Valtteri Bottas headed Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris for an unlikely podium at the end of a dramatic Austrian Grand Prix that saw the safety car called out three times and almost half the field fail to reach the finish.
The Mercedes driver had started from pole position but soon had to fend off the attentions of his teammate Lewis Hamilton. Defending champion Hamilton – aiming to match Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles this year – was pipped to pole by 0.012 seconds. However, the Briton was handed a three-place grid drop for failing to slow for yellow flags late in qualifying.
Max Verstappen, who was bidding for a third straight victory for Red Bull at their home track, started second and on an alternate strategy to the rest of the top ten starters.
However, the Dutchman lasted just ten laps before a mechanical failure ended his race.
Safety Car Almost Steals the Show
A flurry of further retirements saw the safety car called out three times and set the race up for a thrilling finale.
The Mercedes pair circulated at the front, but as Hamilton applied pressure to Bottas, both drivers were advised to avoid driving over the kerbs – thereby sacrificing lap time – as the vibrations were causing gearbox issues.
Albon Adds to Excitement
When the safety car pulled in for the final time with ten laps to go, Alexander Albon’s Red Bull, fitted with fresher, faster tyres, stalked the Silver Arrows duo.
The young Thai-British charger made a move on Hamilton for second place around the outside of turn four but the pair collided on the exit, sending Albon spinning into the gravel.
The stewards blamed Hamilton for the incident – the second coming-together between the pair in the space of three races – and hit the Mercedes driver with a five-second time penalty.
Late Show from Leclerc
Meanwhile, Charles Leclerc, who had qualified a disastrous seventh, was finding some pace from his Ferrari and got the better of a battle with Racing Point’s Sergio Perez and the McLaren pair of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz.
As Leclerc chased the Mercedes, Norris forced his way into fourth place on the road, and set the fastest lap of the race on the final tour of the circuit to pip Hamilton to third place and a maiden F1 podium once the world champion’s penalty had been applied.
So, as was the case last year, Bottas leads the standings after race one. He is a
19/10 chance to claim the title at the end of a season which could last anywhere from eight to 18 races – the next of which takes place this weekend, back again at the Red Bull Ring.
Hamilton remains a solid championship favourite at
4/7, but Sunday’s dramas in Spielberg were par for the course for the Briton. He has now failed to make the podium in four straight races at the circuit.
*All odds correct at time of writing.