Lewis Hamilton led a Mercedes one-two to take his first win of the season at the Styrian Grand Prix. The Briton had total control over the race from the start, surrendered the lead only once — to teammate Valtteri Bottas in the pit stops — to take a perfectly managed 13s victory.
“Firstly I have to say a big thank you to my team and everyone back at the factory,” Hamilton said “It’s great to be back up here and to be driving — and to be driving with this kind of performance. To come back this weekend after a difficult weekend at the first weekend last week, this was a great step forward.”
The foundation for his comfortable win was his excellent start, leaving Max Verstappen to defend second place from Carlos Sainz, who ran alongside the Dutchman all the way to Turn 3 at the top of the hill before tucking in behind and consolidate third place.
The rest of the field wasn’t so tidy, with the two Ferrari drivers colliding as the cars concertinaed onto the apex. The late-braking Charles Leclerc lost control of his car over the curbs, which kicked up the left rear of his SF1000 which landed on Sebastian Vettel’s rear wing, tearing it from the chassis and damaging his own car in the melee.
Vettel returned to the pits to retire at the end of the lap, while Leclerc made it to lap four until succumbing to his broken machinery.
“I am disappointed in myself,” Leclerc said in a tweet afterwards. “I’m sorry, but being sorry is not enough.
“Seb hasn’t got any faults today. I’ve let the team down after them working a whole week to bring the updates early. Too eager to gain those places in the first lap. I will learn from it.”
A brief safety car intervention ensued to collect the debris, and Hamilton once again aced his getaway to maintain a gap to Verstappen at the restart.
Valtteri Bottas and Alex Albon were quick to move forward at the resumption, passing Carlos Sainz for third and fourth. But while the Finn had the pace to catch up to the front-running pair, it became obvious very early that the Thai did not, and he drifted only further from the front as the race wore on.
Bottas and Hamilton were now sandwiching Verstappen, and with Albon more than a pit stop’s worth of time behind the leader by Lap 20, Red Bull Racing’s strategy draw was empty against the quicker Mercedes cars.
Both black cars were instructed to push, and when Bottas closed to within less than two seconds behind Verstappen on Lap 24, Red Bull Racing played its only card and brought the Dutchman in to pre-empt the undercut.
Hamilton was far enough ahead not to worry about being undercut himself, stopping three laps later and retaining the lead, but Bottas extended his opening stint through to Lap 34 before switching to the medium tire. He emerged from pit lane eight seconds behind Verstappen with 36 laps to make it up on his 10-laps-younger tires, but he made slow progress, and it wasn’t until Verstappen picked up some minor damage to his front wing on Lap 60 that the second Mercedes car made substantial inroads.
The pair dueled for the place from Lap 66. Bottas ran down Verstappen’s inside at Turn 4, but the RB16 clung on around the outside to take the inside line into Turn 6, successfully defending the place.
Verstappen’s hold on P2 lasted only one more lap, though, with Bottas sealing the deal into Turn 4 on the following tour.
“I think today was damage limitation,” Bottas said of his recovery from fourth on the grid. “I still got good points, still leading (the championship), so not too bad.”
Verstappen reluctantly accepted third, admitting his car doesn’t yet have the pace to contend in a straight fight with Mercedes.
“I tried, but we are just a bit too slow — I pushed as hard as I could.” he said. “The podium is god, but still a lot of work to do.”
Alex Albon finished fourth for Red Bull Racing, but it was a close-run thing. The Thai was 44 seconds behind Hamilton and was briefly passed by Racing Point’s Sergio Perez on Lap 69, but he and the Mexican came together at Turn 4, damaging the pink car’s front wing and sending him back into the midfield.
It was an unfortunate end to Perez’s charge through the field. He started 17th in the wet but was up to 11th by Lap 6. A long first stint on the soft tire meant he could push hard on the medium in the second half of the race, passing Sainz, teammate Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo before breaking his front wing trying to take fourth off Albon.
Lando Norris then scythed past him for fifth on the final lap, although Perez managed to hold onto sixth from teammate Lance Stroll by just 0.066s.
Daniel Ricciardo was eighth for Renault, having valiantly defended sixth from the faster Stroll until the penultimate lap.
Carlos Sainz was the first of the lapped cars after stopping for fresh tires late to snatch a point for fastest lap, and Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top 10.