Alonso hoping to mix things up in Russia

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Fernando Alonso is pinning his hopes of a good result in tomorrow’s Russian Grand Prix on “mixing it up” after a difficult qualifying session in Sochi.

The Spanish driver could only finish eighth in the final session on Saturday, one place ahead of Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen as the Italian team struggled to keep up with the Mercedes-powered cars ahead.

“Today’s qualifying was more difficult than usual,” Alonso admitted. “At least more complicated compared to the last two race weekends, when we had been able to fight with the front-runners.

“So far here, we have not been competitive, even though the car seems okay and on the setup front, we’ve changed almost nothing. We can’t single out any particular bad point because we are losing in all the sectors.

“The truth is just that the cars ahead of us were quicker.”

Alonso believes that an array of variable factors in tomorrow’s race could play in his favor, with a one-stop race on the cards at a track where track evolution has been constant.

“Here, the grip seems to improve with every lap and on top of that, reducing the pit lane speed to 60 km/h all points to a one-stop strategy,” he said.

“Even if the safety car could mix things up a bit, I think tomorrow, the start and the first corner could define the outcome of the race, and so we must prepare to tackle the early stages as well as possible.”

Alonso looks set to leave Ferrari at the end of the year to make way for Sebastian Vettel, but he will still be giving it his all in the final four races for the Italian marque as it continues to fight for third place in the constructors’ championship.

You can watch the Russian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 6:30am ET tomorrow.

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and 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.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).