DUBAI: After the mayhem, came normality.
Exactly a week after a raucous Austrian Grand Prix had kicked off the shortened and much-delayed 2020 Formula 1 season, the Red Bull Ring saw reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton win the Styrian GP in far more familiar circumstances, with Valtteri Bottas in second and Max Verstappen in third joining him on the podium.
Not that there was an absence of drama at the start of the race.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc had retired after colliding on the third turn of the first lap, an echo of the chaos that had made last weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix such an unpredictable delight.
“I apologized,” Leclerc said. “Excuses are not enough at a time like this. I am very disappointed in myself, I have done a very bad job today, I let the team down. I can only be sorry, even though I know it’s not enough. I hope I can learn from this and will come back stronger for the next races. But it’s a tough time for the team. I put all the effort of the team in the bin.”
Yet after the safety car had come and gone, the race quickly settled into a pattern seen in so many races over the last few years.
Saturday’s qualifying rounds had taken place in horrendous wet conditions, with Verstappen in particular complaining about the awful visibility. Sunday’s conditions, on the other hand, could not have been more ideal, and with that came the expected excellence from the usual quarters.
Ten laps in, and the leaderboard had a very familiar look to it. Mercedes’s Hamilton and Bottas in first and third; Red Bull’s Verstappen and Alexander Albon in second and fourth. The same quartet would claim the top four places.
With just about a third of the race gone, Albon was trailing the leader by 27 seconds. Bottas was closing in on Verstappen, while Hamilton was maintaining a five second lead. Even at the early stage, it was a question who would finish second.
Verstappen was the first to go into the pit, dropping to third, but with the other three of the top four changing into medium tires, the order was soon restored.
With 30 of the 71 laps left, an interesting subplot was developing between the drivers in fourth and fifth, with Renault’s Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo in McLaren closing in on Albon.
Just behind them, the twin threat of Racing Point’s Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll were having their own little battle. It was one won by the Spaniard who would go on to overtake Ricciardo on lap 29.
Having started 17th on the grid, Perez was quickly becoming the standout story of the race, though there was little danger of him troubling the podium places.
With five laps left, the race exploded into life as Bottas overtook Verstappen, only for the Dutchman to retake second place and then lose it again within seconds.
Mercedes were now in one and two and with Red Bull in third and fourth. It was a race F1 fans had seen before.
Hamilton, after his disappointment of last week, crossed the finish line a comfortable 14 seconds ahead of Mercedes teammate Bottas, with Verstappen a further 11 seconds behind in third.
“What a fantastic job guys,” Lewis said over the radio to his team.
“Your driving wasn’t bad either,” came the reply.
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