After the third longest off-season in the sport’s history, Formula 1 finally returns this weekend with the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring. We take a look at the five biggest talking points as racing resumes.
What will the new normal look like?
It has been almost four months since Formula 1 last attempted to stage a Grand Prix. The global health crisis has extended F1’s off-season to the third longest in the sport’s history – but racing will finally get underway again at the Red Bull Ring. However, the sport will look different to how it did seven months ago at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. There will be no fans in the grandstand, there will be no traditional podium celebration and the teams and drivers will be socially distanced. While on track the racing will be as fierce as ever, the context in which it is held will be a marked departure from what we have been accustomed to.
Furthermore, Formula 1 returns with a new commitment to making the sport more inclusive for all under the #WeRaceAsOne campaign. There will be visual displays of thanks to key workers with rainbow symbols on the cars and around the circuit, as well as messages of support in the fight against racism. Most notably, Mercedes unveiled a new black livery with which they will race in 2020, while Formula 1 has launched a Task Force with the mandate to increase diversity and inclusion in the sport.
Mercedes vs Red Bull?
Had the 2020 season started in Australia, it’s highly likely – given recent form at the track – that Lewis Hamilton would have taken pole position and the Mercedes would have been difficult to beat in the race. Instead, we head to Austria for the first two races of the season and a track on which Red Bull and Max Verstappen have won the last two races. It is entirely plausible, therefore, that Red Bull could lead the Constructors’ Championship after the Austrian and Steiermark races. News this week confirmed that Honda will bring an updated specification of their 2020 engine for both Red Bull and the newly-named AlphaTauri team at the Austrian Grand Prix.
However, given their testing form, Mercedes cannot be written off so easily. While the team have finished on the podium only once in the last two years – with Lewis Hamilton failing to finish in the top three since 2016 – and suffered a double retirement in 2018, they will head to the Red Bull Ring confident of their pre-season pace.
Intriguingly, in terms of statistics, the winner of the opening race of the season has won that year’s title only twice in the last eight years, while the winner of the Austrian Grand Prix has not won the title in the same year since Michael Schumacher did so in 2003.
How fast is the Pink Mercedes?
Winter Testing feels like an eternity ago now, so you would be forgiven for forgetting the pre-Australia intrigue surrounding the 2020 Racing Point car. Rival teams have questioned 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 appeared to have good pace, with both Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll regularly setting one of the top three times of the day. This weekend, we will finally find out how good it is. You can expect the midfield battle between Racing Point, Renault and McLaren to be as close as ever.
Will the drivers be rusty?
While the majority of the grid have re-acclimatised themselves to the cockpit with runs in previous seasons cars (or F3 cars in the case of McLaren drivers Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris), none have done so in a competitive context – so it would be fair to assume that the opening lap of the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix could be a little bit messy.
The drivers need to be on high alert around the Red Bull Ring in qualifying too, due to the short length of the track. In previous seasons we have seen drivers tripping over each other and reaching traffic on their hot laps – it’s another aspect which will make Saturday’s qualifying session even more intriguing. Don’t be surprised if multiple drivers pick up grid penalties for blocking offences.
A wet weekend?
If the drivers didn’t already have enough to contend with, current forecasts suggest rain may be a factor over the Austrian Grand Prix weekend. If it were to rain, this would be only the fourth time that a season-opening Grand Prix has been held in wet conditions. There have been only four previous Austrian races where rain has been a factor, all of which were held consecutively between 1975 and 1978!
What are you predictions for the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix weekend? Leave a comment below!