Austrian GP: Valtteri Bottas wins dramatic season opener

Charles Leclerc finished a surprise second for Ferrari with McLaren's Lando Norris taking his first podium after Lewis Hamilton collected a penalty.

Valtteri Bottas has won the season-opening race once again, after winning in Australia in 2019.   -  REUTERS

Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday while defending Formula One (F1) champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty.

Bottas took a knee as he received the winners’ trophy and the podium trio held up a black T-shirt with “End Racism” written on it.

The race was interrupted three times by a safety car and nine of the 20 drivers retired, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon - who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off the track. "I dodged a few bullets today,” Bottas said after the eighth F1 win of his career.

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Although Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years. But the late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s five-second time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari and Lando Norris third for McLaren.

"It felt like a victory today. Second place is something I never would have expected,” said Leclerc, who started from seventh. “I will rate this as one of my best races, I didn’t do many mistakes.”

Norris sent McLaren’s garage into ecstasy - and threw social distancing out of the window amid the euphoria as CEO Zak Brown hugged everyone in sight.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium and his superb final lap was the fastest of an exciting opening race. Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and he is also the third-youngest ever in F1. Only Verstappen and Lance Stroll were younger.

In pictures: 2020 Season-opening Austrian Grand Prix  

All drivers wore “End Racism” T-shirts before the race, but six drivers - Verstappen, Leclerc, Kimi Raikkonen, Daniil Kvyat, Antonio Giovinazzi and Carlos Sainz Jr - did not take the knee.

Verstappen was chasing a hat trick of wins at the Red Bull Ring, but his race ended early with a power failure. Sebastian Vettel’s miserable form from last season carried over as he finished 10th. Bottas made a strong start from pole position while Verstappen just held off Norris.

Daniel Ricciardo (Renault), Stroll (Racing Point), George Russell (Williams), Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo) and Kvyat (AlphaTauri) had retired due to engine problems.

Approaching the midway point of the race, Magnussen went off track after trying to overtake Esteban Ocon’s Renault. The safety car was deployed for two laps, allowing Hamilton to claw back a few seconds on Bottas. When the race re-started on Lap 30, Bottas got away cleanly.

READ | Austrian GP: Leclerc and five others decline to take a knee

But moments later Vettel tried to pass Sainz Jr. on the outside but misjudged his attack, spinning his car after nudging into the side of the McLaren and losing several positions.

The safety car came out a second time on Lap 52 and again soon after the right tire flew off the front of Raikkonen’s car and narrowly missed hitting Vettel’s Ferrari just behind. Then after that restart, Albon made a daring and seemingly clean move on the outside of Hamilton, who appeared to impede him just as he was passing.

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