Valtteri Bottas won an action-packed Austrian Grand Prix for Mercedes on Sunday as Formula One started its delayed season with plenty of drama in a race with only 11 finishers.
Fourteen of 20 drivers took a knee to protest racial injustice before Sunday’s season opener. It had been expected that all 20 drivers would take part. All drivers wore black T-shirts with “End Racism” written on them; Hamilton’s shirt featured that phrase on the back with “Black Lives Matter” on the front.
“End Racism. One cause. One commitment,” Formula One tweeted Sunday along with video of the moment. “As individuals, we choose our own way to support the cause. As a group of drivers and a wider F1 family, we are united in its goal.”
Drivers Antonio Giovinazzi, Daniil Kvyat, Charles Leclerc, Kimi Raikkonen, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Max Verstappen did not take a knee.
“I believe that what matters are facts and behaviours in our daily life rather than formal gestures that could be seen as controversial in some countries,” Leclerc tweeted before the race. “I will not take the knee but this does not mean at all that I am less committed than others in the fight against racism.”
“I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism,” Verstappen tweeted Sunday. “But I believe everyone has the right to express (themselves) at a time and in a way that suits them. I will not take the knee today but respect and support the personal choices every driver makes.”
There were no spectators to witness Charles Leclerc finishing a surprise second for Ferrari or to see McLaren’s Lando Norris notch up his first podium after a time penalty dropped Mercedes’ world champion Lewis Hamilton to fourth.
“I managed to keep it together and control the race from my side and it’s a good start to the season,” said Finn Bottas, who had to keep his cool through three safety car periods.
Norris, at 20 the youngest driver in the race and now the youngest Briton to stand on an F1 podium, also set the fastest lap.
The race, on a sunny afternoon at the scenic Red Bull Ring was held in front of empty grandstands due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz made it a double points haul for McLaren in fifth, with Sergio Perez sixth for Racing Point and Pierre Gasly seventh for AlphaTauri.
Esteban Ocon, who last raced in 2018, took eighth for Renault on his return while Antonio Giovinazzi bagged ninth for Alfa Romeo and Sebastian Vettel, who had another nightmare, completed the top 10 for Ferrari.
Canadian Nicholas Latifi was the last car running with 11th for Williams.
There was drama even before the race when stewards performed a U-turn after a Red Bull challenge and dropped Hamilton from the front row to fifth on the grid for a breach in Saturday’s qualifying.
That also promoted Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to the front row, alongside Bottas on pole position.
Any hopes the Dutch youngster had of completing a hat-trick of Austrian wins, after 2018 and 2019, disappeared when he suffered an early technical problem and became the season’s first retirement.
In a race with three safety car periods, Bottas soon had Hamilton in his mirrors but the Briton’s challenge vanished when he was handed a five-second time penalty for causing a collision with Red Bull’s Alex Albon while defending second place.
The Thai spun off into the gravel, his podium hopes shattered.
Leclerc, whose team had struggled in qualifying with Sebastian Vettel failing even to make the top 10, moved up to third against all expectations, which became second after the chequered flag.
“I did not expect it. A huge surprise, but a good one,” said the Monegasque. “It feels like a victory today.”
Racing Point’s Mexican Perez, who had run as high as third in the 2019 Mercedes lookalike, lost fourth place to Norris two laps from the end but was already carrying a time penalty for exceeding the pit lane speed limit.
Anyone who had feared Mercedes running away in a race of their own, after the champions dominated practice and qualifying, need not have worried.
Mercedes, their cars changed from silver to black as part of an anti-racism campaign, fretted about gearbox sensors and warned both drivers to keep clear of the kerbs.