Five talking points from the Austrian Grand Prix

An amazing start to the 2020 F1 season is now behind us, so let’s get into the first talking points of the year.

It was an amazing race…
Well, who was expecting that? A thrilling race that had us all on the edge of our seats. From mass retirements to penalties, through to a shock podium for McLaren, it was easily the most exciting season opener since the 2010 Australian Grand Prix. And this is how a season opener should be.

Anybody who remembers the good old days of F1 would remember this being a normal expectation of an opening race: mass retirements and uncertain results that gave you hope ahead of a new season. And in a day and age when even Superman couldn’t dent the reliability of a modern F1 car, it was actually incredibly refreshing to see so many cars break down.

This won’t last, but after so long in waiting for the season to start, it was a great way to get us back in the F1 mood.

…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves
Speaking of things not lasting, it is for certain that exciting races like this won’t be happening every week and it’s important to fully analyse this weekend to see that F1 fans are in for a bit of a troubled time for the remainder of this year, as well as 2021.

Mercedes utterly dominated the weekend and were streets ahead of anyone on all three days. If it wasn’t for the penalties Hamilton received in both qualifying and the race, it would’ve been an easy 1-2 for the team. Even with their issues throughout the race, they were still miles faster than any of the cars behind them. That’s a worrying sign for the sport that two limping Mercedes can still outpace the nearest rival.

The issue is that these cars aren’t changing next season, and we’re going to be stuck with what we have until the new cars are introduced in 2022. For Mercedes fans this is great, but for the rest of us we’re going to have to be prepared for some long race weekends in the coming 18 months.

It’s always Vettel’s fault
Sebastian Vettel was having a fairly quiet race on Sunday and found a few opportunities to make his way through the pack after a disastrous qualifying. Through his battles, he came across the duelling 2021 Ferrari teammates Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz heading into turn three.

As Sainz went in for the overtake, he was forced hard into the inside line, just as Vettel was cruising along staying out of the way. As Sainz came into the path of Vettel in the breaking zone, the two narrowly avoided contact and Vettel, in taking avoiding action, spun his Ferrari, which sent him back to the end of the field.

The Sky Sports verdict? Vettel’s fault.

f1-testing-ferrari-sebastian-vettel-768x525
(Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)

If I could put in a huh emoji right now, I would, because, huh?

For whatever reason, the Sky Sports F1 team, and the majority of the F1 community, seemingly leap to any form of anti-Vettel sentiment whenever any incident occurs with him. It really is quite baffling that on this occasion, a driver who clearly had nowhere else to go and clearly spun in the process of avoiding a much more serious incident, is blamed for the incident.

I can’t imagine how the verdict would’ve gone had they actually collided. No doubt it still would’ve been Vettel’s fault.

Vettel is a four-time world champion who for some strange reason has never got the praise he deserves for his achievements and still gets bashed in the press at any given moment. This is a man who won a Grand Prix in a car that was a Minardi two seasons prior. A Minardi. That alone speaks volumes at the supreme talent he had, and has, and that he deserves more praise and less negativity than he gets.

Esteban Slow-con
I’ve never been backwards in coming forwards with my opinion that Esteban Ocon is one of the most overrated F1 drivers around, and lo and behold he helped make my point on his much hyped return to the sport after a season away in 2019.

Ocon was nowhere all weekend, routinely beaten by Daniel Ricciardo and only managed to secure points with all the attraction going on around him.

He was also routinely further away from Ricciardo than Nico Hulkenberg was in Austria in 2019, and both his qualifying laps were slower than Hulkenberg’s laps on the same circuit last year. Ricciardo, on the other hand, beat both his qualifying laps from 2019.

Daniel-Ricciardo-Renault-768x525
(Stephen Blackberry/Action Plus via Getty Images)

Yes, it’s only the opening race, and yes, Ocon has been away from the sport for 18 months, but for someone with as much talent as he is hyped up to have and as someone who looks set to become a team leader next season, he has a lot to work on to live up to this so-called potential that saw him replace one of the most consistent and underrated drivers in Nico Hulkenberg.

Stroll comes to a slow stroll and oh so close for Latifi
My final slot is always reserved to praise love on Lance Stroll and in 2020 I have the addition of another Canadian to weirdly fanboy over in Nicholas Latifi. And it was a case of “what could’ve been” versus “oh so close!”

For Stroll, he had a solid weekend with his pink Mercedes, and while he wasn’t able to match the pace of his teammate Sergio Perez, he easily made it into Q3 and even set the fourth fasted time in Q1. For the race he got a solid start and was fighting with the McLaren of Carlos Sainz early on, but ultimately retired with an engine issue.

Given his and Perez’s pace, he was easily on for a top-six finish, and given his ability to survive carnage and consistently work his way through the field in carnage field races, he could’ve finished even higher. But the promise is there that I may be writing a lot more positive things for the rest of this year.

For Latifi, he struggled for pace with his Williams for most of the weekend and was soundly beaten by teammate George Russell. But this was expected, and Latifi spoke highly across the weekend about his own performance which shows he isn’t too despondent about where he is currently.

He also very nearly sneaked home for a point on debut too, with so many retirements and penalties being handed out that saw him finish in 11th place and only seven seconds away from tenth place. That would be seen as a big win for him, and a big boost in confidence moving forward into next weekend. And it also gives this fan a whiff of joy at the end of a crazy race.

With all that in mind, it’s on to another race at the same track in less than seven days time. Will we have a similar result or will that snooze fest we were all hoping we would avoid show itself like it inevitably will at some point?

All I can say is bring it on!

This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here

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