Formula One marks its seventy season, it is shaping up to be a year of drama with many stories on the track. One where we don’t know how its and where it will end due to the pandemic.
Mercedes have dominated Formula One since the beginning of the hybrid era, I believe it’s unlikely unless Red Bull or Ferrari can hit the ground running really well, they can be toppled. The first four to five races I believe is key to any championship when the championship can be decided if a team wins all five.
Ferrari needs a good season; they have gone more than a decade without a title for the first time in the team’s history. The team’s story will be shaped I feel again by the Charles Leclerc / Sebastian Vettel rivalry. We now know that Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season, you have to wonder what that will do to the team shifting focus to Ferrari.
The team will want to win in Budapest as that marks their 1,000th Grand Prix, however, based on testing the team has admitted they are going to be behind. Unless during the limited time they had appeared to be behind Mercedes and Red Bull.
With such a long break between testing and the racing beginning, you have to believe that all the teams will bring the ‘spec 3’ cars to Austria. But that then poses the question has this long break giving the teams the chance to over-develop the car which will not deliver on the track.
Of course, this 2020 season has been shortened into a up to nineteen race calendar, although we need a minimum of eight races for a championship, due to the coronavirus. This means that every race is going to be more important as any mistakes will mean there will be fewer opportunities to recover from them.
This is going tough season, all the teams and drivers are admitting up to eighteen races in six months it is going to be mentally and physically demanding. If we have double and triple headers, which is almost definite, this is going to impact the racing.
Some drivers will benefit from a shorter season, some believe that Max Verstappen can mount a sustained challenge to Hamilton across the season. But this championship will have a different feel, those who normally have a good start tend to keep going.
The central plotline for 2020 was always going to be centred on Hamilton’s quest to equal Michel Schumacher, I think not knowing how many races will happen it means Hamilton needs to be giving it everything at every race.
You need to ask, what will happen when the drivers do get back in the car as they will have not raced these cars in six-seven months and not driven these new cars since Barcelona testing. You then have to ask those drivers to have been taking part in eSport events have the upper hand.
However, you need to believe that the top teams will still be the top teams, but the question is whether in the midfield the teams close up during the season. We have seen in recent years the likes of McLaren, Racing Point, Renault and Alpha Tauri be very close and often get closer in the latter part of the season.
The mid teams I think can be a headache for the big teams as everyone is going to be under extra pressure, the chance to close that gap is going to be limited. Based on testing, you need to believe that there is still the gap between the midfield and top teams.
I see the main midfield battle being between McLaren and Renault, McLaren appeared to have a good car last season and in testing. The question is how much they will close the gap to the top teams, as we head into this season.
You cannot count Racing Point out either they normally bring a solid car, but last year you had I feel the hangover from the administration in 2018. This car they have built was inspired by last years Mercedes, we know going into Melbourne that there were going to be a potentially going to see a protest about legality.
Normally we see once we normally get to the first European race which of the teams are beginning to pull away from the other teams. But there are so many unknowns going into this season, we have largely stable regulations and that may mean the field remains level.
During the prolonged break in the spring, we had major driver movements with the Vettel decision to spilt with Ferrari, Carlos Sainz going to Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo to McLaren. This means, assuming Red Bull and Mercedes remain the same, the other midfield drivers need to make an impact early on, as silly season has already started.
With ‘the European season’ being at the start of the year and nearly all the races being doubleheaders it means developing the car is going to be difficult. Until we get back to Barcelona in late August, it will be hard to see what progress the teams have made.
The other thing is that because of Coronavirus these cars are largely going to be carried over to 2021, so we won’t have this switch to next years car in the latter part of the season. This could be interesting as it could create even create a closer battle in the midfield, there is that extra inventive for drivers to perform well with Mercedes still yet to lock in drivers.
This season is going to be very important as these cars are the baseline for this and next seasons, I think it will be interesting to see how the development war pans out into Barcelona Testing next year. The next two seasons are going into an unknown we could get closer racing into 2021.
This season appears to be a step into the unknown, but for many, it will certainly be a season to remember when we review the season…
Join us for full coverage of the Austrian Grand Prix starting Monday with the Prixview