It was survival of the fittest as only eleven drivers made it to see the chequered flag on Sunday - marking F1's successful return after a truly chaotic race which made it an instant classic and also produced some surprise results.
6th July 2020
Sunday's race marked the first F1 race in 217 days since the 2019 finale in Abu Dhabi and what a race it was. For fans, it was definitely worth the wait and although, they weren't present in the grandstands, they watched on from the comfort of home and were treated to a cracker of a race. Formula One is back!
Mercedes remain class of the field but reliability plague the Silver Arrows
After the practice sessions and Qualifying, it looked like Mercedes were going to romp-off into the distance as they had done for pretty much of the year before. With Valterri Bottas narrowly beating Lewis Hamilton to Pole, therefore making it a front-row lock-out for the reigning champions. Red Bull's late protest demoted Hamilton to 5th leaving Bottas to make headway in the first few laps.
Bottas made-up the gap until the Safety Car was deployed and Mercedes double-stacked both drivers without mistake. On every restart, Bottas was incredible, getting the jump on Hamilton behind. Then, the radio messages started to come to both drivers. They were nip and tuck and way ahead of the chasing pack when the team got nervous over sensor issues. They issued both drivers to stay off the kerbs in which they both did to an extent. The issue was reportedly worse of Bottas's car but both made it to the end.
Red Bull could have had a driver on the podium
Red Bull's Max Verstappen looked the most credible threat to challenge the Mercedes drivers. His single-lap pace wasn't anything to shout about but his long-run pace was encouraging as it was much closer to Mercedes. His plan was to run long in the race having qualified on the Medium tyre and have a chance of being close to challenge in the second part of the race. However, his race ended prematurely when the Dutchman slowed as an electrical issue left his Red Bull crawling back to the pits. He will see this a huge opportunity missed but the only saving grace was that Hamilton only finished 4th, lessening the points difference.
Should have Alexander Albon finished on the podium? After Hamilton's penalty, Albon started fourth and ran well throughout the race but it was after the final Safety Car, prompted by close-friend George Russell who retired his Williams, where Albon's race really came alive. He pitted under the Safety Car for the Soft tyre and with both Hamilton and Bottas on used Hard tyres and experiencing gearbox worries, he smelt the whiff of victory.
On the restart, Albon was quick and able to stick close to Hamilton as the Mercedes defended in Turn 3 but a great run for Albon out of the corner made the Red Bull driver lunge round the outside. Hamilton was ahead going into the corner but as they excited, Albon flashed past. Hamilton didn't open his steering and contact was made which sent Albon spinning into the gravel and his hope of a maiden podium disappeared. Should he have waited another lap and been a bit more patient, probably, but he's a racer and he wanted to go after victory. Albon's race ended early with electrical issues ending a miserable day for the home team.
Ferrari and McLaren join Mercedes for surprise podium
For the first time in F1 history, a Mercedes, a Ferrari and a McLaren were all represented on the podium. Although Hamilton crossed the line second, his five second time penalty for his collision with Albon meant that the drivers in 3rd and 4th, Charles Leclerc and Perez could be on a podium if they were under five seconds behind Hamilton.
"An unexpected podium." That's what Leclerc said after the Monegasque had somehow claimed second place to put a smile on Ferrari's face after a a dismal weekend. Coming into the weekend, Ferrari 99% ruled them out of a chance of victory or even a podium as the Scuderia continue to rectify their design flaw with the SF1000. Leclerc scraped into the top ten while team-mate Sebastian Vettel qualified in 11th. Leclerc kept his head down during the race, made the overtakes when he needed to and finished within five seconds of Hamilton to nick second. Leclerc said that it was “one of my best races since I arrived in F1” but also stated that the help of the Safety Cars and other incidents helped the Ferrari driver.
Lando Norris had a stellar weekend up to this point. He was the lead McLaren driver in Qualifying and after a shaky start to the race, he was sitting 5th. He barged his way past Perez into Turn 1 and this put him 4th. Going onto the final lap, he was over the five second margin to Hamilton and his McLaren team noticed this. He was able to use higher engine modes and on the final tour of the circuit, he set the fastest lap, gaining an extra point and crucially finished within the five seconds to grab a maiden podium.