As Formula 1 launched its 2020 season in Austria, it seems little has changed as normal service has resumed for Mercedes with a pole position for Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.
The two Mercedes cars, freshly painted in black, will lead the front row but it is Valtteri Bottas who will lead from pole position over his teammate Lewis Hamilton. After fending off an official protest over their Dual-Axis Steering or DAS system, Mercedes held their reputation as the the team to beat in 2020.
With any hope of talent eh fight to Mercedes, Red Bull gambled by taking the third spot on Medium tires compared to Mercedes Soft tires. In the hands of Mx Verstappen, the strategy could make things interesting and difficult for Mercedes. The operative word here is, “could”.
While Red Bull’s Max Verstappen starts third, his teammate was bested by the McLaren of Lando Norris who finished just ahead of Alex Albon for 4th and 5th respectively. The struggling McLaren should be pleased with that performance given the newfound pace of both pink Racing Point cars with Sergio Perez starting in 6th.
The biggest disappointment has to be from Ferrari who entered the weekend offering mea culpa for their projected lack of competitiveness and so it came to fruition on Saturday as Sebastian Vettel was eliminated in Q2 and Charles Leclerc could manage no better than 7th. At this point, the complete overhauled car slated for Hungary can’t come quick enough.
Daniel Ricciardo finished off the top 10 and bested his new teammate, Esteban Ocon, while managing to show that Renault now have Racing Point and McLaren ahead of them and they have a lot of work to do in clawing back some of their pace.
In the end, standard operating procedure has resumed with Mercedes seemingly sixth tenths quicker than the rest of the field and that will be a mighty delta for Red Bull or anyone else to catch up to. The question might be, once again, can Bottas give Hamilton a run for his money in the hunt for a 2020 title? He trained hard over the winter and COVID shutdown and despite his off in his final run, he does look quick.
The fastest strategy for the 71-lap Austrian Grand Prix is a one-stopper. The quickest way is to start on the P Zero red soft tire for 24 to 28 laps, before switching to the P Zero White hard until the flag. Alternatively, start on the P Zero Yellow medium tyre for 27 to 32 laps, before finishing the race on hard. These two strategies have a more or less identical total race time, but the latter offers slightly more flexibility.
The second-quickest strategy is to start on the soft for 30 to 34 laps, then go on medium to the end.
A two-stop strategy is definitely slower, but it would go like this: two stints on the soft tire of 16 to 18 laps each, then finish the race on either the medium or the hard compound (depending on how things were looking at that point).
- Unity. Bottas took pole (with Mercedes going fastest in all the free practice sessions as well) to claim a unique rainbow Pirelli Pole Position Award tire: symbolizing the fight against Covid-19 and promotion of inclusivity that is a key message of Formula 1.
- Max Verstappen. The Red Bull driver will be the only driver in the top 10 to start on the medium tires, having used them to set his fastest time in Q2. Last year’s Austrian Grand Prix winner will start from third on the grid.
- Strategy. The midfield in particular is very close (the Red Bull of Alex Albon in P5 and the Racing Point of Sergio Perez in P6 actually set identical times in Q3). With such a short lap and just one pit stop expected, the timing of that stop will be even more crucial than usual when it comes to gaining track position.
- Sebastian Vettel. Starting from P11, Vettel’s Ferrari will be the highest-placed car with a free choice of tires, handing him the opportunity to do something quite different from his immediate rivals.
MARIO ISOLA – HEAD OF F1 AND CAR RACING
“Bottas’s pole position time set the all-time track record at the Red Bull Ring today, underlining that the cars have evolved while this year’s P Zero tyre range stays the same as 2019. The most interesting strategic moment from qualifying was Verstappen’s decision to start the race on the medium tyre, which should allow him to plan a more flexible strategy – with potentially a longer first stint than his rivals. This could be crucial to the race outcome. As expected with a short lap and tightly-matched field, we saw mostly the soft tyre used from start to finish of qualifying. Each team needed to be sure to get the most out of their cars, given how close the margins were. But in the race tomorrow, all three compounds should have an important role to play.”
|3||Max Verstappen||Red Bull/Honda||0.538s|
|5||Alexander Albon||Red Bull/Honda||0.929s|
|6||Sergio Perez||Racing Point/Mercedes||0.929s|
|8||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren/Renault||1.032s|
|9||Lance Stroll||Racing Point/Mercedes||1.090s|
|18||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo/Ferrari||2.236s|
|19||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo/Ferrari||2.285s|