Let's overreact to the Austrian Grand Prix: Can McLaren become a regular podium contender in 2020?

The Austrian Grand Prix was as wild as any Formula One opener we've seen in recent seasons.

As with any curtain-raising event, it was easy to make some excitable, sweeping statements about the race. But are any of those claims actually legitimate?

Let's have a look at five of them.

Ferrari's biggest 2020 rival will be Racing Point

Charles Leclerc's second-place finish salvaged the weekend for Ferrari but he had spent most of the race mixing it with Racing Point and McLaren. Racing Point's pace during Friday practice had suggested it was third in the pecking order, but it dropped into a fight with Ferrari and McLaren for qualifying and the grand prix itself.


Making sense of F1's season opener - What happened to Ferrari?

Racing Point has clearly bridged the between the midfield and the traditional big three. Ignoring the slightly freakish race result, Austria was so encouraging for Racing Point in terms of raw pace.

By now you will know the Racing Point has been dubbed the 'pink Mercedes,' as the team based much of its 2020 car design on the 2019 world championship-winning car. The hype isn't for nothing. The Racing Point, which also boasts a Mercedes engine, is likely to be competitive all year and, by contrast, the 2020 Ferrari looks really bad by its usual standards -- Charles Leclerc's brilliant late charge to second flattered the SF1000 car.

Ferrari has responded to its obvious shortcomings by vowing to fast-track as many upgrades as possible for this Sunday's race. Complicating things for Ferrari is the freeze on engine development, a cost-saving measure prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, which will effectively lock in a lot of Ferrari's issues until the end of the year.

It's hard to predict a major step forward in performance, even if the Italian team's car is likely to go better at the Hungarian Grand Prix, the third race.

McLaren can consistently fight for podiums this year

While many half-expected Racing Point to be competitive, McLaren was the surprise package of the weekend. Lando Norris' podium was aided massively by the late drama of the race and Lewis Hamilton's time penalty, but the result was a fine reward for an impressive weekend.

The verdict: OVERREACTION...for now

McLaren looks to have continued its upward trajectory from last season, but it's hard to make this kind of statement on the basis of one race. Norris, especially, did a very good job of putting himself in a position to capitalise on everything that happened at the end, but Racing Point did not seem to maximise its own performance on Sunday.

What is clear is that, with Ferrari taking such a massive step back, podiums might be up for grabs at a few circuits this year. While the smart money would put Racing Point and Sergio Perez ahead of McLaren in the majority of instances Ferrari slips up, if McLaren can continue snapping at the heels of those two teams, it has a wonderful chance of a repeat podium in 2020.

Carlos Sainz has made a mistake leaving McLaren for Ferrari

McLaren was legitimately battling with Ferrari during the Austrian Grand Prix. During the race, Sainz overtook the man he will replace Ferrari next year, Sebastian Vettel.


It's a little early for a statement like that. It's always going to be a stretch for a driver to second-guess a move to motor racing's most famous team, even if Ferrari and McLaren were vying for the same on-track real estate throughout the weekend.

What is worth considering right now is how much of a step forward Sainz will be making by moving from McLaren to Ferrari in 2021. McLaren is trending upward in terms of its performance but there is no guarantee that will continue throughout the season. If he still finds his orange McLaren racing the red cars on merit later in the year, this question might start ringing in his head a little louder.

Haas has the worst car on the grid this year

Haas failed to get either of its cars to the finish of the race. Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean qualified ahead of Alfa Romeo and Williams, but both suffered race-ending brake issues.


While its pace wasn't too bad, the reason behind the team's double DNF seemed eerily similar to problems of the team's past. Haas struggled with brakes in 2017 before its breakout 2018 campaign, but last year it had a temperamental car it struggled to understand across the board.

This is not to say Haas is the worst car on the track at this point, but the opening weekend was enough to ring some alarm bells, as poor reliability can quickly overshadow the strengths of a car.

It is also worth considering the impact of the pandemic on F1's smallest team -- Haas is unable to commit to car upgrades until it knows how many races we will have across the year (we still only have eight events confirmed) and it can commit to budgets accordingly.

Adding to all that, the Ferrari-powered teams have all taken a clear step backward since the FIA's controversial engine settlement with the Italian manufacturer. All of these things combined seem like very bad news for F1's American team. Let's hope the Styrian Grand Prix this weekend gives us reason to second-guess this verdict.

'Bottas 3.0' is a championship contender

Valtteri Bottas starts the year as leader of the championship, with the biggest points advantage over Lewis Hamilton he's ever had. Despite the drama and chaos which unfolded around him, Bottas led every lap of the race from pole position for the win. It was as complete a victory as we've seen from the Finn so far and a perfect way to start his campaign.


Come on, we've been here before, haven't we?

It seems like every time Bottas gets his first win, there is some part of the internet ready to hype him as champion-in-waiting but it really is premature. No one doubts Bottas' raw pace; it's consistency that has been the Achilles' heel for the Finn. Bottas has never won two races in a row. What has held him back in previous years is a great result like Austria being followed up by a handful of difficult races. It's also worth noting Hamilton rarely has such an off weekend -- the key for Bottas is being that good on a weekend in which Hamilton is also at the very top of his game.

If Bottas manages to win again in Austria this weekend, it would still be too early to start calling him 2020 champion-elect, but it would be a sign that we might just have a new and improved Bottas on our hands this year.