbent world champion was sentenced a three-place grid penalty for ignoring yellow flags during qualifying meaning the Brit started fifth.
Charles Leclerc had soared from seventh to third by the time of the safety car, and when Hamilton was awarded his time penalty inherited the second spot on the rostrum ahead of a jubilant Lando Norris who claimed his maiden F1 podium position.
Meanwhile, Red Bull suffered a tumultuous return to action around their home circuit as Max Verstappen retried with power unit dramas just 11 laps into the Grand Prix while Albon experienced similar issues with just a handful of laps remaining.
After 217 days since the starting lights last sprung into life, Bottas got off to an impeccable start to out drag recently promoted Verstappen off the line to lead into Turn 1.
Norris, who was starting from a career-best third was forced off the road by the Red Bull but maintained his podium position before Hamilton went on a charge in the dominant Mercedes.
Verstappen had qualified to start the Grand Prix on the harder, more durable medium compound of tyre and while that allowed Bottas to build out an early lead it did keep the Mercedes team honest as they knew the Dutch pilot could extend his opening stint.
Ultimately, nothing came to fruition as Verstappen’s chance of a third consecutive Austrian Grand Prix victory were extinguished when he grounded to a halt at Turn 1, before limping back to the pit’s with suspected engine dramas.
Daniel Ricciardo, who earlier in the year announced his exit from Renault, was then forced out of the race after the Australian was spied to be slowing in what quickly became a race of attrition.
Racing Point’s Lance Stroll retired with sensor issues before Haas’ Romain Grosjean spun in an unforced error at Turn 4, all the while Bottas was controlling the reins of the field with his teammate in tandem.
However, brake issues for Kevin Magnussen in the sister Haas, the team’s second of the weekend, saw the Dane park up at turn 3 and bought out the race’s first safety car on lap 26.
Bottas powered away from the restart but there was drama further back when Sebastian Vettel made contact with his recently confirmed Ferrari replacement Carlos Sainz in a scrap over P6, tipping the German into a spin and falling to dead last.
Vettel would eventually recover to snare a solitary point in tenth to end a woeful return for the four-time world champion.
The race’s second safety car was deployed when Mercedes junior George Russell parked his Williams up on lap 51 with questions now over how many drivers would finish the race as the retirement list continued to grow.
Surprisingly, the Mercedes duo opted not to pit and instead handed the advantage over to Albon to box for fresh tyres who re-joined behind Sergio Perez in fourth with the opportunity to pounce off the restart.
As soon as the restart got underway the race’s third safety car was deployed after Kimi Raikkonen’s errant front left wheel began doing a quicker lap time than his Alfa Rome as the Finn rounded the penultimate corner.
With Albon having cleared Perez, he looked to pounce again on the Mercedes duo off the restart which he seemingly achieved on the run down to Turn 4 when he clashed with Hamilton, costing the Thai driver the shot of victory and yet another certain victory.
Hamilton was duly handed a five-second race penalty for the incident, and with only a few laps in hand the Mercedes driver was unable to pull out any margin over Leclerc and a surprised Norris, relegating himself to fourth.
“There was definitely quite a bit of pressure all through the race,” said Bottas. “One Safety Car was still okay. With the last Safety Car it was like, ‘Come on, not again.’ There were so many chances of Lewis seizing the lead even if I made a small mistake. He was really quick today, I managed to keep it together and control the race from my side. There’s no better way to start the season.”
Bottas now leads the championship for the second time after the opening race of the year and will have the opportunity to extend his lead next weekend when the F1 paddock returns to the Red Bull Ring.