F1 is back and it was definitely worth the wait

Well, where to start with that one?

After 7 months of no Formula One action, the sport returned to our screens this weekend, and the first race didn’t disappoint!

Under the Austrian sunshine, Valtteri Bottas won the race in his Mercedes, ahead of Charles Leclerc who finished a surprise second in the Ferrari, followed by young Lando Norris getting his first-ever Formula One podium in the McLaren.

It was a race of high attrition, with only 11 cars surviving to the end of the race, with some high profile retirements including Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo, and Kimi Raikkonen.

Bottas mastered the race from start to finish, keeping teammate Lewis Hamilton at bay throughout the race and seeing off any challenges that came his way.

There was an action-packed last few laps, with two safety cars caused by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo shedding a wheel and George Russell’s Williams coming to a halt whilst running in an impressive 12th, fighting with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

It was retirements galore, with both Haas cars exiting the race with brake issues, Ricciardo in the Renault stopping with cooling issues, Lance Stroll pulling into the garage with power issues and both Red Bulls also failing to finish.

Verstappen’s Red Bull called it a day in the early stages of the race and Alex Albon stopped right at the very end, after being denied a first F1 podium after contact with Lewis Hamilton, who eventually finished fifth after being given a 5-second penalty because of the Albon incident.

It looked like Mercedes would be able to run away with the race and secure a 1-2 finish, but Lewis Hamilton was given a 3 place penalty just before the start of the race, which was related to qualifying yesterday, and started the race from fifth.

It wasn’t to be, however, and Mercedes were having to monitor the conditions of their two cars carefully, as there were concerns about sensor problems which had affected another Mercedes powered car, namely Lance Stroll’s Racing Point.

At the end of the race, Lando Norris set the fastest lap and got himself up into third position, taking his first Formula One podium. It was a fantastic race from both McLarens, with Norris third and Carlos Sainz crossing the line in fifth, making sure that McLaren start the season second in the Constructors Championship, behind only Mercedes. They have proved they have the pace to fight hard, so hopefully, when race two kicks off in a week's time, we will see another solid result from the McLaren team.

Williams looked good throughout the race, with George Russell able to fight with the cars around him, and was up into 12th place and with a chance of fighting for a points position before his car called time and he pulled up by the side of the track towards the end of the race. Nicholas Latifi started in 20th in his Williams and was running at the back for the majority of the race, and ended up 11th at the end, just one position outside of the points. It’s definitely an improvement for the struggling former F1 Superpowers.

We saw some surprising results in the points, not least Norris’ podium, but also Antonio Giovinazzi finishing in 9th in the one remaining Alfa Romeo, Pierre Gasly finishing 7th in the Alpha Tauri and Esteban Ocon finishing 8th in his Renault, in what was his first Grand Prix since Abu Dhabi in 2018.

Due to the high standards of reliability in modern Formula One cars, we rarely see races with such few finishers. It might have something to do with the cars and teams not having run properly since Pre Season Testing back in March.

Once lockdown was announced, all of the teams shut down for a couple of months, so were unable to trial new bits and sort out issues that presenting themselves in testing. It was very surprising to see cars pulling off left right and centre with various problems.

It reminded me of the late 90s and early 00s!

The post race celebrations were understandably muted due to circumstances, with no proper podium ceremony.

Instead, the drivers had individual plinths on the pit straight and wore their masks throughout the ceremony, receiving their trophies (shaped very nicely like the Austrian track itself), spraying the champagne and conducting their interviews.

I’ve said it before, but the way F1 and everyone involved has handled these circumstances is admirable, and they still put on an incredible show despite everything that is happening and all the restrictions that are in place.

The lack of fans was very noticeable, especially after the race, where they make their presence known while the podium ceremony is underway, but hopefully, before the season is out we will be able to see some fans watching their favourite sport from the grandstands. It was strange not to see the drivers up high on the podium, but we still got to enjoy a fantastic race and it was nice to see the drivers celebrating (if a little more subdued) on their plinths!

We don’t have long to wait until race two, which gets underway on the 10th July, still in Austria. Here’s hoping that race two is just as exciting as race one. It has a lot to live up to.

Steve Thomson

An F1 fan that needs to catch his breath.