It’s difficult casting one’s mind back to March when F1 was just wrapping up pre-season testing amid the usual murmurs from some drivers that they just don’t get much of a break these days as F1 seasons blend into one another.

At the time coronavirus was steadily working its way up the headlines before hitting them hard just as F1 had packed up and travelled to Australia for the traditional Melbourne opener in March. A few days later they were returning with no wheels turned and a general dissatisfaction over how the whole (expensive) affair unfolded.

That episode made indecisive F1 look foolish at the time, but back then we didn’t quite grasp the concept of the season opener being cancelled much less believed it would be months before we could get back to some normality.

So here we are ready to welcome another new season… albeit in July. In Austria. With no fans. It’s going to be a memorable one whatever happens!

 

 

An intense, wild, compact season to fire up F1 title fight?

‘It’s too early to tell’. It’s the mantra of most drivers when asked where they think they feature in the hierarchy heading to the opening round, but the term has never felt more real than it does right now

In many ways, the European setting and mid-summer date has the inadvertent effect of making this season opener feel a little low key even before you steal yourself for echoing engine sounds against a backdrop of empty grandstands. In short, this is ‘new normal’ hoisted upon us but – like everything else in recent months – it is what it is.

On the plus side, we couldn’t confidently put money on any team coming out on top (though Ferrari has gone to surprising lengths to rule itself out…) while wet weather forecasts threaten to throw in another curve ball.

Coupled with what promises to be a shorter season where mistakes and misfortune could prove more critical than ever, cynics may argue F1 2020 won’t be a ‘proper’ season but it will call upon different strengths of the teams to ensure reliability and consistency are infallible.

Stage set for Red Bull to get the early edge over Mercedes

If it was down to Red Bull to decide where to kick off the 2020 F1 World Championship season it would be the Red Bull Ring, and not just because it has its name is above the door (though one can assume why and how Austria was first in the queue to do so with a double header).

History has shown it takes Red Bull some time to get into its groove as it fully understands its creation that year, but it’s a timeframe that could have been taken entirely away depending on how confident the team is with its pre-season upgrades.

With the Honda-Red Bull project now showing McLaren exactly what it is now missing and Verstappen arguably the closest match for Hamilton pound-for-pound, Red Bull will see the first three rounds (two in Austria, one in Hungary) as a prime opportunity to deal its rivals a rare early blow to quell its notorious momentum thereafter.

The fight for equality... and new liveries

It's not unusual for F1 to be internally political but it's rare for it to respond so formidably to shifts in society though this appears to be more of a Liberty Media trope than anything we would have expected during the Bernie Ecclestone era (as his recent comments seemed to prove...)

Whats important for F1 now is to follow through on its initiative and not allow it to be hushed as it returns to its day-to-day job of F1 racing. To help keep their eyes on the prize both Mercedes and McLaren have tweaked their liveries for 2020 to reflect their commitment to the cause, while Hamilton's new status as a passionate and articulate mouthpiece for the global fight against racism adds an interesting dynamic to his skillset.

Drivers face up to the tough questions again… almost

While the news that the majority of the media (basically anyone that isn’t television) aren’t permitted to attend events at this stage didn’t come as a surprise it does leave us a little mournful that the first turns of 2020 will be sliced, diced, analysed from the sofa while debating if that was avoidable contact with the dog, rather than soaking up the buzz right in the heart of the action.

Nonetheless, teams have been proactive in joining the video conferencing revolution, which allows us invite the likes of Hamilton, Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen into our homes essentially… I should probably tidy up a bit.

Having been able to duck a volley of questions during lockdown, this weekend will be the first chance to learn more about why Sebastian Vettel is leaving Ferrari and get a clearer indication over whether he will remain in F1 next year.

We’re just waiting for the moment a driver has had enough of chatting to the media for one day and either mutes us or just ends the meeting at the tap of a button. Like we say, ‘new normal’…

A test of a driver’s mettle and focus

Perhaps the most interesting factor this weekend will be seeing which drivers can hit the ground running straight away. It’s a long time to go without engaging in the punchiness of a weekend and they won’t have long to get right back up to speed in Austria this weekend.

While some have completed some refresher testing in old cars or completed some filming days, there are others that will be sitting in a car for the first time since March.

Moreover, the challenge is accentuated by the venue with the Red Bull Ring one of the shortest tracks on the calendar leading to some of the tightest timesheets of the year. In short, errors are to be expected as the rust shakes off, but each mistake will count harder…

F2 and F3 grab a share of the limelight

Almost forgotten amid the chaos of cancellations and rearrangements, this weekend will also see the Formula 2 and Formula 3 Championships kick off alongside F1 complete with the 18-inch rims that will be employed by F1 in future

It’s going to be a trying year for the next generation as the shorter season means most they have less of a chance to be spotted by the higher powers.

In F2, the (fan) favourite is Mick Schumacher Jr, who will look to mirror what he achieved in F3 by overcoming a modest rookie season to march towards the title in the following year. His biggest returning rivals are arguably Luca Ghiotto, driving for incoming entrants Hitech Grand Prix, and Jack Aitken who remains with Campos Racing, while the experienced 2017 runner-up Artem Markelov is always a threat at HWA Racelab.

There is a bevy of intriguing rookies lining up too with highly rated reigning F3 champion Robert Schwartzman tipped for the top, together with fellow Ferrari junior Marcus Armstrong and Renault protégé Christian Lundgaard.

Meanwhile, British driver Dan Ticktum will look to put a controversial rise through the ranks behind him as he prepares to lead DAMS’ assault this year.

 

Comments

Loading Comments...