The whole pandemic has thrown a huge curveball into the world of Formula 1. There has never been a season like it before, and probably won’t be one again. Expect to be surrounded by phrases such as ‘unprecedented’, ‘first time in F1 history’, and ‘unforeseeable’. There is uncertainty on an unprecedented level (there it is already). Never, for instance, have we started a season three months late, and not knowing where and when it will finish.
So, why will this make the season more interesting than most? Why is this the year you should watch F1?
Unique Things You’ll Probably Never See in Another Season
It’s worth tuning in to see things you’ll probably never be able to see again; for instance, spectatorless races and ‘double-headers’: returning to the same track within a single F1 season, a first for the sport. How will these elements affect the racing? No one really knows. Speaking of which…
Some people cope with change and instability better than others. We all know someone who was adamant that they wanted to live in the Alaskan outback with nothing but a book and an axe, and then Corona came along and after four days of bars they never went to being closed and lockdowns being enforced, they’re stomping around their house in whiskey-stained underwear shouting into Zoom…right? Maybe that’s just me. Anyway, sure these drivers are professionals, but they are human too; who knows how a three-month enforced delay to racing has affected them, together with the instability of not knowing how long the season is or how many races they’ll be competing in? Similarly, weekend protocols have been changed slightly, without pre-race ceremonies and with slightly altered timing to get cars prepared and on the grid. The drivers who can adapt fastest and are not thrown by these changes will do better and there is no real way of knowing who that will be.
Missing Drivers and Teams
There is still a global pandemic going on. To minimise infection, teams are working in bubbles and sub-bubbles within team bubbles, minimising contact with other competitors and the media. If someone tests positive for Covid-19, all those who have had contact with them—potentially the whole team—will be then undergo testing. Test results take 24 hours to be returned and in that time those people are not allowed to compete. So, we have the possibility of a whole team being forced to miss 24 hours of a race weekend; depending on the timing this could be anything from a kick in the balls of missing a practice session to, potentially, losing a championship due to having to miss a race.
How many people would watch a soap opera that was on once a fortnight? Not many. There is a reason they are on regularly, several times a week: to keep audiences engaged and the storylines fresh in their minds. Without regularity, people would forget who the characters were, what was going on, and would soon become distracted by the overwhelming purposelessness and emptiness of their own existence. Sport is similar! The longer we have between races, the easier it is to forget what is happening: ongoing rivalries, reoccurring technical issues or driver disputes on track for instance.
With eight races in ten weeks, all the events, battles, comings together, rivalries, recurring tactics, actions and manoeuvres should all be fresh in your mind. And, even better, fresh in the driver’s minds…
Time and space are great healers. With races so close both temporally and geographically, we have a real chance for drama from one race to spill over into the next. Imagine being knocked out of a race by a driver at turn one; annoying! Now imagine being knocked off by the same driver, at the same turn, on the same track a week later! Infuriating! Without the time between races to leave incidents in the past, they may become more personal and affect the way two drivers approach one another, be it more cautiously or aggressively, and potentially sow the seeds of future rivalry and resentment.
Another first for F1 history are double-headers: where we return to the same track within a single season. Firstly, in Austria (on the 5th and 12th of July) and then Britain (races four and five on the 2nd and 9th of August). It hasn’t happened before so we can’t know what will happen, but other motorsports do run multiple races at the same circuit, often leading to competitive racing, as teams and drivers utilise knowledge gained about the competitors in the first race to their advantage in the second one. It could also really boost momentum, winning two races in a row.
With each race counting for more this season, if a car or driver struggles to perform at one of these tracks it could seriously hamper their championship.
Each Race Really Counts
F1 normally has at least twenty races a season, where each one would account for a maximum of 5% of that season. With eight races, each one counts for 12.5%. A few dud results could see your chances of the championship over, even for the likes of Hamilton. Two technical failures, two crashes and that is 50% of your season gone! So, any small event could have huge repercussions. Ok, it is highly likely more races will be added to this season, meaning the individual races become less important, but until then the drivers have to treat it as an eight race all-or-nothing dash to the championship. They need to go for it, and go for it they will!
Rivalries and On-Track Action
All drivers in F1 are good; they wouldn’t be there otherwise. Rivalries really take shape when there are drivers in similarly performing cars going up against each other regularly.
Hamilton versus Verstappen
Lewis Hamilton: natural talent, combined with years of experience and an unbridled desire to win, makes him the most formidable F1 driver we have possibly ever seen. One of the greatest F1 drivers of all time.
Max Verstappen: touted as future multiple world champion. Fierce and aggressive in his driving and certainly doesn’t see why anyone should be in front of him, not even the greatest of all time. They are the most talked-about guys in F1, both at the top of their game, but they’ve not really gone head to head that much…yet. This is the year Verstappen will take it to Hamilton.
Verstappen versus Leclerc
Verstappen is not the only future world champion; enter Charles Leclerc. Incredibly fast and able to quickly adapt his style, the Ferrari driver could throw a spanner in the works for both Verstappen and Hamilton’s championship hopes. It seems that Ferrari will not be as competitive as Hamilton’s Mercedes or the Red Bull of Verstappen, but if there is one driver on the grid who can outperform a car and push it to results higher than its outright pace, it is undoubtedly this guy. Expect 2020 to be filled with many of the on-track battles between Leclerc and Verstappen which enthralled us during the 2019 season and cemented them as the rivalry of the next generation of F1.
Mid-Grid Battles or ‘The Best of the Rest’
Mercedes are the team to beat, while Red Bull and Ferrari are the teams on Mercedes’ tail. Behind those three teams is always a fascinating fight in the middle of the pack; this year it will involve particularly exciting talent. Daniel Riccardo, the best over-taker out there, with Estaban Ocon, future Mercedes world champion, are both driving for Renault this year. There is also the blooming bromance of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, two amazing drivers who have helped re-energize the previously faltering Mclaren team, and Racing Point, whose car is heavily influenced in design and aerodynamics by the 2019 Mercedes championship-winning car. This is where there’s going to be some major action.
Albon: With Verstappen in the spotlight, Red Bull’s other driver often gets overlooked but has proved himself more than capable and quick to adapt after a midseason promotion to the team in 2019. Can he take it to Verstappen? This is the year we find out. My prediction: yes!
Vettel. Current Ferrari driver. We know he will not be returning to the Maranello outfit for the 2021 season. With the weight of expectation lifted from him, I expect to see much more competitive drives from Vettel. He is also a driver infamous for ignoring team orders—where a driver is asked to do something which may compromise their individual race result, for the greater good of their team or teammate. If Vettel would ignore these orders when he was invested in a team, why on earth would he adhere to them without a future at that team? Spoilers, he won’t! This could make for all sorts of interesting and awkward situations.
Where were you when Hamilton beat Schumacher’s race win victories? When he equalled Schumacher’s record of seven championships? Where were you when Mercedes won an unprecedented seven championships in a row? To reach the pinnacle of a sport is in and of itself an achievement, with all aspects of that team working harmoniously: driver, engineers, mechanics, strategists, management. To reach this and maintain it for six straight championships is unprecedented. To witness a seventh is incredible. So, spoilers, it is Mercedes’ and Hamilton’s championship to lose really, but, if they do the enormity of that upset will go down as F1 legend. So, you’re watching F1 history in the making either way; win-win!
So, now that you’re hooked, here’s where to find the action and the first race of the season.
Austrian Grand Prix: Sunday 5th July
USA: Live on ESPN. Show begins at 8am ET, race starts at 9:05am ET.
UK: Live on Sky F1. Show begins at 1pm, race starts at 2:10pm
Highlights on Sky One 6pm and Channel Four at 6:30 pm.
Catch up on last year’s race in Austria and see what you’re missing.