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Force India focused on continuing its form in Austria

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Since its relatively lackluster start with only eight points achieved from the first four Grands Prix, Sahara Force India has been on a roll since the start of the traditional European season in Spain, having banked 51 points and two podiums from Sergio Perez in the last three races.

They’ve vaulted back to fifth in the Constructor’s Championship as a result, with the upgrades that debuted at Barcelona proving positive.

The team remains focused on 2016 despite talks that the focus could shift to its 2017 package instead. At 31 points back of Williams, fourth is not an unachievable target for the Silverstone-based team.

“There has been a lot of talk about the team switching focus to 2017, but this doesn’t mean we won’t be strong for the rest of 2016,” team principal Vijay Mallya said in the team’s pre-race release. “There is a lot of performance still to be extracted from our current package and I am confident we can put on a good show in the races to come. Having scored two podiums in three races, we’ve got a taste for success and I would like to see us pick up more silverware before the end of the year.”

Perez, who now sits eighth in the Driver’s Championship, has been quick at Austria before and could well continue his run of form this weekend.

“I am still smiling about the podium we scored in Baku,” he said. “It was an amazing weekend for us. We got the calls right; we executed our race plan perfectly and we finished in the top three on merit. I feel very proud of my team and I think it was one of my most competitive races in Formula One. It wasn’t a completely smooth weekend with the gearbox penalty pushing us backwards on the grid, but we were able to overcome the difficulties, which made it an even sweeter result.

“I travel to Austria on a high and determined to deliver another strong result. This race is one of my favourites because the track is nice to drive and I enjoy the atmosphere with the fans camping around the circuit. There are lots of elevation changes and some challenging corners: you cannot make mistakes in any of them or it will cost you a lot of time on the straights. It’s also a short lap so the gaps between the cars are always very small and that makes for a very tight grid.”

Nico Hulkenberg, meanwhile, will look to emulate or better his sixth place result in Austria last year as he looks to get ahead of Perez this weekend.

“I love racing in Spielberg and it’s a great addition to the calendar,” he said. “The backdrop to the track, with the Alps, is spectacular, and there is an old school vibe to the circuit, which I enjoy. The atmosphere is very relaxed and lots of German fans make the short trip over the border so it almost feels like a home race for me.

“We look strong coming to Austria but we’re not taking anything for granted. The track is fun and it has a very nice flow, but it can easily catch you out, especially the last few corners, which are quite technical. I had a great race in Austria last year and have a good feeling about this weekend. The car is working well and we’ve taken a big step forward since the start of the year so there is the potential for another good result.”

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

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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).