We analyse the main talking points from the first competitive session of the 2020 season after Valtteri Bottas beat Lewis Hamilton to pole position in Austria.
First blood to Bottas
As Lewis Hamilton's teammate, Valtteri Bottas has one of the toughest jobs in Formula One. Any victory over Hamilton, even by a margin as small as 0.012s as it was on Saturday, is huge, but always comes with the caveat that the man on the other side of the garage will come back even stronger. As a result, Bottas will know that he only has a fraction of the job done as he lines his Mercedes up on pole position tomorrow, but that shouldn't take away from an impressive lap.
It's not the first time Bottas has shown the pace to beat Hamilton in a straight fight over one lap, but in recent seasons it's been his consistency and his race performances that have been lacking. It seems he has been addressing his weaknesses during the break and there will be added satisfaction that his work in the simulator paid off on track.
"I finally managed to unlock some of the performance from myself and from the car for the one lap run," he said on Saturday. "There were certain corners I sometimes was getting right but, most of the times, I was just a bit off.
"It was just throughout the qualifying I managed to build some confidence, fund the areas where I was missing and managed to get some good laps, managed to put some pieces together.
"I really, really enjoyed it and I'm really surprised with the gap to the other teams."
Team boss Toto Wolff made a very good point that this is a track that has always suited Bottas and that the Finn was on an even faster lap before he spun off. But considering we'll be racing at this circuit again next weekend, there is a chance for Bottas to build some serious momentum with a good result tomorrow.
Based on Friday's long runs, Bottas looked faster than Hamilton on the soft tyres, but didn't seem to enjoy the medium compound as much as his teammate. There could be lots of reasons for that, not least a gearbox issue that brought his track time to an early end, but assuming he holds the lead at the end of the first lap, he won't be able to let up at any point.
Given the tone of Ferrari's media sessions this week, we were braced for them to be off the pace -- but what we weren't quite prepared for was just how bad the red team looked in qualifying. On Thursday Charles Leclerc said he was 99 percent sure the team had dropped off the pace with its new car, and with its first development package still two weeks away, it's not overstating the facts to say Ferrari's championship challenge is already in trouble.
While it has been Mercedes' closest rival over the past few seasons, Ferrari looked more like a scrappy midfield team just trying to get into the Q3 shootout on Saturday. It nearly saw both drivers fail to achieve that -- Sebastian Vettel had a scruffy lap and qualified 11th, just marginally behind Leclerc in 10th position in Q2. Leclerc could only improve to seventh in Q3, further highlighting how genuine the struggle is.
There was little from Friday's long-run data to suggest Ferrari will make a massive leap forward during the race, but Vettel seemed optimistic of an improvement from 11th at least.
"Of course it's a surprise, we thought that we had a little bit more in hand but it looks like the others were running more fuel a bit more conservative in practice," Vettel said. "I was not so happy with the -- car quite a bit more oversteer on entry than I would like -- but we'll see.
"I think tomorrow is a different picture. It's a long race. I think in race trim we are always better, and I think we'll be there to make up some ground and score some good points."
Can Red Bull challenge in the race?
For all Red Bull's preseason swagger, the car simply wasn't quick enough to challenge Mercedes over a single lap on Saturday afternoon. Max Verstappen's 0.5s gap to Bottas was a stark reminder that the world champions are as motivated as ever to continue to dominate F1 and that this year's Mercedes is dripping in innovation that goes far deeper than the attention-grabbing DAS system.
Over a race distance, it's possible that Red Bull will be closer, but the data from Friday practice gave little indication of a close battle. The one ace up Verstappen's sleeve is that he will start on the more durable medium tyres, while the Mercedes duo are locked into starting on the soft. Mercedes had the opportunity to do the same but passed it up.
"We are so sceptical always and [we are always wary] that there will be some kind of surprise coming from Red Bull because they are always good for a surprise," Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said after qualifying. "I think what they did in terms of the off-set strategy with the mediums, knowing probably that the raw pace wouldn't be enough for pole, is clever and with the increasing temperatures tomorrow, they can have a real go."
The Red Bull looked more comfortable on the mediums in Friday practice and if Verstappen can keep in touch with the Mercedes cars or get ahead at the start, it could put him in a position to attack towards the end of the race on the softs. The key will be keeping the pressure on and forcing Mercedes into a mistake.
McLaren steals Racing Point's thunder
On the basis of Friday's pace, Racing Point -- dubbed the 'pink Mercedes' during preseason testing for its cars likeness to the 2019 Mercedes -- looked to be a genuine front-running car. It wasn't a stretch to imagine the pink car would be mixing it with Red Bull in qualifying but that role instead fell to McLaren.
Lando Norris was the standout driver of qualifying, splitting the Red Bull drivers for 4th on the grid. The McLaren pace might have been a surprise but it would continue the upward trajectory the team appeared to be showing on track last season.
Norris said the team was surprised to have finished the session ahead of the Racing Point.
"I think we have our expectations of where we thought we wanted to be and from the very beginning the racing points have clearly been extremely quick," he said. "We never thought we'd be in a chance of beating them or getting close to them but as you went to lower fuel the car started to come alive and feel much better and this track last year was very good for us, we had good confidence in the car and it suits it.
"Yeah, you know hopefully the race tomorrow goes well and we have two weekends of this and hopefully we can repeat it as well."