Formula One Restart Looks Familiar

Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes leads the F1 Drivers’ Championship. Photo by: Alberto-g-Rovi (Wikimedia).
Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes leads the F1 Drivers’ Championship. Photo by: Alberto-g-Rovi (Wikimedia).

When the sports world was shuttered in March by the COVID-19 pandemic, there was both concern and speculation on the part of pundits, who wondered how such an unusual layoff of such length in the midst of a season might impact the players.

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Would the form charts go out the window? Might title be up for grabs? Was it time to consider the underdogs and lean toward upsets?

If the relaunch of the Formula One season is any indication of what’s to come as other leagues ramp up for restarts, then it’s probably going to be business as usual. The cream will still rise to the top.

Two races in, the mighty Mercedes remain the dominant force in F1. Valtteri Bottas was the winner of the Austrian Grand Prix. Teammate and defending world champion Lewis Hamilton won the Styrian Grand Prix.

Bottas (43) and Hamilton (37) are 1-2 in the Drivers’ Championship standings. Mercedes (80 points) owns a 41-point advantage over McLaren-Renault on the Constructors’ Championship leaderboard.

Going back to last season, one of either Hamilton or Bottas has won seven of the last eight races on the circuit. Mercedes has earned the past six Constructors’ Championships and the last six winners of the Drivers’ Championship have piloted a Mercedes.

Austrian Grand Prix

Bottas grabbed the pole position for the race, with Hamilton settling for second on the grid. But Hamilton was bumped to fifth after receiving a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow for yellow flags during qualifying.

By mid-race, Bottas and Hamilton were again 1-2 and they crossed the finish line in that order. However, Hamilton has assessed a five-second penalty for causing a collision that resulted in Alexander Albon spinning into the gravel. The punishment dropped Hamilton to fourth place.

Styrian Grand Prix

Hamilton took the pole in qualifying and ran exquisitely all race to chalk up his first victory of the season and the 85th of his career. Bottas started fourth on the grid. He got past Max Verstappen on Lap 66 to trail only Hamilton at the checkered flag.

Qualifying in the rain, Hamilton’s best lap was 1.2 seconds faster than any other driver.

“It is difficult for an athlete to explain why they are good at something,” Hamilton told BBC Sport. “I know how good I am and that’s a belief we have to have inside of us, all of us.

“It is the same for every athlete and it should apply to everyone doing their jobs around the world. You have to try to be the best and believe you can be the best.

“It is down to focus, to how you study the track, your innate ability to be dynamic and manage the trickiest of conditions with the pressure on you.”

The excitement generated by Charles Leclerc’s second-place finish for Ferrari in the season opener was doused when both he and teammate Sebastien Vettel were forced to retire from the race after crashing into each other on Lap 1, finishing 19th and 20th respectively in the 20-car field.

“I am disappointed in myself,” Leclerc posted on Twitter. “I’m sorry but being sorry is not enough. Seb hasn’t got any faults today. I’ve let the team down. Too eager to gain those places in the first lap. I will learn from it.”

Hamilton Is Driven

In search of his record-tying seventh F1 world driver’s title, which would match him with Michael Schumacher, Hamilton isn’t only driven on the track this season. He’s continuing to show the way among the drivers in their anti-racism protests at each race.

Prior to the Styrian Grand Prix, most drivers wore “End Racism” T-shirts save for Hamilton, who donned a Black Lives Matter shirt. On the podium post-race, he raised his right fist in the traditional black power symbol.

“I am focused on both,” Hamilton told BBC Sport. “Trying to fight and win this championship but also fighting for equal rights.

“We really have to continue to speak out, to utilize the moment to spread awareness and continue to push for change and that’s not going to go away any time soon.

“There are those who said they felt the Black Lives Matter movement seemed political and I’ve made it clear I am not supporting the political side of things; it’s the human rights side.”

Pleasant Surprise

Lando Norris earned his first F1 podium finish at the Austrian Grand Prix. Photo by: Liauzh (Wikimedia).

No one is shocked to see Hamilton running at the front of the pack but the same can’t be said of fellow Brit Lando Norris. Through two races the McLaren-Renault driver has a third and a fifth. That third-place showing in the Austrian Grand Prix resulted in the first podium appearance of his F1 career. As a rookie in 2019, Norris never finished higher than sixth. He sits third in the driver’s standings.

Although he earned a better place in the first race, Norris told FormulaOne.com that he was far more satisfied with the outcome of the second race. Running eighth with two laps to go, Norris passed Lance Stroll, David Ricciardo and Sergio Perez to claim the fifth spot.

“[It was a] really good race from me,” Norris said. “Probably my best race I’ve done in Formula 1. To see those gains and some of those boxes ticked, I’m very happy with it.”

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