When assessing the key talking points of the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, Formula One’s Managing Director, Motorsport Ross Brawn labelled the opening race of the season a thriller of a grand prix.
After a long enforced break due to the coronavirus pandemic, Formula One teams and drivers got together at the Red Bull Ring last weekend to finally kickstart the 2020 season.
Starting his verdict on the Austrian Grand Prix, Brawn picked out McLaren’s performance. Following five difficult seasons, the Woking-based outfit seems to have found its way back to a position where it can constantly challenge for high-scoring places.
„After a long break, it was great to return with a thriller of a grand prix, with drama throughout. And one of the key protagonists was Lando Norris, who couldn’t quite break out of Carlos Sainz’s shadow in his first year with the team last season, but he came of age in Austria on Sunday.
„His last few laps, when he needed to close the gap to Lewis to ensure he could take advantage of the Briton’s five-second time penalty and snatch a maiden podium, were exceptional and simply stunning to see. In McLaren, you’ve got a team in transition, who are getting stronger every race and which have a bright future with a Mercedes engine.
„Carlos is leaving and you can’t help the subconscious effect that will have on him and the team. I’ve felt it before during my time working in a Formula 1 team. No matter how professional you are, when someone is leaving, the way you are with a driver who is leaving, versus a driver who is staying, is different. You can’t help it, but it happens.”
Reflecting on the race outcome, Brawn said that pole-sitter and race winner Valtteri Bottas did not have an easy time at the 71-lap race because of Mercedes' concerns related to its gearbox. "Often a driver who starts on pole and wins the race might be perceived to have had an easy ride, but that was certainly not the case for Valtteri.
"He looked very controlled throughout the weekend and was delivered when it mattered in qualifying. On race day, his performance was faultless and he managed the problems Mercedes encountered with their gearbox. But perhaps what was most impressive was the way he withstood the pressure from Lewis and drove intelligently, keeping a consistent gap so his teammate never really threaten him."
Despite Ferrari’s struggles with its 2020 car, Charles Leclerc managed to keep himself out of trouble to open his 2020 points tally with a second-place finish. Brawn thinks that the Monegasque’s performance was down to his incredible talent.
„It was clear Ferrari were in a difficult position after qualifying, their performance by their own admission was disappointing. On Sunday, Charles showed what a talented driver he is, managing his chances wisely to take an opportunistic second place. It is in these difficult races where the determination and talent of a very special drivers come through.
„But Ferrari have got to quickly improve the situation otherwise it they face a very difficult season. They have plans to improve the car for Hungary, which is encouraging, but the start of the year is tougher than they anticipated.
„It was a difficult start to Sebastian’s final season with the team. Everything must be swirling round in his head, after he found out Ferrari did not want to renew his services for next season. Sometimes, the things that put off a driver are quite subtle. Sebastian has appeared surprised and shocked by what has happened and it must be a distraction, understandably so.”
After the coronavirus put Formula One on hold for sixteen weeks, the sport returned to action with drivers turning the wheels of their racing cars in anger. Due to the coronavirus-defined situation and travel restrictions, it has been a huge effort from the Formula One family to put everything in place in order to get the season going.
„It was great to be back at a race track and hear the sound of a V6 hybrid turbo power unit fire up to signal that Grand Prix racing was underway once more.
„This weekend in Austria was the result of three months of tremendously hard work that couldn’t have been completed without the outstanding collaboration between Formula 1, governing body the FIA, all 10 teams and the race promoters. It was a massive team effort to get this season underway – and we are pleased with the way the race weekend came together. I feel a big relief to get to where we have got to now.
„The event ran smoothly, with zero positive tests for Covid-19 in more than 4,000 tests of F1 personnel as of Saturday. The strict and rigid procedures we put in place were to ensure everyone’s safety and we’re reasonably pleased with how it went. There are still a lot of refinements we can make after our experiences this weekend, and there’s been some small changes before next week’s race, but I think we have put down the foundations to move forward in this Covid era,” Brawn concluded.