Austrian Grand Prix Driver Ratings
It's lights out and away we go...
I think as Formula 1 fans, we would have been happy with just the average race. We have been waiting since March for the racing to get back underway, and the Austrian Grand Prix definitely delivered what we have all been craving.
We were treated to an amazing qualifying session on Saturday, with the midfield so close together it was impossible to predict from 3rd place backwards. We saw the fall of Ferrari, the rise of Lando Norris and the huge improvements from Williams all before the race even started. And what a race it was.
So much happened that it is impossible to discuss it all in this opening section, so let's dive into how each driver performed.
1st Place: Valtteri Bottas
I think it's fair to say that Bottas did not go into this weekend as the favourite for the win, solely because he has Lewis Hamilton as a teammate. After testing most people assumed that Mercedes were once again in a class of their own, and after qualifying 0.6s ahead of their nearest challenger, this was only confirmed.
Bottas has been criticised in the past for showing great speed on a Saturday, something which he did yet again in Austria, but then failing to back it up on a Sunday. However, the pressure was eased in the hours before the race when Hamilton was handed a three-place penalty for not slowing down for the yellow flags that the Finn brought out with a spin.
Bottas had a pretty decent start and wasn't really challenged by Verstappen at all in the opening stages of the race. He perfectly executed three safety car restarts and didn't bow to the pressure that Hamilton put him under for most of the race. We don't know how severe the gearbox sensor issues were, but judging by the team radio he did a good job of dealing with that too.
I know it's too early to say this, but I'm going to say it anyway. With a shortened calendar this year, I would not be surprised if Bottas 3.0 takes the title. If it was not for the spin in qualifying, it would have been a near-perfect weekend for the Finn.
He seems more focused and determined than ever, and has to do all he can this season to persuade Mercedes that he's the right man to be in that seat.
2nd Place: Charles Leclerc
Going into the weekend, Leclerc was surely expecting more performance from his SF1000. What he got was perhaps the fifth fastest car on the grid, but he definitely did the most he could with what he had to work with.
The Monégasque driver has been one of the stars of lockdown, streaming on Twitch with Lando Norris, George Russell and Alex Albon. Who knew racing lawnmowers online was the way to practice for an F1 race?
Leclerc scraped into the top ten in the second stage of qualifying, pushing out his teammate Vettel. He then somehow managed to put what can only be described as a shitbox of a car in seventh place with a clean lap. This was not the most impressive part of the weekend for Leclerc however.
He started the race with little hope of even a top-five finish, nevermind a podium. He made the most of every situation he was placed in, being aggressive when he needed to be and keeping cool under pressure. This cannot be said of his teammate, and in my view it was a champion's drive from Leclerc.
He is my joint driver of the day alongside Lando Norris, and he will be hoping for another chaotic race next weekend at the Red Bull Ring.
3rd Place: Lando Norris
In what will be a memorable weekend for McLaren fans, Norris was right on the pace all weekend. The British Formula 1 driver (and part-time Twitch streamer) is competing in only his second year at the top level of motorsport, but from his performance this weekend you would think he had been here a lot longer.
After arguably out-performing the car in qualifying to start a career-best fourth on the grid, he was promoted to third due to Hamilton's penalty. He made a pretty decent start to battle with Verstappen on the first lap, but after that we started to see the true pace of the McLaren.
He was unsurprisingly passed by both Hamilton and Alex Albon, but managed to keep Sergio Perez behind in the pink Mercedes, sorry, Racing Point until the first round of pitstops. Perez did overtake using DRS after a slow stop closed the gap, but Norris stuck with him. As Norris himself admits, it was all going very wrong very quickly after the last safety car. He found himself in fifth place behind both Leclerc and Perez, being hunted by his teammate Carlos Sainz. However, with ten laps to go, this is where the magic happened.
He was super-late on the brake to et past Perez into turn two, and then drove the lap of his life to get within the required five seconds of Hamilton. He not only set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap, but took nearly one second out of Hamilton in the middle sector alone. He scored what I'm sure will be the first podium of many, and a result like this puts him in good stead for next week.
4th Place: Lewis Hamilton
Before we get into the racing: Hamilton went into the weekend on the back of attending the Black Lives Matter protests in London, and has been doing everything he can to raise awareness. His actions, such as setting up the Hamilton Commission and taking a knee at the start of the race have been great to see, and he has my full support along with F1's #WeRaceAsOne initiative.
Up until around an hour or so before the race, it looked as if Hamilton would start alongside Bottas in second place. However, he was given a late penalty for ignoring the yellow flags in qualifying and had to start back in fifth place. He made the most of this situation and fought his way through the field, quickly rising up to second place.
He was only 0.011 behind his teammate in qualifying, and showed great pace to catch Bottas in the race. We don't know if he was told not to fight with Bottas, but we do know that he was suffering from the same gearbox sensor issues and did not go for a move on the Finn. He was caught napping when after the final safety car Alex Albon sent one round the outside of turn three, colliding into the Red Bull driver and putting him effectively out of the race.
He received a five-second penalty as the stewards placed the blame solely on the Brit, and was just 0.2s under the five-second margin he needed to stand on the last step of the podium. He'll be hoping for a less chaotic weekend next time out, with the title battle seemingly only with his teammate this year.
5th Place: Carlos Sainz
You may not have realised it, but Sainz actually had a pretty great Sunday drive in Austria. His fifth-place result was overshadowed by the podium for Norris, but nevertheless it deserves some attention.
Sainz had a pretty horrible qualifying by his standards, as the Spaniard couldn't get the balance right in the high-speed corners. He was then held up by the yellow flag on his final fast lap, finishing 0.4s slower than Norris.
He was in a battle with Leclerc for a lot of the race, with the McLaren arguably the quicker overall package compared to the Ferrari.
Although he will be hoping for a better Saturday next weekend, I think he will take another fifth-place finish any day of the week. McLaren pitted both cars under the second safety car, but unlike Norris, Sainz dropped back to ninth. He then pulled off some smooth overtakes to climb back up to fifth place, helping to put McLaren in second place in the constructor standings.
6th Place: Sergio Perez
It was no secret that Racing Point came to Austria full of confidence in their car, after designing it 'based on the concept' of the 2019 Mercedes. Their confidence was not misplaced as they looked super fast all weekend, with McLaren even going as far to say they were out of reach for qualifying.
His qualifying wasn't as good as he hoped it would be, after being beaten by Norris and equalling Albon's time in the Red Bull. I am sure he will be hoping for a cleaner lap next Saturday, but it's still a huge improvement on last year.
Perez was consistently the faster of the two pink panthers, and he got a good start to be fighting with Hamilton on the first lap. He drove a good race to get ahead of Norris, but he ultimately lost out to both McLaren's in the final laps of the race and was then hit with a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pitlane.
I'm sure he will feel that the car has more potential than his sixth-place finish on Sunday, but he will have another chance to get that result next weekend.
7th Place: Pierre Gasly
Gasly had a pretty quiet weekend in Austria, as he didn't really get himself involved in all of the drama that unfolded but managed to capitalise on it to score his first points of 2020.
The AlphaTauri didn't have the outright pace to score a seventh-place on merit, but Gasly out-performed his teammate in qualifying and couldn't have asked for more in the race. Gasly will be hoping that his team find a bit more pace in the car for next week, but with performances like this weekend, the team can't ask anything more from him.
It seems like he has put the bad few months at Red Bull behind him, and is just focused on showing that he does have the pace that the team initially saw in him. However, he could find himself in just the right seat if AlphaTauri are given an equal budget to the parent team when the budget cap comes into force.
8th Place: Esteban Ocon
Ocon has been waiting around a year and a half to compete in another Formula 1 race, and he finally got his chance on Sunday. The Frenchman was clearly excited to be back, but he could not produce anything special over the weekend.
He was considerably slower than his teammate Daniel Ricciardo in qualifying, starting from fourteenth on the grid but slipping down to seventeenth by the end of the first lap. He kept his head down, but could not gain much on the cars in front of him. He benefitted from almost half of the field retiring from the race to score a few points for Renault.
He, and the team, will be hoping for a better weekend when they return in a week's time, but I think we can allow Ocon this weekend to adjust to being back in the sport. It must be difficult to be off for a year, nevermind getting to Australia only to be told that he has to wait a few more months.
9th Place: Antonio Giovinazzi
The Italian is another driver that went under the radar over the weekend, but Giovinazzi did a solid job for Alfa Romeo. He out-qualified his much more experienced teammate Kimi Raikkonen on Saturday by 0.1s, and then stayed ahead in the race until the Finn's unfortunate retirement late on in the race.
Giovinazzi will need a few more top-ten finishes if he is to convince the Ferrari leadership that he deserves his place in the team. As per Alfa Romeo's engine agreement with Ferrari, the Scuderia get to choose one of the team's drivers for the season. His seat is currently at risk to both Callum Ilott and Mick Schumacher, who are currently fighting for the Formula 2 title.
The only problem Giovinazzi has is if it wasn't for the multiple retirements, he would have finished a lot lower down. This is because the car does not seem like a particularly fast one at the moment, which could be down to the Ferrari engine.
10th Place: Sebastian Vettel
Vettel pretty much announced on Thursday that the split with Ferrari was not as amicable as the team made it out to be, as he was never offered a new contract. He struggled with the balance of the car all weekend, and was knocked out during the second stage of qualifying.
He was once again beaten by Leclerc on Saturday, but he had a pretty good first half of the race to be in the mix for a few points. However, this is where it went wrong in classic Vettel fashion. He was closing in on Carlos Sainz, and decided he wanted to be as late on the brakes a possible.
He couldn't slow down as fast as he would have liked, and almost careered into the side of the driver who will replace him next season. He only banged wheels with Sainz, but in doing this was sent into a spin at the first corner. He recovered from the spin, but struggled to get past the Williams of George Russell before he was gifted the position when the Brit retired.
EDIT: After watching the onboard footage, I'm going to grant Seb a bit of leniency. The car is clearly uncontrollable, but I'm not sure why this is only troubling Vettel. Rating changed from 1/5 to 2/5.
I'm not going to say much on this matter, but what I will say is that with what we saw this weekend, I'm not surprised they didn't offer him a contract.
11th Place: Nicholas Latifi
It must be difficult for any rookie starting their first Formula 1 race, but especially so if you're driving a Williams. However, judging by their results this weekend, the team have massively improved in 2020.
Aside from a crash in the final practice session, on the whole, it was a clean weekend from the Canadian. But however inexperienced he may be, you can't ignore the fact that he was 0.6s slower than his teammate George Russell in qualifying. He was then a considerable amount slower than Russell in the race, who arguably would have scored his first point if he hadn't broken down.
Latifi will need to close that gap to Russell if he wants to stay in the sport, although with his financial backing his seat may be safe at Williams regardless of performance.
In this series I'm not going to give anyone that didn't finish the race a proper rating, but if I feel that any of the retirees deserve a mention you'll find it here.
Firstly, Max Verstappen was on form all weekend, and for many was the only person that could pose a threat to the Mercedes. He deserved more from the race, and said himself that he missed out on what would have been an 'easy podium'.
Alex Albon was another who missed out on a podium, and maybe even his first victory. He was on the soft tyres and seemed much faster than the leading Mercedes drivers, but as we know he was taken out by Hamilton after thinking he had completed the move. He will be gutted about the result, but he will have a chance at redemption in one week's time.
George Russell was inches away from his first-ever Q2 appearance in what seems to be a much improved Williams. He was also in the fight for his first points in the sport until he was forced to retire with mechanical issues. If he keeps up this level of driving, he will undoubtedly be on the shortlist for a Mercedes drive in the future.
Finally, even with a mask on it was clear Daniel Ricciardo was not happy with what happened in qualifying. His one and only lap in the final part of qualifying was hampered by the yellow flag, meaning the Australian started from tenth on the grid. He retired early on in the race so it's quite hard to judge his performance on Sunday, but it is clear to see he had the advantage over Ocon over the weekend as a whole.
What do you think?
I hope you've enjoyed reading my take on the Austrian Grand Prix, and I'd appreciate it if you could join the tribe and leave a like. This is the first in my driver rating series, and I'll be posting one after every race this season.
I'd also love to hear your thoughts on the race, so please leave a comment below and I'll be sure to reply.