We’re about two months away until Formula 1 sees track action for the first time in 2020 at Albert Park in Melbourne – and there’s plenty of excitement in the air as we inch closer to the start date. There’s been plenty of talk about driver changes, which team stands a better chance and the amendments to the rules. As we get ready to usher in a new decade of F1 history, let’s take a look at how the early pre-season goss is shaking the tree.
A small but important change is how a race will finish. Electronic chequered flags were used in 2019 and proved effective for the most part. However, there was enough dissatisfaction with the system to revert back to using the traditional waved flag for 2020. Pre-season testing days have been reduced in number, down to six from eight. The location will be Spain’s Barcelona and will be held across two weekends in February, the 19th to 21st and 26th to 28th.
A change to the regulations also mandates that teams must use one of the younger drivers, a driver with two or fewer GP starts, at the end of season Abu Dhabi tests. There’s been a change to how many hours team mechanics must work, too, on Thursdays and Fridays, with a now mandatory nine hours instead of eight away from the garages and track location. This means a mechanic can get some extra shut-eye.
There’s a very minor visual change to the rear of the two cars in a team and perhaps a nod towards changes for 2021 designs. A very small “shark fin” plate must be added which will allow for a number to be added. The intent is to provide visual cues for fans to better identify which driver they’re looking at. The fans also have a win when it comes to pre-season testing, with security screens now effectively banned from blocking the view of the brand new cars at pre-season tests. However, screens can be used if a car is being recovered from a crash or if the car’s floor hasn’t been fitted.
Penalties of a sort will be more discretionary. Jumped starts will now be either a five or ten-second penalty and decided by the stewards, rather than a mandatory drive-through or a ten-second time penalty. Weighbridge penalties such as that handed to Pierre Gasly when he missed the visual signals to be weighed after a Free Practice session are now also discretionary.
2019 saw quite a few tyres delaminate after contact with the endplates of the front wing. Carbon fibre for the first 50mm (two inches) of the endplates is now mandatory, replacing the metal structure, with the hope that these will break off rather than rip into the fragile rubber. Drivers will also have more control over the driveline at the race start. 90% of the engine’s torque will be controlled by the driver’s command on their clutch paddle or paddles and these now must be pull-type paddles. When it comes to power units, three MGU-K units will be made available and equalling the engines, turbos, and heat generator units that teams can use. This seems a fair change as almost half of the field exceeded their MGU-K allocation in 2019.
Finally, F1 sees a new circuit and a return to a classic venue. Hanoi in Vietnam will host the country’s first-ever F1 race and it’s a big one. 5.6 kilometres is the total length and features a mammoth 1.5 kilometre long straight. Holland’s Zandvoort track has been revised to cope with modern F1 cars and has been brought back to the calendar for the 2020 Formula 1.
Storylines to Watch
When it comes to the drivers, 2020 could see mid-season shuffling. Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari contract expires at the end of this year and it’s been his seat that has generated the most buzz. Charles Leclerc has been confirmed beyond 2020, as has Max Verstappen at Red Bull as he’s signed until 2023. Lewis Hamilton has already declared he will be better in 2020 than 2019, which could be taken as a hint he’s having no interest in leaving Mercedes after 2020. Step up, Daniel Ricciardo, as the Australian’s Renault contract expires at the end of 2020 and he’s the driver best poised to move to Ferrari. His Italian heritage and language abilities already make him a good fit for the team. As a teammate to Leclerc, he’d also be a great match.
Vettel himself has yet to declare his intentions; if 2020 goes well it’s been said he’ll sign for at least another season with Ferrari. Should things go awry, it’s been mooted he may call time on a career that has slowly wound down in recent times anyway. Valterri Bottas is the other key part of this equation; Mercedes will be keen to see the likeable Finn up his game in 2020 and if they deem his season to be sub-par then a door covered in silver may be open for Ricciardo. He and Hamilton are good friends and get along famously away from the track.
Hamilton celebrated his 35th birthday recently and is now one of the older drivers in the F1 circus. He’s declared that he will be a machine in 2020 and has some goals in mind to further cement himself in history. One goal is to win another championship which will have him equal Michael Schumacher’s tally of seven. Should Hamilton hold the crown aloft at the end of 2020 he’ll also have won four championships in a row. 2019 saw the Briton win 11 races; he now sits just seven adrift of Schumacher’s total race count. And should he score points in Melbourne he’ll break his own consecutive race count for pints scored and currently sitting at 33.
The first race for the 2020 Formula 1 will be held in Melbourne, the vibrant capital of Victoria on Australia’s lower south-east. It’s the weekend of March 12th to 15th, with Sakhir, Hanoi, and Shanghai the following rounds.