We’re back in the Styrian hills for the second week in a row for the first double-header of the season at the Red Bull Ring.
After a masterclass in wet weather driving, Lewis Hamilton came away with pole position from Saturday’s extremely challenging Qualifying session.
After a long battle with Max Verstappen, trading fastest lap times throughout, Hamilton ultimately came out on top and by the significant margin of 1.2 seconds.
The Red Bull driver who complained about poor visibility on the team radio throughout qualifying did not let the torrential downpours stop him from putting the pedal to the metal, and he claimed P2 for today’s race, the third consecutive time he has done so at the Red Bull Ring.
After being the first out of the pits for qualifying, Sebastian Vettel ended up as the only Ferrari to make it to Q3, finishing the session in P10 for today’s race following yet another difficult weekend for the prancing horses.
Charles Leclerc came away from qualifying with a three-place penalty for impeding Alpha Tauri’s Daniel Kvyat, meaning Leclerc started today from a disappointing P14.
Lewis Hamilton started on pole position for the 89th time in his Formula One career, proving most comfortable in the tough track conditions on Saturday.
The six-time World Champion started fifth on the grid last weekend as a result of a three-place penalty for ignoring a yellow flag warning, this week, however, saw him lead from lights out to flag with only a brief period spent behind his teammate Valtteri Bottas when he pitted for tyres.
Bottas and Verstappen were always the main contenders for the remaining podium positions throughout today’s 71 lap race.
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz immediately put the pressure on Mercedes from the get-go, along with Verstappen, but the speed of the six-time world champion in his W11 left them swiftly behind after the first lap.
Verstappen’s Red Bull seemed to be the only other car on track today that managed to compete with the Mercedes team, but Hamilton ultimately dominated the race, remaining comfortably ahead of the rest.
Ferrari continued to encounter difficulties at the start of this truncated season. A collision on the first lap between the teammates meant a swift end to the day for Sebastian Vettel, who had to retire after significant damage was caused to his car’s rear wing.
Following the incident between the two Ferrari drivers, a safety car was deployed for the one and only time.
While Charles Leclerc would return to the race after a swift change of tyres, his reappearance was brief as a damaged floor meant an early shower for the driver who seven days ago claimed a surprise podium for the Italian team.
Today’s double retirement is another blow for Ferrari who failed to get any significant race time on their aerodynamic upgrades.
Once the safety car exited the track, the race was back on, with Hamilton still leading the pack, with 1.5s between him and Red Bull’s Verstappen, meanwhile, Bottas worked to clear the McLaren in front in order to join the competition at the top for another podium finish this weekend.
Meanwhile, in midfield, a battle between Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon had begun. Ricciardo managed to make a clean overtake around the outside into Turn 4, but soon after, Ocon headed to the pits with another issue with Renault’s cooling system, which resulted in Ocon becoming the third retiree of the race.
Hamilton briefly relinquished his position as race leader, entering the pits to switch to the medium tyres, which gave his teammate ample time to make his way to the top, although Hamilton swiftly reclaimed top spot when Bottas entered the pits on Lap 35.
Saturday’s wet weather created some difficulties for Racing Point which saw Perez eliminated in the first part of qualifying to start from P17 on the grid today. Lance Stroll qualified ahead of his teammate in 13th position.
However, Racing Point demonstrated the speed of their RP20, with both battling it out side by side until Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault caught up and managed to split the pair.
Although suffering from cooling system issues similar to that of his retired teammate, the Australian driver managed to position his Renault perfectly to fend off Stroll for some time, until his stint in the pits saw him return in seventh behind Albon.
Later on in the race, with just five laps to go, a fight for second place sparked off between Verstappen and Bottas, with the Mercedes making a number of attempts to overtake the persistent Red Bull driver.
After a disappointing race last weekend, which saw Verstappen retire early on in the race, the young Dutch driver put up an incredible fight from start to finish, but he couldn’t prevent pure Mercedes power, allowing Bottas to finally make the move to second place.
Verstappen still managed to land the 32nd podium of his career coming in third, followed by his Red Bull teammate Alex Albon, in fourth position.
Hamilton, after dominating throughout, managed to keep focused for all 71 laps to win his first race of the season, with Bottas coming home in second, making it the first one-two of the season for Mercedes and probably not the last.
McLaren’s Lando Norris yet again showed his determination and skill, with some swift overtaking over the final couple of laps which saw him move from P8 to end the race in P5, another great performance from the young British driver who got the first podium finish of his career last week at the Austrian season opener.
After a consistent fight and some brilliant overtaking, Ricciardo finished today’s race in P8, followed by Carlos Sainz, who started the race third on the grid, finishing in P9, followed by Daniel Kvyat rounding out the top 10.
Once again, Mercedes have proven themselves to be the team to beat this season. The Red Bull, particularly in the hands of Verstappen looks to be their most consistent challenger, at least in the early part of the season.
The midfield battle has provided the most entertainment, with Racing Point, McLaren and Renault looking set to battle it out for the minor points placements on a regular basis.
Next week, the Hungaroring presents a new challenge, where last season the podium consisted of Hamilton, Verstappen, and Vettel. Going on the evidence so far, Mercedes and Red Bull are likely to feature again, but Ferrari will have to improve significantly if they’re to challenge for a top-three finish.