SPIELBERG, Austria – Valtteri Bottas insisted before the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday that he has what it takes to win the Formula One world championship.
That’s a tall order with six-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton as his teammate at Mercedes. Especially as Hamilton needs one more title to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven.
But Bottas showed impressive composure to win Sunday’s race with Hamilton just a half-second behind him for spells. Not easy for Bottas when Hamilton’s among the best drivers at overtaking in F1 history, and when a chaotic race restarts three times behind a safety car.
“There was definitely quite a bit of pressure. One safety car was OK but by the last I was like, ‘Come on – again?’” a relieved Bottas said. “There were so many opportunities for Lewis to take the lead if I made a small mistake and he was really quick today. But I managed to keep it together, could really control the race from my side, and there’s obviously no better way to start the season.”
Hamilton crossed second but finished fourth after getting a late time penalty.
Bottas kneeled with the winners’ trophy and the podium trio – including second-place Charles Leclerc for Ferrari and third-place Lando Norris for McLaren – held up a black T-shirt with “End Racism” written on it.
Nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.
It was better to be up ahead.
“I dodged a few bullets today,” Bottas said after the eighth F1 win of his career.
Hamilton was given a five-second time penalty for causing Albon’s crash, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.
“It was just a misjudgment by Lewis at the end of the day and it’d be good if he apologized for it,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “This sport can be pretty brutal sometimes and it feels like today’s been one of those days. Alex drove a great race, he didn’t deserve that.”
Toronto’s Nicholas Latifi of Williams Mercedes finished 11th in his F1 debut, last among drivers to complete all 71 laps. Montreal’s Lance Stroll of Racing Point Mercedes exited with mechanical problems on the 21st lap.
The race had looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes, as has been the case so often in recent years, but late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise.
“It felt like a victory today. Second place is something I never would have expected,” said Leclerc, who started from seventh. “I will rate this as one of my best races, I didn’t do many mistakes.”
All drivers wore “End Racism” T-shirts before the race, but six drivers did not take the knee: Verstappen, Leclerc, Kimi Raikkonen, Daniil Kvyat, Antonio Giovinazzi and Carlos Sainz Jr.
Hamilton, the only Black driver in F1, wore a T-shirt with Black Lives Matter on the front and End Racism on the back.