As of Thursday, March 5th, the scheduled first round of the 2020 F1 season at Albert Park, Melbourne, is unchanged with respect to the race and event going ahead. There has been a fair bit of media speculation as to whether the round happens due to the global medical issue known as Covid-19. Undoubtedly this is subject to change, however, with the circuit set up and ready to host the first race of the season, with cars prepped, airline tickets booked, and drivers keen to get their backside trackside, any cancellation will have a disastrous follow on effect.
That effect would also hit the local economy. Melbourne itself is set to host until 2023, however, the event runs at a loss for the Victorian government in spite of the income from interstate and international visitors. Should there be a wholesale disturbance to the expected visitor flow, there will be a substantial loss added to the normal running costs. According to the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, over $116,000,000 AUD ($76,860,000 USD) came into the state as a result of team and visitor spending for the 2019 event.
There’s also been some questions raised in regards to an investigation conducted by the FIA into the Ferrari engine to be used this season. Seven teams released a public statement in the first week of March stating their disappointment with what appears to be a confidential closure agreement between the team and the FIA. The statement, issued by McLaren, Mercedes, Racing Point, Red Bull, Renault, AlphaTauri and Williams, and did not include Ferrari engine customers Haas and Alfa Romeo, reads:
“We, the undersigned teams, were surprised and shocked by the FIA’s statement of Friday 28 February regarding the conclusion of its investigation into the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 Power Unit. An international sporting regulator has the responsibility to act with the highest standards of governance, integrity and transparency. After months of investigations that were undertaken by the FIA only following queries raised by other teams, we strongly object to the FIA reaching a confidential settlement agreement with Ferrari to conclude this matter.
“Therefore, we hereby state publicly our shared commitment to pursue full and proper disclosure in this matter, to ensure that our sport treats all competitors fairly and equally. We do so on behalf of the fans, the participants and the stakeholders of Formula One. In addition, we reserve our rights to seek legal redress, within the FIA’s due process and before the competent courts.”
This immediately casts a pall over the first race and will bring focus onto anything the Ferrari team, drivers, and cars do at Albert Park. This issue stems from a perceived performance advantage the engine gave the two cars raced, although the season’s results would point to the contrary.
Staying with Ferrari, it’s the team yet again being quietly spoken about as the one that Daniel Ricciardo will head to for the 2021 season. As it stands, only Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc are confirmed for next year, at Red Bull and Ferrari respectively. The rumors center around Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton & Valtteri Bottas, with if as expected that Hamilton takes a serious tilt at crown number seven (to equal Michael Schumacher, by the way), Hamilton would re-sign with Mercedes.
The working battle he has with Bottas would then have either Bottas seek to continue his seat and freeze out the Australian, or, more unlikely, Bottas to move on. Red Bull has an opening and it’s again highly unlikely that Ricciardo would rejoin the team. This leaves Ferrari and with Vettel said to be uncertain as to be picked by Ferrari, then that leaves the red team to offer, potentially, the Italian speaking Western Australian a ride.
Should this long talked about will they-won’t they happen, it would make Ricciardo the first Australian ever to drive a car in F1 for the prancing horse label. Alan Jones, Australia’s sole F1 champion, has recently said that he was offered a drive but certain circumstances ended up having the door closed on that.
In regards to Hamilton, he needs just eight wins this season to break the 91 set by Schumacher and with an average of ten wins per season, it’s a very strong possibility. But then there’s Bottas. he showed real improvement in 2019 and gave Hamilton the proverbial “run for his money”. And considering he nailed his flag to the door in 2019 at Melbourne with a solid win, it’d be unfair to discount the taciturn Finn.