RACE DEBRIEF

    The 2020 season got under way with a bang at the Austrian Grand Prix, with a thrilling race of attrition at the Red Bull Ring. But which drivers impressed our panel of judges the most at the season opener? The scores are in…

    HOW IT WORKS

    • Our five-judge panel assesses each driver after every Grand Prix and scores them out of 10 according to their performance across the weekend – taking machinery out of the equation

    • Our experts’ scores are then averaged out to produce a race score – with those scores then tallied up across the season on our Power Rankings Leaderboard

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    Best ever qualifying, best ever race finish, first F1 podium – Lando Norris’ 2020 couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start, and the judges rewarded him in kind with a damn-near perfect score for his Red Bull Ring weekend.

    ANALYSIS: How Norris beat Hamilton to the podium with one amazing lap

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    Repeating his trick of coming out of the blocks strongly from 2019, Valtteri Bottas’ weekend in Austria – admittedly a track he tends to thrive at – was deeply impressive, as he withstood constant pressure from team mate Lewis Hamilton to win the season opener. Bottas 3.0? Let’s wait and see how he fares in the next few races.

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    What a turnaround from Charles Leclerc. From utter despondency in qualifying, where on genuine pace he could manage no better than seventh on the grid, Leclerc then demonstrated why he’s so often called a ‘world champion in waiting’ in the final stages of the race, as he scythed his way up the order to a P2 finish. He thought it was one of his best ever races – and our judges didn’t think it was too bad either.

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    There was a collective groan from F1 fans as Max Verstappen’s assault on Mercedes' dominance came to an end after just 11 laps of the new season had passed. And with a full three Safety Cars during the race, you could have bet that the Dutchman would have been in the mix had his Red Bull RB16 held out. Hopefully it will this weekend…

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    You had to feel for Alex Albon, who’s opportunistic move on Lewis Hamilton on Lap 61 – and their subsequent contact – dropped him down the order, before yet another mechanical issue for Red Bull put him out of the race for good (although he was classified P13). Lagged behind Verstappen slightly during the weekend, but seems to be finding his feet in the RB16.

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    Twelve months on from getting lapped by his Red Bull team mate Verstappen at the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix, Pierre Gasly showed what a recovery he’s made, finishing seventh – the same position as last year, incidentally – as the AlphaTauri squad made their racing ‘debut’. There’s still work for the team to do to get their AT01 dialled in – but a positive start for the Frenchman nonetheless.

    READ MORE: ‘We almost retired the car on Lap 10,’ reveals Gasly after P7 finish in Austria

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    Carrying on his form from 2019, George Russell excelled as racing got under way in 2020, outqualifying both Alfa Romeos and new team mate Nicholas Latifi to start P17, while he was doing a fine job of holding off the recovering Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel until a fuel pressure issue on his Williams FW43 took him out of contention for what would most likely have been his first points in F1.

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    If people were expecting Daniel Ricciardo to wilt in the face of his thrusting new Renault team mate Esteban Ocon, they were in for a disappointment in Austria. Ricciardo outpaced the Frenchman in qualifying – a full six-tenths faster in Q2, helping Ricciardo book his place in the final segment of qualifying as Ocon had to settle for 14th – but his race would last just 17 laps before he parked up with overheating problems. Nevertheless, the Honey Badger likes the cut of his Renault R.S.20’s gib, and will look to bounce back at the Styrian Grand Prix this weekend.

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    Come the end of Friday, you’d have said Sergio Perez was almost a dead cert to return to an F1 podium for the first time since Baku 2018, as he finished P3 in Free Practice 2, behind only the dominant Mercedes duo. So in the end P6 was a bit of an anti-climax for the Mexican, who lost out through his decision not to pit under the second Safety Car, making him something of a sitting duck in the latter stages of the race.

    READ MORE: 'Frustrating to see a podium slip away' says Racing Point boss after mixed Austria result

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    On a weekend where his team mate Norris performed superlatively, Carlos Sainz’s Austrian Grand Prix was still a more-than-decent performance. Although unable to match Norris’ pace in qualifying, Sainz was then incisive in the final stages of the race, as he climbed from his P8 starting position to finish fifth, and just three seconds behind his podium-scoring team mate on the road.

    READ MORE: More podiums possible for McLaren in 2020, reckons Sainz

    Missing out

    Lewis Hamilton not in the Top 10? Harsh? Perhaps, for the Briton looked mighty quick all weekend and might have won the race were it not for the Safety Car interventions. But our judges clearly were not impressed by his altercation with Alex Albon nor his yellow flag incident in qualifying, dropping him just enough points to see him drop out of the top 10. He’s set himself incredibly high standards by which to be judged...

    Twelve months since scoring his first points in F1 in Austria – and losing some hair as a result – Antonio Giovinazzi made the best of a disappointing weekend generally for Alfa Romeo to take P9, making good so far on his aim to score points in every race this year.

    The Italian sits just outside the top 10, along with AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat – while reigning champ Lewis Hamilton also couldn’t crack into the top echelon, having been outgunned across Saturday and Sunday by team mate Bottas.

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