Bottas disappointed to miss Australian GP through injury

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Valtteri Bottas made no secret of his disappointment on Sunday after being forced to miss the season-opening Australian Grand Prix due to a back injury.

During qualifying for the race on Saturday, Bottas sustained a minor tear to the annular part of a disc in his lower back, warranting a visit to hospital in Melbourne.

The Finn’s condition was monitored in the hours leading up to the start in Australia, but the FIA medical delegate made a final call that he would not be able to race on Sunday.

“I have done a lot of work since the issue with my back came in qualifying to get myself ready, starting treatment immediately, so the news that I couldn’t race today was obviously disappointing but I respect the decision,” Bottas said after the race.

“I now have two weeks until the next race to receive further treatment to ensure I will be back to full fitness and even stronger in Malaysia. I’m very eager to get back in the car and race because the FW37 is looking competitive and I’m confident we can fight for podiums.”

Bottas had been due to start the race from sixth place for Williams, but his DNS left teammate Felipe Massa fighting alone against Ferrari in the race to complete the podium behind the Mercedes drivers.

Massa eventually had to settle for fourth place after losing out to Sebastian Vettel in the one and only round of pit stops, but Williams’ head of vehicle development Rob Smedley was pleased not to have lost too much ground on the Italian team in Melbourne.

“It’s always difficult to compete with only 50% of your armoury with Valtteri having to miss the race, so today was about damage limitation in the constructors’ championship and we have managed to come away only a few points behind Ferrari which is a decent result,” Smedley said.

“The team worked very well as a unit all weekend; the pitstop was good and so was the work on the pitwall. We made a decision to pit early because Vettel was a bit quicker behind us, but unfortunately this didn’t pay off for us.

“We are in a really competitive battle with the teams around us so this race is a marker for the rest of the season. We need to continue improving the car and getting maximum performance from what is a strong package.”

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).