Hamilton sets new records and leads the way
Lewis Hamilton set new records on track the most prolific winner and equalled Michael Schumacher’s seven world titles. The Englishman won ten races as well as finishing five race wins ahead of his teammate Valtteri Bottas.
This year I think Hamilton found his voice, starting with the non-race in Melbourne when he questioned whether there should have been a race with the way the world was changing and locking down as the pandemic spread.
He has also championed different causes, as we went to Melbourne much of the focus was on the bushfire crisis. The world champion donated a half a million dollars at the height of the crisis in January, this was before the scale of the unfolding pandemic was largely contained in China.
When we got to Melbourne, looking back not just that whole drama which unfolded through Thursday and Friday, he questioned whether the race should have gone ahead.
His next big statement came in May and June, following the death of George Floyd beginning campaigning passionately against racial injustice with a series of powerful statements on social media. He said in June he had “Vivid memories of the challenges I faced when I was a kid, as I’m sure many of you who have experienced racism or some sort of discrimination have faced.”
As the pandemic continued, he condemned the British governments handling, he said in June, “I’m appalled at the UK government on how they have handled Covid [-19]. You should have closed the borders [sic] two months ago. How you can let people fly in from countries without being tested is baffling.”
This year, he also launched Neat Burger in London a plant-based burger restaurant furthering his veganism and made his first foray into team ownership. Next year, X44 will be part of the first Extreme E season which begins in Dakar in January.
Despite all his off-track exploits, Hamilton appeared to be even stronger on track and I think made him into even more of a figure outside the sport. I still believe until he does retire, we cannot assess the full impact of Hamilton’s career, but 2020 is likely to be one of the defining ones of his career.
Coronavirus the defining feature
One of the stories which has shaped the sport this year has been of course the Coronavirus pandemic. The first race to be cancelled was China in February, when F1 arrived in Melbourne six members of McLaren tested positive for the virus.
That lead to the race first being postponed that was later followed by Bahrain, Vietnam, Dutch, Spanish, Monaco, Azerbaijan, Canada, France. The season got underway with a double header at the Red Bull Ring, of the ten postponed races only two took place in Bahrain and Barcelona.
The other races to be cancelled were Singapore, Japan, Mexico, the United States and Brazil. These races were replaced by classic old circuits the Nürburgring and Imola, which made for some exciting racing.
As most of Europe went into lockdown, so did F1 with the ‘summer break’ running between April and June, apart from supporting health services by manufacturing medical supplies. Innovation was evident, Mercedes developing a new ventilator with UCL, McLaren manufacturing trollies.
Meanwhile, what became an unofficial championship saw half the drivers take part in F1 eSports across seven races, with George Russell named as drivers champion. Also, drivers took on IndyCar, Not The GP, the 24 Hours of Le Mans all virtually.
One the season began, coronavirus saw a handful of cases in the paddock with Lewis Hamilton, Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez, as well as several backroom staff test positive for the virus throughout this year. Unlike Melbourne, we didn’t see races cancelled.
This week, McLaren announced it was giving up some of its office space in Woking to open an NHS community vaccination centre.
One of the most dramatic weeks in terms of news was in May when it was announced that Sebastian Vettel would leave Ferrari at the end of 2020. The dominos started to fall, Carlos Sainz moved to Ferrari, Daniel Ricciardo to McLaren, while Ricciardo’s replacement brought the return of Fernando Alonso.
Throughout 2020, the sport proved it could travel and give us a season with as safely as possible, when we left Melbourne we didn’t know when we would be back on track. F1 built a bubble system, with teams not being allowed to mix.
Mazepin incident dealt with says Haas
Haas says it has dealt with Nikita Mazepin’s “abhorrent” video internally and reaffirmed he will race for the team in 2021. A video posted on the Russian drivers Instagram account showed him inappropriately touching a woman in the back of a car earlier in the month.
A statement confirmed that Mazepin will drive alongside Mick Schumacher. The video appeared to show Mazepin inappropriately touch a woman in the back of a car in an incident that took place ahead of the 2020 F1 season finale in Abu Dhabi and was briefly uploaded to his Instagram account.
The statement read: “Haas F1 Team would like to reaffirm that Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher will form its driver line up for the 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship.
“As per the team’s previous statement regarding the actions of Nikita Mazepin (9 December), this matter has now been dealt with internally and no further comment shall be made.”
In a previous statement, Haas said it didn’t condone the “abhorrent” actions that could be seen in the video, while Mazepin moved to “apologise for my recent actions”.
Guenther Steiner, the Haas team boss told Motorsport.com that: “We take it very seriously, as you saw with what we sent out [in the statement]. I just want to reinforce that, that we will deal with it. I’m not going into detail on what we’ll do and how we’ll do it, but we take it seriously, and we will work to sort this out, what happened.”
Ferrari thinks a bad year will force compromise
Ferrari thinks only a ‘bad’ situation for the team next year will prompt it to compromise its aggressive focus on the new opportunities of Formula One’s 2022 regulation changes.
The Italian manufacture is coming off a disappointing season, openly admitting that it cannot expect to be fighting at the front next year. The team have set themselves a tough challenge for next year, based on the strength of their rivals, to finish third in the constructors.
However, team principal Mattia Binotto suggested that while Ferrari cannot have another dire season, it would be wrong to focus too much effort on 2021 at the price of not peaking in 2022
He explained to Motorsport.com, “I think 2022 will be more important than 2021, that’s because in 2022, we are opening a new technical era. And if you somehow already have a gap to be closed by the start of 2022, it will be more difficult on the following season.”
“So certainly I think that 2022 will be the top priority next year. [In terms of] developing the car, I think that eventually if we are doing some work on the 2021 [car], it’s only because eventually the situation is more bad than expected, or because some activities are required on the 2021 for learning in trying to do something better for 2022.”
Ferrari has already announced a new engine and hopes to create a less draggy car next year, still hoping of progress despite the focus on 2022, while still making progress next year. Binotto says Ferrari cannot accept another similar season to 2020.
He says the way they are developing the car, I’ve got some hope that the season can be better. But they will not know that until they are on the track and can compare themselves to others.
Ferrari’s tough 2020
Ferrari finished 2019 as the team believed to have thrown away the chance of a title, with the fastest car. However, a series of technical directives over the winter and changes to the technical regulations saw the team drop from challenging Mercedes to their worst finish in thirty years.
The team looked throughout the season to be firmly in the midfield and didn’t have the downforce or power to fight with Mercedes. The decision in May before the season began to not renew the contract of Sebastian Vettel.
When we started racing in July, it appeared throughout the season, that Charles Leclerc was the driver able to get more out of the car. Meanwhile, Vettel looked to struggle with the car. We saw the Monacan pull off some solid results, including podiums, Leclerc appeared to get the most out the car.
Ferrari admits that this isn’t going to be an easy fix, but the question we all forgot about when the pandemic began, was the settlement between the team and the FIA over what it was doing before the 2019 race in Austin. We still don’t know what it was doing, but it effected both Haas and Alfa Romeo.
But I think we saw a new Ferrari, reading Ross Brawn’s book the culture of Ferrari in the mid to late 1990s was for mass firings and that we have seen in modern times. I think they may have followed the McLaren model, of realising short term pain before building towards the
McLaren optimistic on F1 prospects
McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown believes that a revitalised team have all the “pieces of the puzzle” at their disposal to succeed again in F1 but must now put them together to be able to win again.
Three years after finishing ninth in the constructors, the British team returned to the top three after pipping Racing Point and Renault in the midfield battle to finish third in the constructor’s championship in Abu Dhabi.
The team has also announced a new investment from MSP Sports Capital as part of a deal that will see the US investors ultimately purchase 33 per cent of the team by the end of 2022.
Next year, the team will also return to Mercedes power and Daniel Ricciardo will join the team alongside Lando Norris. Asked by Sky Sports, if McLaren had the elements they needed to return to the front, Brown said, “I think we do have everything that we need. It’ll take time. Andreas Seidl has done an unbelievable job leading the Formula 1 team.”
“We’ve got two great drivers. We’ve got the Mercedes power plant. We’ve got fantastic men and women at the racetrack and back at the factory all building towards this race car to make it go as fast as possible.”
But Brown said that the team needed time for it to put the puzzle together, now it has all the pieces which it needed to put together.
The team believes with the introduction of the budget cap next year designed to level the playing field, McLaren is optimistic they are on the right path to ultimately competing at the front again.
Regulation changes delayed
Next year we were due to see the biggest changes in the technical regulations since the beginning of the turbo-hybrid era, however, these have been postponed due to the pandemic.
As a stop-gap measure, teams have agreed to cut downforce from there current cars by 20% as well as a token system to develop certain areas of the car. This I think is going to be an interesting experiment, we saw this year very competitive racing, that poses the question are we changing the regulations at right time?
Teams also aggreged to freeze large parts of next years cars, these changes I think will lead to another close season between the midfield teams. But we have said all season making that jump from the midfield into the top teams is the hardest one.
- A ban on developing the 2022 cars until 2nd January 2021
- A freeze on the chassis development in 2021
- The budget cap reduced from $175m to $145m, increasing by $1 every time a new race is added
- A reduction in downforce by 20%
- A limited number of changes for McLaren because of the switch to Mercedes power next year.
- A token system to introduce upgrades
The more general regulation changes not caused by the pandemic
- An additional power unit following the addition of Saudi Arabia, having a fourth PU
- Cars placed into parc ferme at the start of FP1 on Friday afternoon
- The maximum race time limit for red-flagged races reduced from four to three hours
- Drivers who are placed onto the wrong set of tyres, their teammates or mixed set, have up to two laps to correct the error before facing a penalty.
Highlights of 2020
While 2020 will be defined by Lewis Hamilton’s seventh title, and the record books will show domination by Mercedes in terms of points, wins and pole positions you could argue that in the midfield group there were some great battles.
Hamilton, also defined this year with his off-track causes, starting with the bushfires in Australia then the Black Lives Matter movement, and found his voice to criticise the British government’s handling of Coronavirus.
We saw Racing Point, McLaren and Renault all battling hard throughout the season for third in the constructors. Despite the legality of the Racing Point, I think it shows what a strong team they are, always maximising results.
One of the highlights of the season was Monza and the shock win for Pierre Gasly. Gasly was the first driver to win from outside Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull since Melbourne 2013. Also a hugely emotional win after the accident which killed Anthoine Hurbert at Spa last year.
Spa and the return to Imola were two of the most emotional weekends, going back to Imola in this strange season felt right given its mixed history. For this generation to pay tribute to Ayrton Senna was I feel important and one circuit they all enjoyed driving.
Mugello I think was a one-off, but one we will remember for a crazy afternoon with multiple accidents including the restart pile up. I think one of the lessons from this season, old venues have their value, and that we need to think about going forwards.
We have to mention Nürburgring, that was the race where Hamilton equalled Michael Schumacher before breaking the win record at Portimao. The quest for seven titles was still the overarching plot line for this incredible season, which at one point we didn’t believe would ever be equalled.
The end of family ownership
2020 also saw the departure of the Williams family from the sport, for the first time in F1 history there is no family directly involved in F1. In September we looked at triumph and tragedy of Sir Frank and his team…
Born during the war, Frank became hooked on racing at an early age but he soon found he wasn’t a great driver. He then found himself becoming a car dealer then a racing team in Formula Two before the pre-curser to the team entered F1 in 1969, buying a chassis from Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham.
In their second Grand Prix, the team finished on the podium and second in the US. As the team came to grow a shocking accident at Zandvoort left Piers Courage was killed after his car exploded after somersaulting off at Oost corner.
As the team reach rock bottom and the money dried up Frank would not give up on his dream. He sold his original team to Walter Wolf in 1976 before founding the current Williams team the following season.
Partnering with Sir Patrick Head the two men would build what is the most successful privateer teams in F1’s history. Based in a carpet warehouse the team managed to sign their first world champion Alan Jones and backing from Saudia.
This laid the foundations for the team to become major players in the sport, podium followed in 1978 and the following season the team took five wins. Jones then went onto secure the driver’s championship and the team back-to-back constructors in 1980.
Frank appeared to have everything he dreamed of, his life and future of the team would be placed in doubt following a car accident driving back from Paul Ricard in 1986. The Englishman crashed suffering injuries which left him paralysed but despite advised to turn off his life support, Lady Williams refused.
Frank returned to the sport, as the team won that and the following season’s drivers and constructors. Then would go on to dominate the sport and be a leading player through the 1990s.
Even attracting three times champion Ayrton Senna, but Senna and Frank’s dream would end with Senna’s accident at Tamburello at Imola in 1994.
Damon Hill in 1996 and Jack Villeneuve the following season remain the teams’ final champions. Since then, there have been brief spells of brilliants but despite being third in 2014 and2015 the team has found itself rooted to the bottom of the sport for the first time in their history.
The year ahead
Next year the hope is that we can have a ‘normal’ season, but like everything, this depends on the pandemic. You have to say, it’s possible that the lessons learned this year should allow us to navigate through the difficulties that restrictions caused by the coronavirus.
We need to watch the figures when we get annual financial results to understand what state the sport is in. Next year, the story I feel will be a continuation of the Lewis Hamilton breaking records, he will be chasing his eighth world title and the first driver to reach a century of wins.
Next year, the driver market will not be as dramatic next year with most of the drivers all being locked into deals. But we still waiting for confirmation of Hamilton remaining at Mercedes, that hasn’t got a hard timeline.
Can Mercedes finally be beaten? I think a lot depends on whether Red Bull can come out the box strongly before Portimao or Barcelona in the opening flyaway races.
We need to remember we are still in a pandemic and the situation continues to change. It means it hard to say what happens in just the next few months let alone a year, but it looks certain that the 2022 regulation changes will not be delayed further.
I have hope that we will see a full calendar, but we know that it is provisional and things will change with what’s going on with the pandemic.
In a week’s time Brexit, deal or no deal, will happen, teams though they remain muted throughout the last five years need to remember F1 is reliant on cross-boarder movement. This is because most teams have some if not all of their operations in the UK.
That’s it from us this year we are back on Monday 4th January 2021, from us all here at Formula One Vault a very happy but safe Christmas.