Lights Out & Away We Go!
Updated: Sep 8, 2020
112 days after the original start date, the 2020 Formula One World Championship began on 5 July at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. With 11 races cancelled and three postponed, the revised race calendar sees the first 13 races all taking place across Europe.
Prior to the start of the 2020 season, a few driver changes for 2021 were already in order. After much speculation that Sebastian Vettel could be leaving Scuderia Ferrari, on 14 May the Italian constructor announced that Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr will join them next year. Daniel Ricciardo was named as Sainz’s replacement at McLaren. and subsequently Ricciardo’s vacated seat at Renault will be taken up by a returning Fernando Alonso; Alonso became a 2x World Champion with Renault in 2005 & 2006. This currently leaves 4x Champion Vettel without a drive for next season.
The 2020 F1 season has been one with several first-time occurrences. The Austrian GP in early July was the first event in the sport's history to be held behind closed doors. It was also the first time since 1966 that the season's opening race took place on European soil.
The start of the season also saw F1 debuts for driver Nicholas Latifi (Williams) as well as constructor Scuderia AlphaTauri (previously competing as Toro Rosso).
Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes claimed pole position ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton, by a mere two-hundredths of a second. Vettel did not make it to the final qualifying session, and started the race in 11th place. Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc qualified 7th quickest. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Alex Albon qualified in 3rd and 5th places, respectively, sandwiching Lando Norris of McLaren.
In the race, Verstappen became the first of 9 retirees – succumbing to electrical problems on lap 11. Teammate Albon suffered a similar fate four laps before the race end. Bottas led from start to finish to win the maiden Grand Prix of the season. Hamilton crossed the line in 2nd but was demoted to 4th place due to a 5-second penalty for colliding with Albon. 2nd place went to Leclerc with Norris grabbing the final podium place under incredible circumstances.
Norris finished 4,8 seconds behind Hamilton after setting a fastest lap time on the final lap of the race. The 20-year-old became the youngest Brit and the third-youngest driver overall in F1 history to achieve a podium finish.
The following week the Styrian GP took place also at the Red Bull Ring. This was the first time in F1 that the same venue and circuit layout hosted consecutive races.
Hamilton set an unassailable qualifying time to secure pole. Verstappen and Sainz followed, with Bottas starting in P4.
Ferrari’s weekend was a nightmare to say the least. For the second race running, only one of their cars managed to reach final qualifying – this time Leclerc just missing the cut, starting 11th, while Vettel only managed to qualify in 10th. On the opening lap of the race the two teammates made contact with one another, causing a double-DNF for the Prancing Horse.
Hamilton held on to grab his first race victory of the year with Bottas completing the 1-2 finish for Mercedes. 3rd and 4th were occupied by the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Albon. Norris finished in 5th place, ahead of the two Racing Point cars; Ricciardo crossed the line in 8th.
For a second consecutive race, the fastest lap was set by a McLaren driver – this time by Sainz.
The third race of the season took place at the Hungaroring in Hungary on 19 July. Hamilton became polesitter for the 90th time in his career. Bottas qualified 2nd quickest; Lance Stroll & Sergio Perez (both Racing Point) locked out the second row of the grid with Ferrari occupying P5 and P6.
Hamilton held his nerve to take the chequered flag (and the fastest lap) 8 seconds ahead of Verstappen, with Bottas close behind. Stroll claimed an impressive 4th place finish followed by Albon, Vettel and Perez. Sainz claimed P9; Leclerc 11th; Norris 13th.
Heading to the British GP at Silverstone on 2 August, Hamilton led the driver’s standings by 5 points over Bottas. Racing Point’s Sergio Perez was ruled out of competing due to testing positive for COVID-19 and he was replaced by Nico Hulkenberg.
Hamilton claimed another pole position, 0.3s ahead of Bottas. Verstappen (P3) and Leclerc (P4) were followed by Norris, Stroll and Sainz – the three of them set times within 0,2s of one another. Vettel qualified in 10th position, behind both Renault cars.
Ahead of his return to F1, Hulkenberg was dealt a major blow as his power unit malfunctioned shortly before the race start.
For the vast majority of the race, Hamilton’s Mercedes was a class above the rest. Three laps before the end of the race, his teammate Bottas (running in 2nd place) suffered from a delaminated tyre and was forced to pit. Heading into the final lap Hamilton held a 30-second lead over Verstappen, however the blistering heat also caused a delamination to Hamilton’s front-left tyre. The 6x World Champion managed to reach the finish line on three wheels, extending his lead atop the driver’s standings. Verstappen finished 5,8 seconds behind the Merc. Leclerc completed the podium ahead of Ricciardo and Norris. Bottas had to settle for an 11th place finish.
Verstappen’s final lap was the race's fastest lap time.
Round 5 of the season took centre stage the following week when Silverstone hosted the F1 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. For the first time in 27 years the UK hosted two F1 races in the same season.
Ahead of the race weekend, Racing Point were subject to a €400,000 fine and also docked 15 points amidst allegations that they copied significant amounts from the setup of Mercedes’ 2019 car.
Valtteri Bottas claimed pole by just 0,064s ahead of teammate Hamilton. Hulkenberg’s delayed return to the sport finally came to an end as he qualified in 3rd position, ahead of Verstappen, Ricciardo and Stroll. It was an underwhelming day of qualifying for Ferrari (Leclerc P8; Vettel P12) and McLaren (Norris P10; Sainz P13).
The race was entertaining right from the get-go. Vettel spun at the first corner on the opening lap and was playing catch-up from then on. Max Verstappen had a sensational drive and Red Bull’s strategy paid dividends. Verstappen led for a significant portion of the race and after his second pit exit he cemented his lead over both Mercedes cars. The 22-year-old Dutch driver held out to secure the first non-Mercedes victory of the season, and Red Bull’s first win at Silverstone since the 2012 British Grand Prix (won by Mark Webber).
Hamilton chased down Bottas to earn a second-place finish, setting the race’s fastest lap in the process. Hamilton equalled Michael Schumacher’s record for the most F1 podiums (155). Bottas finished in third, followed by Leclerc’s Ferrari and Albon’s Red Bull. Hulkenberg finished the race in 7th, just behind Racing Point teammate Stroll.
Vettel’s dismay in the Ferrari continued as he only mustered a twelfth-placed finish. The McLarens ended the race in P9 and P13.
The Spanish GP in Barcelona saw the return of Sergio Perez following his isolation period. Hamilton took pole once again and sat on the front row for the 150th time. Bottas and Verstappen followed, with Perez and Stroll behind them. Leclerc qualified 9th, trailing Albon and both McLarens; Vettel P11.
At lights out on Sunday, Hamilton got off the line well as did Verstappen. Bottas quickly found himself in P4, in between the Racing Point cars. It was not as smooth-sailing as Hamilton would have liked as Verstappen trailed close by. After the second pit window, the Ferrari's were in P12 and P14. After gaining some positions up the field, Leclerc spun on lap 38 which brought his race to a premature end. Vettel buckled up and with 17 laps to go was sitting in P5 and finished the race in P7.
The rest of the race was pretty straightforward for Hamilton who claimed his 88th race win and fourth of the season. Verstappen and Bottas completed the podium while Stroll and Perez settled for P4 & P5, respectively; Sainz P6; Albon P8.
Bottas claimed fastest lap.
Heading to the Belgian GP on 30 August, Hamilton holds a 37-point lead over Verstappen. Mercedes lead the Constructor's standings by 86 points over Red Bull.
The Italian GP takes place on 6 September at Monza, and Ferrari will be hoping to give their Tifosi something to cheer about.