Sunday, August 9, 2020

F1 back on track


SPIELBERG, Austria: Formula One got back on track in changed circumstances but familiar fashion at the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix yesterday, with Mercedes and six times world champion Lewis Hamilton picking up where they left off last year.

The Briton and team mate Valtteri Bottas responded to the ‘new normal’ resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic by finishing one-two in both free practice sessions on the sport’s latest start to a campaign.

Hamilton, wearing a ‘Black Lives Matter’ helmet in a black Mercedes with ‘End Racism’ written on it, set a best time of one minute 04.304 after also going fastest in opening practice with a time of 1:04.816.

Bottas was 0.356 adrift in the morning but cut the gap to 0.197 in the afternoon.

Racing Point, whose Mercedes-powered RP20 has been dubbed the ‘Pink Mercedes’ because of its striking similarity to Hamilton’s title-winning 2019 car, were third fastest with Mexican Sergio Perez.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, starting his last season in the Italian team’s red colours, was fourth fastest on his 33rd birthday with Australian Daniel Ricciardo fifth for Renault and McLaren’s Lando Norris sixth.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, winner of the last two races at his team’s home track, was third in the first session but spun twice and finished up eighth after lunch.

Meanwhile, Red Bull lodged an official protest against Mercedes after the champions used a controversial new Dual Axis Steering (DAS) system in practice.

The action concerned the cars of Hamilton and Bottas, with team representatives summoned to stewards at the Red Bull Ring.

Mercedes were running the system for the first time at a race weekend after it raised questions in pre-season testing.

The governing FIA has said already that DAS will not be allowed next year, despite the cars remaining the same due to new rules being postponed to 2022, but has not banned it for 2020.

“I think the fundamental question for us is ‘does it comply with the regulations in what is a fundamentally grey area?’” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told reporters.

“We do want clarity on it because it does have an impact regarding the rest of this year. It’s something that’s been outlawed for next year but the question is ‘Is it right for this year?”

DAS allows a driver to change the ‘toe angle’ of the front wheels by pushing and pulling on the steering wheel, rather than just moving it sideways.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said a clarification would be welcome.

Tomorrow’s race, the first of two in Austria on successive weekends, became the opener after the new coronavirus laid waste to the calendar and forced the cancellation of the scheduled Australian opener on March 15 before a wheel had turned.

Yesterday marked the first time all the drivers had been on track together since the end of pre-season testing in Barcelona last February.

The last time any of them raced was in Abu Dhabi in December last year, when Hamilton won from pole position and set the fastest lap.

“Motor Sport is back!,” said International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Jean Todt on Twitter.