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Rosberg tops opening Austrian GP practice for Mercedes

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Nico Rosberg sent out an early warning shot to his rivals in Austria by topping the first practice session at the Red Bull Ring on Friday morning for Mercedes.

Rosberg posted a fastest lap time of 1:07.373 to beat Mercedes teammate and championship rival Lewis Hamilton by three-tenths of a second at the checkered flag.

The session saw drivers get to grips with the newly-resurfaced Red Bull Ring, which is also sporting a number of new kerbs and a revised pit entry for the weekend.

Despite locking up and running wide on a handful of occasions, Rosberg’s best time was enough to defeat Hamilton, the Briton unable to respond during the 90-minute session.

Hamilton suffered a spin at Turn 3 that led to a brief Virtual Safety Car period, with Romain Grosjean also going off-track as he arrived at the scene.

The only other stoppage came when Max Verstappen suffered a suspension failure, having also lost part of his front wing after running over the new kerbs earlier in the session.

Sebastian Vettel finished as the best of the rest for Ferrari, ending the session six-tenths of a second off Rosberg at the top of the timesheets. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen followed two-tenths further back in P4.

Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth for Red Bull, while teammate Verstappen still ended the session eighth in spite of his damage. Newly-re-signed Carlos Sainz Jr. charged to sixth for Toro Rosso ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa, while their respective teammates – Daniil Kvyat and Valtteri Bottas – rounded out the top 10 behind Verstappen.

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.

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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).