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Pierre Gasly salvaged a strong result at an otherwise luckless 2020 Formula One season opener for Honda, finishing seventh on a day where both Honda-powered Aston Martin Red Bull machines saw legitimate chances for podium finishes ended prematurely at the Austrian Grand Prix.
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Gasly used a one-stop strategy to navigate a wild final 20 laps around the Red Bull Ring, gaining positions as others stopped for tires during two late-race safety car periods, and held off Esteban Ocon to earn six points in the first race for the new Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda.
But that was the extent of the good fortune for the quartet of Honda drivers on Sunday. Two-time defending Austrian GP winner Max Verstappen seemed poised to extend his Austrian streak to three, running comfortably behind eventual race winner Valtteri Bottas before being felled by an electrical issue on Lap 11. Gasly’s AlphaTauri stablemate Daniil Kvyat had a points-paying day in his sights after a late tire change when contact with Ocon left him with a broken front wing and a punctured left rear tire, ending his day four laps short of the finish.
Unfortunately the standard bearer for bad luck on Sunday was Verstappen’s Aston Martin Red Bull teammate Alex Albon. Starting from his career-best fourth position on the grid, the second-year driver was running a strong third when fortune appeared to break his way on Lap 51.
George Russell’s stricken machine brought out a safety car, and the team quickly changed to soft tires during the slow period, getting new tires while only losing one spot on the track. Albon made quick work of Sergio Perez at the Lap 55 restart, climbing into third just as the safety car was called out again when Kimi Raikkonen lost a front wheel.
When the race restarted with 10 laps to run, Albon trailed only the Mercedes duo of Bottas and Lewis Hamilton – both of whom were on much older tires. Albon needed just two turns to get alongside Hamilton, but just as was the case in the penultimate race of 2019 when they collided in a similar situation, Hamilton made contact as Albon was completing his pass for second place, spinning the Thai driver and ending his podium hopes.
For his part, Hamilton was given a five-second penalty for initiating the contact, which dropped him to fourth place. Albon was able to get back in the hunt for a points-paying finish before he was stopped four laps shy of the finish by a power unit issue similar to Verstappen’s.
Due to the new schedule created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the teams will get the rare opportunity to run at the same track again next week, as the series will run in Austria again next Sunday before heading to Hungary for Round 3.
Technical Director, Honda F1
The first race of the season ended with three of our cars retiring, which is disappointing. So the only positive is that Gasly drove well to give AlphaTauri some points in their first race. For Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, Verstappen was going well from second on the grid, until he had to retire due to an electrical issue. Albon was very unlucky to lose second place in the last few laps, but he was still fighting for points until he also had to retire, due to a suspected (Power Unit) electrical issue. At the moment, we are investigating the causes of the two failures. We stay here in Austria for the second round next weekend and in the limited time available we will analyze our data and take countermeasures to ensure we perform more reliably in Round 2.
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda
Start 2nd, Finish: DNF
“I’m not quite sure what happened yet, we’ll investigate and find out but of course that’s not how you want to start the season. I had a good start, unlike last year, and quite early on I could see that Valtteri was quick so fighting for the win was always going to be a big challenge. I think it would have been an easy podium and third would have been a decent start to the season but what can you do? It is a shame for everyone who worked so hard to get us here this weekend but we will just focus on next week and hope for something better.”
Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda
Start: 12th, Finish: 7th
“It felt amazing to get back racing after such a long break and I think we started the season with a really exciting race. If someone had told us that we would have been P7 on Sunday we would have signed straight away, so I think we can be very happy with my result after a difficult start to the weekend. We knew the race was going to be a challenge because the Renaults, McLarens and Racing Points are very strong, but I had some good fights on track and managed to stay out of trouble until the end. It was a really good one for us today!”
Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda
Start: 13th, Finish: 12th
“The race was going really well for me until the contact with (Esteban) Ocon, I had a very good pace and fresher tires. After the collision, my front wing and a suspension broke, I also had a puncture, so my race was over. This moment cost me a lot of points today, so it’s very disappointing to finish the day like this. Today it could have been a very strong race for me.”
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda
Start: 4th, Finish: 13th
“There’s nothing to add apart from how frustrating that is. I really think we could have easily won that race. We had a great strategy, the guys did a great job in the pit stops, yes we had a little bit of fortune with the Safety Car, but the car was feeling good. I knew the Mercedes would have cold tires on the re-start, so I already planned to get past them within a few laps of the Safety Car coming in. I feel like I had completed the move on Lewis (Hamilton) already, and I was thinking about getting Bottas on the next lap. The contact with Lewis was so late in the corner that it surprised me. I was right on the edge of the track and I knew if I gave him all the space I could it would be up to him if he wants to crash or not. This time I was the one on the attack and he was defending. I wouldn’t say this one hurts more than Brazil but that incident was maybe 50/50 whereas this one isn’t. Obviously we’ve got next weekend to focus o