F1 season kicks off with astonishing, chaotic race in Austria

Race winner Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas of Finland with the trophy after winning the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring racetrack in Spielberg, Austria, Sunday. (Reuters)
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Updated 06 July 2020

F1 season kicks off with astonishing, chaotic race in Austria

  • Mercedes dominance, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton leading the charge, and Red Bull providing the challenge

DUBAI: Formula 1 is back. And, for the majority of the season’s much delayed first race, it looked business as usual.

Mercedes dominance, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton leading the charge, and Red Bull providing the challenge.

But this, despite Bottas’  eventual victory, would prove anything but an ordinary race, for so many reasons.

The Austrian Grand Prix, the first race of the shortened season, was, like all top class sporting events around the world, taking place with no fans inside the Red Bull Ring, a legacy of the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

The empty stands may have given this the initial look of a practice session, but the race would prove anything but routine.

This was a dramatic, often chaotic, return to action for Formula 1’s finest.

No doubt, the absence of motorsports’ most passionate and colorful fans, who in normal circumstances would have descended on Spielberg, Austria, was felt.

But for those watching on television, the truth is that the intensity of Formula1 action, unlike in football, and perhaps other team sports when they resume, is not overly affected by taking place behind closed doors.

 And it is something that the public will no doubt quickly adapt to. For now, only seven other rounds of the 2020 season have been confirmed; in Austria again (Red Bull Ring, July 10-12), will be followed by the Hungarian Grand Prix (July 17-19), two British Grand Prix races (Silverstone, July 31-Aug. 2 and Aug. 7-9); the Spanish Grand Prix (Barcelona, Aug. 14-16); Belgian Grand Prix (Spa-Francorchamps, 28-30); and the Italian Grand Prix (Monza, Sept. 4-6).

Other races are pending, and fans in the Middle East will be hoping that the restart continues to go according to plan, hopefully leading to the confirmation of the Bahrain Grand Prix later this year, and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as the season’s finale.

Before the race the drivers had worn anti-racism T-shirts, though there was an element of controversy when several drivers, including Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc chose not to take the knee like their  rivals. Both explained  their stance on their social media accounts.

The early stages as expected were dominated by Mercedes and Red Bull, with Bottas and  Hamilton separated in first and fourth by Verstappen and Alexander Albon in 2nd and third.

After the reigning champion Hamilton overtook Albon in the early stages, one of the race’s turning points saw Verstappen retire after gear failure. With fewer points on offer this season, this could turn out to be a decisive incident, even at this early stage.

Bottas and Hamilton, now in first and second, seemed to have the race under control for Mercedes.

Lap 28 saw the safety car come out, but when the green light came back on Bottas streaked away followed by Hamilton with Albon in third and British driver Lando Norris, excelling in a McLaren, in fourth.

Within seconds from the restart, Vettel’s Ferrari spun as he attempted to overtake Carlos Sainz, and though he avoided an accident, it meant he dropped to 15th.

Less than half way through the race, the Austrian Grand Prix was providing more drama and incidents than millions glued to their televisions could have dared hope for.

The race now settled into a battle between Bottas and Hamilton, and even another intervention of the safety car after 52 laps could not put them out of their stride.

Kimi Raikkonen’s exit with 15 laps meant seven drivers had retired.

 But with with five laps left, Hamilton was penalized five seconds for an accident with Albon. Suddenly second place, for long seemingly a lock for Mercedes, was now up for grabs. Indeed, so was third.

Hamilton, to ensure a podium finish needed to beat Norris (in fourth) by more than five seconds. But Norris saved his best till last, his fastest lap ensuring the gap between him and the champion was sub-five seconds.

Bottas was the first winner of the season, second place went to Leclerc and Ferrari, and a disbelieving Norris and McLaren team in third.

Hamilton, in the blink of an eye, dropped to fourth.

The podium presentation no doubt lacked its usual celebratory vibe, but try telling that to Leclerc and Norris who could not have dreamed of this conclusion.

 If the remainder of the 2020 races live up to this astionishing Austrian Grand Prix, Formula 1’s shortest season could turn out to be one of its best.


The NBA Finals: Why the Lakers will win the championship

Updated 01 October 2020

The NBA Finals: Why the Lakers will win the championship

LeBron James believed he could win every time he advanced to the NBA Finals.
A couple occasions, he realistically had little chance. His first and last appearances in Cleveland ended in sweeps, overmatched Cavaliers teams routed by San Antonio in 2007 and Golden State in 2018.
In his 10th NBA Finals, he sees his first opportunity with the Los Angeles Lakers the same way he viewed his trips in Cleveland and Miami.
“The game is won between the four lines, not won on paper,” James said. “At the end of the day, when I’ve lost in the finals, the better team won because they played well, they were more prepared and they did what they needed to do to win those four games.”
This time, that’s going to be his team.
With Anthony Davis alongside James, the Lakers are armed with the same type of firepower they had when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant led them to the first of three straight titles 20 years ago.
The two first-team selections to the All-NBA team have combined for 60 or more points 20 times in their first season together, and the Lakers have won 19.
They are now set up to win the Lakers’ first title in a decade.
“Now we want to make sure that we finish this thing off right,” Davis said.
James shows almost no drop-off at 35, tying his career high with four triple-doubles in these playoffs. He is averaging 26.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists, numbers no player has ever reached through his first 15 games of a postseason.
Davis has been just as dominant, right about at his career postseason average of 29.6 points that trails only Michael Jordan (33.4) and Allen Iverson (29.7) among players who have appeared in at least 25 games.
The Heat, with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler anchoring a strong defense, might be able to take one of them away. Nobody is stopping both.
The Lakers’ role players give them plenty of support, from playoff-tested veterans Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard and Danny Green, to newcomers such as Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso. Los Angeles is shooting 49.8% as a team, tops in the postseason.
The Lakers are also limiting teams to 106.5 points, third-lowest in the playoffs, and the Heat might be the least explosive squad they will have faced. Portland had Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Houston followed with NBA scoring leader James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and Denver boasted Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the top two players in total points in the playoffs.
Los Angeles knocked all three teams out in five games.
Once they did, thoughts turned to the proper way to cap off what’s been a challenging season for the Lakers. A preseason trip to China turned turbulent following Houston general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting democratic protesters in Hong Kong. Bryant, a franchise icon, was killed in a helicopter crash in January. The coronavirus pandemic halted the season and forced players to be away from their families for months when it resumed.
Four more wins and the Lakers can go home to them.
“Every day since we been in the bubble it’s been like, man, this is a great opportunity. Take full advantage of it and stay in the moment,” Howard said. “You know, even after we won the Western Conference finals, I wanted to be like, all right, this is not the goal just to win the Western Conference finals. The goal is the win the championship.”
They will. Lakers in five.
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Brian Mahoney is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at bmahoney(at)ap.org