Formula 1 is back. Will Mercedes dominate? Are Racing Point best of the rest? And have Williams moved up the order? Here are five questions which we may get the answers to over the 2020 Australian Grand Prix weekend.
Will Mercedes dominate again?
Last year, Mercedes kicked off their season with five 1-2 finishes, paving the way for them to take a sixth consecutive Constructors’ Championship victory by the end of the year. The team will be keen to kick off their 2020 campaign with another flawless result, as they seek an unprecedented seventh consecutive title. The signs so far look promising, with Valtteri Bottas having set the fastest time of pre-season testing. In 2019, it was Bottas who started the year with a victory at the Australian Grand Prix, taking the early championship lead. It was the first time that Mercedes had won at Albert Park since 2016.
How certain is an Australian win for Mercedes this year? Well, on pace, it’s looking good for the reigning champions. But testing showed some reliability issues with the Mercedes engine, with the works team spending extensive periods in the garage, and Mercedes-powered Williams also encountering issues. Furthermore, the innovative DAS (Dual Axis Steering) system on the W11 raised eyebrows in the paddock at testing and if it’s in use this weekend, don’t be surprised to see protests from other teams with the device potentially breaching parc ferme regulations.
Is the Pink Mercedes best of the rest?
Another storm could be brewing in the midfield, as rival teams question the legality of the new Racing Point car, which has an uncanny resemblance to last year’s Mercedes. Jokingly referred to as the “Pink Mercedes” in pre-season testing, the RP20 appears to have good pace, with both Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll regularly setting one of the top three times of the day. Just how good the Racing Point car is has been a taxing question in recent weeks. Is it the best of the rest? Were other midfield teams sandbagging? Could it even be a Ferrari-beater? We should have a clearer picture when the chequered flag falls in qualifying.
Are Ferrari in trouble?
Ferrari were in the news after pre-season testing for two unwanted reasons. First, the confidential settlement reached between the team and the FIA over the legality of their 2019 engine led to seven teams outlining their “strong objection” in a letter to the governing body. Second, Ferrari’s lacklustre performance in pre-season testing has many questioning if the Italian team will struggle to find a decent result in 2020.
It has now been twelve years since Ferrari’s last championship win and the talk from Maranello over the winter has not filled the tifosi with hope that their wait for title glory will end in 2020. Sebastian Vettel’s future with the team, and Charles Leclerc’s performance against the four-time World Champion, look set to be bigger talking points over the course of the season.
Have Williams made a step forward?
Plenty of fans will be hoping that Williams are able to move up the order in 2020. George Russell still expects Williams to have the slowest car, but is hopeful that the team will be closer to the back of the field than their woeful performances in 2019. Nicholas Latifi joins the Brit at the team in 2020, making the Australian Grand Prix the first race in over fifty years to feature two Canadians on the grid. Russell was 2.317 seconds off the pace in Q1 in Australia last year – will Williams be able to close that gap this weekend?
When will the next race be?
In the lead up to the start of the season, many of the headlines have been about the context in which the season will take place rather than the racing itself.
The outbreak of coronavirus has already caused the postponement of the 2020 Chinese Grand Prix, and next week’s Bahrain Grand Prix will take place behind closed doors. After that is anyone’s guess. Travel restrictions and the Italian lockdown are making future races look less and less likely, with the situation developing on a daily basis. Hopefully we will get a full 22-race championship in 2020, but the threat to future events gives us even more reason to savour the 2020 Australian Grand Prix.
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After graduating in 2015 with a First Class honours degree in English Language and Literature, Nicky Haldenby, a lifelong fan of Formula 1, founded the Lights Out F1 Blog in 2016. The blog has become a firm fan-favourite, delving deep into the sport’s history books and lifting the cover on unusual F1 statistics.
Nicky also writes at F1Destinations and Motorsport Guides and can be heard as the resident stats man on the 2 Soft Compounds Podcast. His work has appeared on WTF1, BadgerGP, motorsport.com, Sky Sports F1 and BBC Radio 5 Live. Nicky is also the host of the F1 Rewind Podcast.