Formula 1 finally saw a rescheduled series get underway at the Red Bull Ring in Austria in July 2020. Three races have been run and done, and there’s a weekend off before the series restart at the legendary Silverstone circuit in England that runs from the end of July to beginning of August. There’s already talking points for the drivers, controversy for the teams and the cars, and still a measure of uncertainty over the second half of the year.
With the originally scheduled starting round in Melbourne shut down with little notice, angering many at the Albert Park site and around the world, the series went into a form of hibernation whilst frantic work behind the scenes saw regulation and design changes postponed, drivers left wondering, and a drastically restyled race weekend with no crowds allowed. With some breathing room before the next race, let’s take a look at the situation.
They’ve shown the other nine teams just how it should be done. A win to Valtteri Bottas to open the season, followed by a pair of wins to Lewis Hamilton sees the Silver Arrows (in their new black livery) well ahead of the field. To rub dirt in the faces of the others, Hamilton finished over eight seconds ahead of second place at the Hungaroring and close to fourteen seconds ahead of second (Bottas) at the second Red Bull Ring event.
Practice and qualifying have also been largely faultless, with the team sending out their cars and drivers as slickly as can be. Although both drivers are off contract at the end of the year, it’s expected that Hamilton will continue and likely, yet not confirmed, that Bottas will do the same.
Max Verstappen continues to knock on the door of greatness, with dogged drives, increasing maturity, and genuine ability on the track. Partnered with Alexander Albon, who also shows real promise after a step up from Toro Rosso (aka AlphaTauri in 2020), the Red Bull team continues to niggle and harass the Mercedes drivers.
The pair finished 3rd at 4th in the second Red Bull Ring event, the Styrian F1 GP, after an indifferent start in the Austrian GP with Verstappen failing to finish and Albon outside the top ten. In Hungary, they were 2nd and 5th, with Albon showing nerves of steel at times as he was pressured by Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez, and Lance Stroll. Should the form continue they’ll be in a prime position to challenge for the Constructors’ Championship.
Far from being in the best of the worst, the team’s luster has nonetheless faded over the last eighteen months. Sebastian Vettel finished 5th at the Hungarian GP but a lap down, such was the dominance of Mercedes. The yet to be signed for 2021 driver, with rumors of moving to Racing Point as yet only rumors, hasn’t had a great start to his final season with the Prancing Horse.
He was soundly thumped by his teammate, Charles Leclerc in race 1, with a 10th vs 2nd for Leclerc, the embarrassing dual DNFs at the Styrian GP, and saw Leclerc to an 11th at Hungary. There are signs that all is not well in Ferrari, so a break may just be the reinvigoration required.
Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo have proven, their short three-race teammate situation, to be a viable team. It’s been the engines that have let the side down, with first Ricciardo then Ocon in the two Austrian GPs, with Hungary seeing the pair in contention for a dual top ten before Ocon dropped to 14th and Ricciardo’s late charge seemingly too much for the rubber, finishing 8th.
What is pleasing for Renault is the pace the cars were able to display, however, the reliability will be the determining factor in the next few races if the team is to be a serious chance at annoying those around them.
Has had a cloud over them with respect to the brake ducts and the allegations from Renault that they are a copy, not a bespoke part for the team. This was brought into sharp focus at Hungary with Lance Stroll in 4th and Sergio Perez in 7th, after the first two races saw Stroll a DNF, Perez a 6th and 15 seconds off the pace in race 1 and a very respectable 6th and 7th the following weekend with Perez bringing home his 6th by under a tenth over Stroll.
The Canadian hasn’t shown this much pace before, and with simmering allegations about the pink colored cars being of a Mercedes copy, it will have to be left to the stewards and FIA to make a decision that will affect the team’s 2020 future for the positive or negative.
They’ll be the new home for Ricciardo in 2021, and in this year’s three races the cars have looked more impressive than last year in the hands of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz. Hungary was the round so far that brought the team back to earth, after a relatively impressive 3rd and 5th then 5th and 9th, with the Hungary results seeing Sainz take 9th for the second race in a row, and Norris a dismal 13th.
The team appears to be in a settling phase, with minor niggles on track holding progress. However, there’s a strong camaraderie with the drivers and the mechanics, with Norris pictured after the Hungary race assisting in “tearing down” his car. In a way, they’re like Racing Point, needing some clear track to see further improvement.
Formerly known as Toro Rosso, the adjunct team to Red Bull hasn’t quite gelled for 2020. Pierre Gasly had a hard-fought 7th at the Austrian GP, whilst the taciturn Daniil Kvyat had a heartbreaking DNF, retiring barely two laps from the flag. The Styrian GP saw a moderate improvement with both cars finishing albeit a lap down, whilst in Hungary, it was Gasly’s turn to retire after just fifteen laps with a gearbox issue adding to the weekend’s woes.
Kvyat had a chance for the top ten but a swap to soft rubber and a resulting worse than expected wear rate had the Russian in for a late-race swap, dropping him ultimately to 12th. There’s work required if further tilts at the top ten are to occur.
The former Force India team haven’t had a great start either. Kimi Raikkonen, one of the most respected players in F1, had strongly hinted that this season would be his last. With the changes to the regulations in 2021 postponed for a year, the veteran had been expected to retire and hunt down a drive in the WRC. In the positive corner, he’s due to become the driver with the most races to their name, overhauling former Ferrari maestro Rubens Barrichello (322 races) by season’s end.
Although also out of contract at the conclusion of 2020, Raikkonen has been competitive, with an unfortunate DNF at the Austrian GP, with Antonio Giovinazzi finishing 9th, an 11th and 14th for Giovinazzi at the second Austrian event, and 15th & 17th in a relatively untroubled race for the pair. For now, it seems they’ll continue to be a backmarker competitor.
The legendary team has struggled in the last 18 months, and the Covid-19 situation hasn’t helped on a financial level. May of 2020 saw news break that the company overall was seriously considering selling off the once powerhouse F1 team, whose last race win was in 2012 and championship win back in 1997. George Russell and newcomer for this year, Nicholas Latifi has worked manfully to get results, with an 11th for Latifi in race 1, a DNF for Russell at the same event; a solid 16th and 17th for Russell and Latifi the following week, and an earnest if not rewarding 18th and 19th respectively at the Hungaroring. It seems the pair have little else to do but continue to swim against the tide and see what eventuates above their heads.
Unspectacular so far with the dour Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean struggling with a chassis that isn’t communicating well. A 10th and 16th at Hungary was preceded by a double DNF at the Austrian GP thanks to badly overheated brakes, and a 12th & 13th the following week. Hungary was a communications problem in a different area, with both drivers penalized for the garage advising of a tire swap before the race in contravention of regulations.
Both drivers have undeniable talent, and Hungary could have been a better result for Grosjean save for a tangle with Albon that damaged his front wing. perhaps they too need some “clear track” for the team’s potential in 2020 to be realized.
Race four for 2020 will be at the historic Silverstone circuit in England on August 2nd.