At the time of writing, Qualifying has just finished for the first Grand Prix of the season in Austria. It was as expected; Mercedes, who had dominated the 3 practice sessions leading up to qualifying, took pole position, with Valtteri Bottas edging out his team mate Lewis Hamilton, despite an off track excursion right at the end of the session.
Hamilton will line up second, just ahead of Max Verstappen in the Red Bull. Verstappen will be on a different tyre compound to the drivers around him, so that could make for an interesting race and some interesting strategy choices tomorrow!
Lando Norris did very well to put his McLaren in fourth, ahead of the other Red Bull of Alex Albon and both of the Ferraris.
Charles LeClerc will start the race in seventh place for the scarlet team, but it was a horrible Saturday for his team mate Sebastian Vettel, who was knocked out of qualifying in the second session and will start down in eleventh place, although he does have free choice of tyres to use for the Grand Prix, whereas drivers starting in the top ten will have to start the race on the tyres they set their fastest lap in the second session on. Following on from a subpar season, it will be disheartening to see their red machines so far off the pace.
At the tail end of the grid, Nicholas Latifi will start his first Formula One race for Williams from 20th and last.
The two Alfa Romeos of Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen will start 18th and 19th respectively, just behind the first Williams of George Russell. It was a good session from Russell, who was under a tenth of a second away from making it through to the second part of Qualifying. A considerable leap forward from last year, where the Williams cars were consistently over one second off the pace of the cars in front of them.
The midfield looks incredibly tight, with teams like Haas, Alpha Tauri and Renault fighting for dominance and to be the leading team outside the ‘big 3’. So far, it looks like Renault will be the most likely behind Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and Racing Point, who have continued their good run of form so far this weekend.
So, we’ve had to wait 7 months for Formula One to return to our screens, and it hasn’t let us down yet. Yes, fine, Mercedes still look like the team to beat, that was never really in doubt and it looks like it’ll be another season of Mercedes on the front foot, but the battle behind them looks to be mouth watering.
Red Bull look to have the second quickest car right now, with Ferrari feeling down and fighting Racing Point for the third quickest. Bare in mind, however, that it’s only the first race of the season and it usually take two to three races before a more thorough pecking order is established!
The big thing, for me watching the race on TV, was the lack of fans.
F1 is a spectator sport, and during this unprecedented times, one of the essences of F1 has been taken away. Obviously it is the right choice, and it was good to see everyone, from pundits to drivers to team members, observing social distancing and wearing masks. It is very strange, though.
Usually when a driver secures pole position, one of the first things they do is go and celebrate with the team, but as soon as the drivers stepped out of the car, they had to take off their helmets, put on masks and stand for the standard post-session interview, but this time 2 metres away with a static microphone as opposed to a handheld one.
The dedication that the governing body and everyone involved in F1 has put in to making sure the sport returns to our screens safely and securely is admirable, so I applaud everyone involved in the sport and indeed the broadcasting teams for bringing F1 back and doing so in a safe manner.
Just quickly going back to the lack of fans, Max Verstappen always seems to bring hoards of fans along to this Grand Prix, so it was very strange to see the usually pulsating grandstands completely bare, with no sea of orange that we have become accustomed to seeing when his fans are in attendance. The Styrian mountains in Austria still provide a beautiful backdrop to what should be a brilliant race, but it is still odd to see rows of empty seats and not hear fans chanting and cheering on their favourite driver.
We should be in for a fascinating race tomorrow, where we may see different teams jump forward and maybe some jump back, depending on how the cars handle long runs and how kind they are to their tyres.
One thing is for certain - I can’t wait to sit down and watch it unfold!