It was total cruise control for Lewis Hamilton as the incumbent world champion dominated the inaugural Styrian Grand Prix from start to finish, only relinquishing the lead in the pitstop phases to take the chequered flag 14-seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas in a Mercedes 1-2.
The Finn maintains his championship lead but only elevated himself into second four laps from home after triumphing in an enthralling battle with Max Verstappen. The Dutch driver hung on to the final step of the podium despite making a late pitstop in an attempt to snare the fastest lap and one championship point.
A lacklustre opening stint by Alexander Albon saw the sister Red Bull machine drop a pitstop behind the leaders by lap 20 and the Thai driver failed to recover, eventually crossing the line in fourth.
Sergio Perez, who started the race from 17th, turned the wick up in his final stint to catch and overtake his teammate Lance Stroll in an uncharacteristic lunge at Turn 6. The Mexican then set about reeling in a slowing Daniel Ricciardo, sweeping past his rival a handful of laps later to sit a superb fifth.
But a wounded front wing courtesy of a collision while challenging Albon for fourth meant the Mexican lost fifth on the final corner to Lando Norris. The McLaren racer drove a stunning final stint after executing a daring move on Lance Stroll at Turn 4 on the last lap, before backing it up with a pass on the second Racing Point at the final corner.
Stroll and Ricciardo would all finish with two-tenths of Perez in a photo finish, the Australian settling for eighth behind the Racing Point and ahead of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat.
In a race a hurting Ferrari outfit desperately needed to finish, Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel committed the cardinal sin by colliding into each other on the opening lap.
Leclerc ran into the rear of Vettel after trying to pass up the inside of his teammate at Turn 3 in an overly optimistic lunge. The collision left Vettel with damage that ended his race immediately, while Leclerc was instructed to retire four laps later due to a broken floor.
“I don’t think there was any space,” said a disappointed Vettel. “Obviously a big pity and something we should avoid but not much I could have done differently; I was just taking it easy and conservative and setting myself up for the next straight.
“The car felt a lot better so it is a shame we don’t have the chance to test the race pace and our upgrades.”
Hamilton got a spectacular start from pole position as Sainz challenged Verstappen for second as the 20-strong grid swarmed onto Turn 1.
The Spaniard was forced off the road and compelled to sit behind the Red Bull as the Hamilton powered away from the field.
However, Ferrari’s downpour of terrible luck continued when an unrestrained Charles Leclerc launched himself off the inside kerb at Turn 3, careening into the rear wing of his teammate, ruling Vettel out of the race.
The Safety Car was deployed to neutralise the field while Ferrari hastily repaired the superficial damage of the Monegasque only to retire the car a handful of laps later in a double DNF for the storied Italian outfit.
A composed restart by Hamilton saw the Mercedes pilot storm away from the challenging pack as last week’s race winner Valtteri Bottas made an ease of Sainz to relegate the McLaren racer off the podium on lap six.
Daniel Ricciardo was the first driver in the top-10 to take the start on the more durable medium tyres, but the young Australian was compelled to circumvent the mobile chicane of his Renault stablemate Esteban Ocon.
After several laps wasted squabbling with one another Ricciardo finally got the move on his teammate on his 19th tour to elevate himself into sixth.
By then the pit window had opened with Verstappen proving to be the sole driver able to upset the predicted Mercedes’ dominance. The lead Red Bull was the first to swap out his softs for the medium tyres in a bold attempt to undercut Hamilton.
Verstappen’s stop pulled the trigger on a flurry of pitlane action with Hamilton responding to the Red Bull’s stop three laps later as the Brit re-emerging on the road in second as the first in the queue of those who have stopped.
A horrid pitstop for Sainz as the McLaren team struggled to fit the rear-left tyre and seeing the Spaniard lose valuable track position.
Bottas would extend his stint until lap 35 and when he did re-join the race the Finn was 13-seconds behind his teammate.
Bottas then rapidly caught Verstappen and after an incredible tussle which had both drivers trade positions at Turns 4 and 5, the Mercedes pilot made his mark on lap 68 to ensure the Silver Arrows secured their first 1-2 finish in 2020.
The most entertaining battle came as a result of a wounded Perez who opted to wrestle his broken front wing the final few laps in hope of holding onto fifth, only to yield a spot to Norris in the final corner and barely fending off a hard-charging Ricciardo and Stroll in a wild finish to the race.
F1 will head to the Hungaroring next weekend for the third successive Grand Prix as the truncated 2020 season gets rolling.
|9||C. Sainz||1 Lap|
|10||D. Kvyat||1 Lap|
|11||K. Raikkonen||1 Lap|
|12||K. Magnussen||1 Lap|
|13||R. Grosjean||1 Lap|
|14||A. Giovinazzi||1 Lap|
|15||P. Gasly||1 Lap|
|16||G. Russell||2 Laps|
|17||N. Latifi||2 Laps|