We're glad that Formula 1 is back on our screens and it was quite the season opener. When the dust settled, nearly half the field was wiped out, and three different teams were standing on the (makeshift) podium. To say the first race in Austria was chaotic is an understatement.
While Valtteri Bottas practically led the race from lights to flag, everyone behind him had quite the adventure. By the first quarter of the race, there had been four retirements, all of which were a result of mechanical failures. The first to go was Max Verstappen, followed by Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll, and Kevin Magnussen. Their retirements would be the first of many.
At the front, it was shaping out to be a Mercedes-AMG 1-2, but it was a close fight for the final podium spot. Alex Albon, Sergio Perez, and Lando Norris were all in contention for third place. Albon and Perez in particular saw a lot of wheel to wheel action and they both had a strong race. But then, a series of safety car periods came out.
George Russell was in contention for points until the engine in his Williams let go on a dangerous part of the track, prompting everyone to slow down to clear out his car. At this point, Romain Grosjean had also retired from the race. After that, Kimi Raikkonen's race ended spectacularly. The wheel on his Alfa Romeo (quite literally) flew out from his car just before the final corner. Fortunately, Raikkonen was able to keep the car in control and stopped his three-wheeled Alfa Romeo on the side of the main straight. By the halfway point of the race, seven cars and drivers were out.
When racing resumed after Raikkonen's mishap, Albon was setting up his sights on Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton had spent most of the race in second place, nursing his car's transmission, and his team trying to preserve a 1-2 finish. Albon then made his move on the outside when Hamilton tucked inside the corner. But as Albon was able to edge out the defending champion, the two made contact, sending the Thai driver into the gravel. Hamilton claimed that he had understeered into Albon but the stewards disagreed. The Mercedes-AMG driver was hit with a five-second penalty, which was little to console Albon, who retired from the race.
However, Albon would not be the final retiree of the Austrian Grand Prix. Alpha Tauri's Daniil Kvyat suffered a similar fate to Raikkonen. Kvyat had just been powering down the back straight when the left rear suspension arm on his car just let go. His car effectively became a three-wheeler, but he was able to nurse the car into an access road, away from harm's way.
But while all of that was happening, Ferrari's Charles Leclerc was quietly making moves up the grid. Ferrari had struggled all weekend with Sebastian Vettel getting eliminated in Q2 and Leclerc barely making Q3. Vettel had even spun out during the race itself after a failed attempt to dive on the inside of Carlos Sainz Jr. But Leclerc kept his car clean and moved up to the top five. He was then able to pass Norris and Perez. With Hamilton slapped with a penalty, Leclerc was able to bring home a difficult to drive race car in second place.
Sophomore driver Lando Norris, on the other hand, had an eventful race. He had hovered within the top five the whole day and shuffled between fourth and fifth place. In an attempt to finish fourth, Norris made a bold move on Perez towards the closing stages of the race. The two touched wheels but both kept their cool. However, Perez's car faded in performance significantly after that, allowing Norris to run away with fourth. Norris, like Leclerc, benefitted from Hamilton's penalty, which allowed him to move up to third, his first-ever podium. McLaren, it seems, is steadily going back to their peak years.
By the end of the first race of the Formula 1 season, Alfa Romeo, Alpha Tauri, Racing Point, and Renault lost a car each. It was heartbreak for Haas and Red Bull Racing as both teams suffered double DNFs in the season opener. Only Ferrari, Mercedes-AMG, and McLaren still had two cars running by the end of the race.
To recap, at the top of the podium was Mercedes-AMG's Valtteri Bottas. In second was Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and rounding up the top three was McLaren's, Lando Norris. Fourth went to Lewis Hamilton, followed by Carlos Sainz Jr. of McLaren. Sixth went to Racing Point's Sergio Perez, followed by Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri. Esteban Ocon's return to Formula 1 with Renault resulted in an eighth-place finish, and Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi placed ninth. Sebastian Vettel clung on to tenth, the last of the points finishers while Nicholas Latifi was the last of the running drivers in eleventh.