It started out as the Osterreichring, then became the A1 Ring, and is now the Red Bull Ring. As a venue for the opening race of an F1 season seriously delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, the renamed circuit in Spielberg, Austria could hardly have been more fitting.

Austria has been one of the European countries least affected by Covid-19, and the circuit's isolation from any large cities, and mountain setting literally was the breath of fresh air F1 needed to restart the season that was aborted in Melbourne in March. All it needed was a dramatic race, albeit one without the fans, and as a TV spectacle, that is what we got.

Mika Hakkinen had predicted before the race that his fellow Finn, Valtteri Bottas, was ready, mentally and physically, to prevent his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, winning a record-equalling seventh championship. He also predicted Ferrari would struggle and he got the call right on both counts. Bottas was the pole-sitter and led from start to finish to record his eighth GP win and lead the championship, just as he did after the first race in Melbourne last year.

Asked post-race by Jenson Button, if he felt the pressure of having Hamilton behind him and dealing with two safety-car periods, the answer was in the affirmative.


"There was definitely quite a bit of pressure all through the race," Bottas replied.

"I mean one safety-car was still okay, but with the last safety-car, I was like. 'Come on, again?' There were some chances to get the lead if I made even a small mistake."

Bottas said he missed the atmosphere the fans bring to an event, but "I have to say, the FIA, FOM, F1 has done a really nice job with setting everything up, and all the teams as well. It feels very pretty bullet-proof, nicely organised . . . so we all feel the risk of anyone getting ill is very minimal."

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, who was left stinging after last year's race when he considered Max Verstappen had unfairly pushed him off and down to second place, finished second again this time, but said "it feels like a victory today. We have been struggling from the beginning of the weekend. We've had luck in this race with the various safety-cars, crashes, penalties but in the end, we stayed on track."

McLaren driver Lando Norris was the fourth car across the finish line, but a five–second penalty handed down to Hamilton for causing a collision with Red Bull driver Alex Albon, saw Norris promoted to his first podium.

It means he is the youngest British driver at age 20, to be on the podium, and the third youngest all-time behind Verstappen and Lance Stroll, who were both 18 when taking their first podium.

"I am speechless," Norris said. "There were a few points where I thought I had fudged it up. I didn't give up. I had to put in some strong laps at the end, and, as you can see, I am out of breath."

"I need to get another mask because it is full of champagne. I am just happy to be on the podium - and for that record to come along is an added bonus, but I don't go out of my way to break these records."


"It comes with hard work. My first podium is not the sole objective of why I am here in Formula 1. I want to win races."

For Hamilton, a fourth-place finish represents a bad day at the office. After receiving a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow down sufficiently for a yellow flag in qualifying, He incurred a five-second time penalty for forcing Albon off the track when he challenged Hamilton for second place.

The last time these two clashed was in Brazil, just two races ago, when Hamilton spun Albon around, preventing him from securing his first podium. As it was, Hamilton's penalty in Brazil enabled McLaren driver Carlos Sainz to take his first podium, and this time it was Sainz's team-mate Norris, who benefitted from Hamilton's indiscretion.

Albon rejoined the track after the collision with Hamilton but retired with a mechanical issue. It was not a good day for Red Bull, as Verstappen, who inherited second place on the grid with Hamilton's demotion, was running a comfortable second to Bottas when he had to retire on lap 11 with an electrical issue.

Given Red Bull had high hopes of either winning the race or at least having one driver on the podium, they have scored zero points. Teams were conscious of making a good start in a championship that could yet be reduced to the minimum of eight races the rules require for the season to constitute a championship.

As an exercise in holding a race when social distancing between the drivers, the teams and F1 personnel, was required, and with everyone attending having to undergo coronavirus testing every second day, it was a huge success.


TV pictures demonstrated what was required of participants, including the compulsory wearing of masks, with no handshakes or hugs, except for those in the same bubble. But despite the health and safety measures imposed, there was no masking the fact that Mercedes still has the fastest and most reliable car by some margin. Bottas and Hamilton were half a second quicker than Verstappen in qualifying.

Although the new F1 slogan is #WeRaceAsOne, someone forgot to tell Red Bull it needs to be friendly and inclusive.

The team officially protested to the FIA about the legality of Mercedes' DAS system, which enables its drivers to move the steering wheel back and forward, changing the bias on the front wheels, which aids aerodynamics and reduces tyre degradation.

Red Bull said the Technical Regulations state "no adjustment may be made to any suspension system while the car is in motion".

The FIA rejected the protest, ruling that DAS is part of the Mercedes W11's steering system, "albeit not a conventional one". The device will be banned next year.

Round one to Mercedes, then. Round two was a late complaint to the race stewards that Hamilton had not slowed down under a yellow flag brought out when Albon's car left the track in qualifying.


Red Bull produced evidence from an official F1 tweet that showed Hamilton had failed to slow down sufficiently. That protest was upheld just one hour 25 minutes before the race start and he was demoted three grid spots. Round two to Red Bull

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was not impressed, although Hamilton accepted his penalty.

"The stewards said new evidence that he could have seen the yellow flag, and you need to take it on the chin, and it is what it is" Wolff noted. "But it seems the gloves are off between us, it's what the fans want to see, and we are up for it."

But Wolff did not take on the chin Hamilton's race penalty for hitting Albon..

"Then in the race, I would definitely say from my perspective, the five seconds were too harsh. We looked at the video now a couple of times. Lewis was having full lock in the corner. Albon had about 40 per cent of the road left to make the corner and it was different to lap one, where Lewis had to back out of Albon pushing Lewis."

Hamilton also felt hard done by.


"I can't believe we have come together again but it really felt like a racing incident. But, I'll take whatever penalty they feel like I deserve and move forward.' Round three to Red Bull.

Despite his diplomatic retreat from arguing the point, Hamilton must be feeling that a weekend that augured so well for him, didn't turn out so great. First, F1 took heed of racism by adopting the #WeRaceAsOne slogan, a cause close to Hamilton's heart. Then his Mercedes team decided to adopt a black livery for the cars, and black overalls for the drivers, for the rest of the season.

And finally, for the pre-race grid ceremony, a number of the drivers took to one knee, the symbolic gesture adopted worldwide in the wake of the knee placed for nearly 9 minutes on the neck of Floyd George by a Minneapolis police officer, who ignored George's plea that he couldn't breath. That officer and three others who stood by, have been charged with murder. Hamilton wore a "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt while other drivers had "End Racism" on theirs.

It was a poignant moment, but from that point on, things didn't go Hamilton's way.

It wasn't a good weekend for world champions. 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen lost a wheel. Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was asked by a journalist what the "sticking point" had been with losing his Ferrari drive for 2021.

"There was no sticking point," Vettel said. "It was obviously a surprise to me when I got the call from Mattia [Binotto, Ferrari team principal] when he told me that there was no further intention from the team to continue. We never got into any discussions - there was never an offer on the table and therefore there was no sticking point."


Binotto confirmed that although Vettel had been the team's "first choice", that had changed with Covid-19.

"What happened since then? I think the virus and pandemic situation, which changed the entire world, not only our motorsport, our F1," Binotto clumsily explained.

No wonder Ferrari hasn't won a championship since 2007, when a team principal speaks so awkwardly, but Vettel's mistakes don't help him. He qualified only 11th and in the race, spun himself out at Turn 3 haplessly trying to pass Carlos Sainz, the driver who will replace him next year.

Ferrari may have made the right decision to sack Vettel based on the mistakes he keeps making but blaming Covid-19, given the efforts made to allow racing again, was a lower blow than anything that happened on the track.

This weekend F1 is at the same circuit, but it will be the Styrian GP that Norris and 19 others will be trying to win. And maybe Kiwi drivers Marcus Armstrong and Liam Lawson can add to their second and first placings respectively in F2 & F3.