MORE than 200,000 fans emit a huge roar, but thanks to virus restrictions that element was missing from an incident-packed Austrian Formula 1 Grand Prix.

With just officials and news crews watching, Finland’s Valtteri Bottas ran off with the race, his black Mercedes finishing more than five seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc — after teammate Lewis Hamilton was demoted from a second place finish.

That handed McLaren’s young Brit, Lando Norris, his first Formula 1 podium and dropped Hamilton to fourth.

The multiple champion was hit with a five-second penalty for pushing Red Bull’s Alex Albon into the boonies on lap 61 of the 71-lap race, on the demanding 10-turn 4.2km circuit in Austria’s picturesque Spielberg.

It was an odd first race of the season, with almost half of the 20-strong field not finishing.

The DNF (did not finish) list included Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo, who made a fine start from 10th on the grid, only to retire his Renault on lap 17 with an overheating problem.

However, teammate Esteban Ocon, who had a miserable qualifying session and started from 14th, put in a good performance to finish eighth.

Up front, the Merc duo of Bottas and Hamilton had a comfortable, almost boring lead, but the picture changed dramatically when Hamilton was handed his penalty after tipping Albon into a spin after a Safety Car restart on Lap 61.

Charles Leclerc did well to claim second after starting from seventh and Lando Norris managed a late pass on the Racing Point of Sergio Perez to claim third position — handing McLaren its first a podium since 2014.

Hamilton’s problems started even before the race.

He’d qualified second, but stewards handed him a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow for yellow flags during qualifying.

It dropped him to fifth on the grid and promoted Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to second place.

Not that it helped Verstappen much.

The Dutch ace won in Austria in 2018 and 2019 and was hoping to score a hat trick this year, but his Red Bull lost the urge to fly after just 11 of the 71 laps, and he coasted to a DNF.

Daniel Ricciardo had a similar fate.

“Today was a reminder of what Formula 1 can be like and, sometimes, it’s unkind,” the Perth driver said.

“It’s a shame to retire early, but we had a cooling issue and we had to retire the car as a precaution before we did any further damage. 

“There are a lot of positives from the weekend and it’s good we have another chance next weekend. We’ll learn and move forwards.”

Teammate Esteban Ocon finished in eighth. 

“It felt good to be back racing properly today,” the young Frenchman said.

“Finishing in the points is a great result, especially as I’m still a little rusty.

“Our race pace was good, and I was happy with how the car felt.

“We know there will be an opportunity to fight for higher positions and I’m really looking forward to the next race.”

Only 11 cars made it to the finish line.

Behind Norris, Hamilton took fourth, ahead of the second McLaren of Carlos Sainz and Perez. 

Then came the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly in seventh, ahead of  Ocon, with Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi in nineth and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel just one place ahead of the final finisher, Williams’ Nicholas Latifi.

Quote of the day came from Lando Norris.

 “I’m speechless,” he said.

 “There was a few points in the race where I thought I fudged it up quite bit. 

“I dropped to fifth with a few laps to go, Carlos [Sainz] was almost getting past me. 

“I managed to get past Perez, and I ended up on the podium.”

In doing that, Norris, who will be partnered by Ricciardo at McLaren next year, also set the fastest lap .

Before the race, Red Bull appealed against the DAS (dual-axis steering system) used by Mercedes, claiming it broke the rules in that it was both an aerodynamic and suspension-related device.

But stewards at the season opener decided it was legal because it constituted a steering device alone and, although unconventional, it did not contravene the rules on steering.

Results

1 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 71 1:30:55.739 25
2 16 Charles Leclerc FERRARI 71 +2.700s 18
3 4 Lando Norris MCLAREN RENAULT 71 +5.491s 16
4 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 71 +5.689s 12
5 55 Carlos Sainz MCLAREN RENAULT 71 +8.903s 10
6 11 Sergio Perez RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES 71 +15.092s 8
7 10 Pierre Gasly ALPHATAURI HONDA 71 +16.682s 6
8 31 Esteban Ocon RENAULT 71 +17.456s 4
9 99 Antonio Giovinazzi ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI 71 +21.146s 2
10 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 71 +24.545s 1
11 6 Nicholas Latifi WILLIAMS MERCEDES 71 +31.650s 0
12 26 Daniil Kvyat ALPHATAURI HONDA 67 DNF 0
13 23 Alexander Albon RED BULL RACING HONDA 67 DNF 0
NC 7 Kimi Räikkönen ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI 53 DNF 0
NC 63 George Russell WILLIAMS MERCEDES 49 DNF 0
NC 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 49 DNF 0
NC 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 24 DNF 0
NC 18 Lance Stroll RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES 20 DNF 0
NC 3 Daniel Ricciardo RENAULT 17 DNF 0
NC 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING HONDA 11 DNF 0

Note – Norris scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race. Hamilton received a 5-second time penalty for causing a collision. Perez received a 5-second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane.

CHECKOUT: Black day for Mercedes in Austria

CHECKOUT: Latifi firms as Williams front-runner

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Buys

Bill Buys, probably Australia’s longest-serving motoring writer, has been at his craft for more than five decades. Athough motoring has always been in his DNA, he was also night crime reporter, foreign page editor and later chief reporter of the famed Rand Daily Mail. He’s twice been shot at, attacked by a rhinoceros and had several chilling experiences in aircraft. His experience includes stints in traffic law enforcement, motor racing and rallying and writing for a variety of local and international publications. He has covered countless events, ranging from world motor shows and Formula 1 Grands Prix to Targa tarmac and round-the-houses meetings. A motoring tragic, he has owned more than 90 cars. Somewhat of a nostalgic, he has a special interest in classic cars. He is the father of Targa star Robert Buys, who often adds his expertise to Bill’s reviews.
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