Valtteri Bottas, Charles Leclerc, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020

Can F1 get its show back on the road? Six Austrian GP talking points

2020 Austrian Grand Prix

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When the five red lights extinguish on Sunday, it will be the first time in 217 days the F1 field has been unleashed to race.

It’s the longest F1 fans have had to wait for a race since 1962. And not a single one will be there in person to see it.

The knock-on effects of the unprecedented delay to the start of the season, and the lengths F1 has gone to get the 2020 championship started, will inevitably make for many talking points this weekend.

Beyond that, there’s the small matter of everything else we were expecting the new season to bring. This long-awaited weekend is going to be a fascinating one.

Will F1’s return to racing run smoothly?

After a McLaren team member tested positive for Covid-19 in Melbourne, the season-opening race was called off, and nine more dominoes toppled after it. F1 has taken extensive precautions to minimise the possibility of anything similar happening again.

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Attendees have been trimmed to a minimum: No fans will attend, and many others besides will be missing. Teams will operate independently with no mingling of staff members. When drivers’ faces aren’t covered by helmets, they will wear masks.

Esteban Ocon, Renault, Albert Park, 2020
Masks are one of many precautions F1 has planned
In all respects, the bare minimum social mixing will take place in order for a race to go ahead, and the maximum precautions will be taken.

Will it be enough to get the show back on the road? With seven more races due to follow in the nine weeks afterwards, a lot is riding on whether F1 has got this right.

Different times, different result?

Will the addition of new layers of precautions, the passage of over three months since the intended start to the season, and the relocation of the opening round from a temporary track to a flowing road course, lead to changes in the competitive order?

It’s hard to imagine they won’t. But not having seen the cars turn flat-out laps in Melbourne, it will be hard to judge what if any changes have happened.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull are shooting for a third consecutive home win this weekend, and will be hopeful their car is as competitive at their home track as it has been in recent years. With a second race taking place at the same venue next week – another unprecedented development – they have good cause to be optimistic about their early championship chances.

Others are already known to have upgrades on the way, including Ferrari and Renault. The latter also tested here recently, albeit with a two-year-old car, giving them a better chance of starting the year strongly.

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Driver moves

Charles Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Mugello, 2020
Does Vettel have a parting short for Leclerc?
The 2020 season hasn’t started yet and we’ve already had more action on the driver market than throughout all of last season. Three drivers will begin the season knowing it’s the last with their current teams.

They are: Daniel Ricciardo, departing Renault to replace Carlos Sainz Jnr, who will leave McLaren to take the Ferrari seat currently occupied by Sebastian Vettel, whose future plans remain unknown, and a matter of intense speculation. Renault? Aston Martin? Retirement?

Moves like these can’t help but affect the dynamic within a team, however much those involve insist it doesn’t. And the circumstances of Vettel’s exit from Ferrari are especially poignant: Here is a driver who arrived at F1’s most famous team five years ago already a four-times champion, with dreams of emulating his hero Michael Schumacher, heading for the exit after being beaten by a sophomore driver last year. Don’t let anyone tell you he isn’t burning with desire to put one over Charles Leclerc before he goes.

Hamilton pushes F1’s anti-racism agenda

Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes W11 with new livery, 2020
Mercedes sprang a surprise with a new anti-racism livery
For one major global event to have an impact on F1 is unusual, to have two at the same time is extraordinary. But even amid the upheaval of the pandemic, a revolution of a different kind is underway.

The death of George Floyd and the anti-racism protests it sparked have prompted Formula 1 to hasten the arrival of a new and badly-needed programme to promote diversity among participants at all levels. No driver has done more to promote this than Lewis Hamilton, who is launching a similar Commission of his own, and whose team Mercedes yesterday made the surprise announcement they will race in an all-black tribute livery this year.

Change is coming to Formula 1 and if those who cry ‘stick to racing’ and ‘keep politics out of sport’ are offended by it, then they’re just going to have to be offended.

But what of the driver at the centre of these developments? In recent years Hamilton has proved repeatedly that his extra-curricular activities such as fashion shows and recording sessions are no impediment to winning world championships. Armed with what is likely to prove another devastating Mercedes, expect him to be the driver to beat once again.

What will the rest of the calendar look like?

We already know what the first eight races of 2020 should be. Beyond that, the following rounds are starting to fall into place.

But will the postponed inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix be reinstated? Could the sport holds its events in the Americas, including Texas, which at the time of writing has seen a rise in Covid-19 cases, or Brazil, one of the worst-affected countries?

Nicholas Latifi's livery, Williams, 2020
Williams are badly in need of a change in form
This uncertainty makes it likely F1 will begin its season without confirming how many races it intends to hold, and where.

Everything else

After all that, there’s everything else which intrigued us about the 2020 season.

What advantage will DAS give Mercedes? Will Hamilton break Schumacher’s wins record and match his titles tally? Have Racing Point vaulted to the front of the midfield by copying last year’s championship-winning car? Are Q2 appearances and points a realistic possibility for Williams?

There are matters off-track to consider, too. Such as will Ferrari’s rivals push for retribution over their secret engine deal with the FIA? And will all 10 teams sign up to race again next year?

Those and more stories will begin to unfold as the 2020 championship begins in unprecedented circumstances and an onslaught of eight races in just 10 weeks.

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2020 Austrian Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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13 comments on “Can F1 get its show back on the road? Six Austrian GP talking points”

  1. Will F1’s return to racing run smoothly? – Yes.
    Different times, different result? – I doubt it.
    What will the rest of the calendar look like? – Vietnam, the US, Mexico, and Brazil all unlikely.
    What advantage will DAS give Mercedes? – None or very small at max.
    Will Hamilton break Schumacher’s wins record and match his titles tally? – Yes.
    Have Racing Point vaulted to the front of the midfield by copying last year’s championship-winning car? – Time will tell.
    Are Q2 appearances and points a realistic possibility for Williams? – I doubt it.

    1. Oh come on, no spoilers, I haven’t even watched it yet !!

  2. The most burning unasked or answered question:

    Will Sky make the drivers take a parade lap on the back of a lorry while waving at the empty stands?

    How excruciating will Crofty’s first race be – will he need to scream in 100,000 rabid voices to compensate?

    Will RBR paint half the stands orange? Or all?

    Ok… that was more than one… take it out of my Monaco ’20 pole lap prediction allowance.

    1. With regards to Crofty – I find it easier to mute and simply imagine “down the inside” and “wheel to wheel” (80% of his repertoire) being shouted at me…

    2. “Will Sky make the drivers take a parade lap on the back of a lorry while waving at the empty stands?” 🙄

      Already confirmed – over a fortnight ago – that currently confirmed races won’t have Drivers Parade

      1. Thanks for the answer. There’s still time to have have a reverse parade lap tho.

  3. I predict Verstappen to start his successful championship campaign well and win the first race of the season. Mercedes will significantly improve at Red Bull Ring but won’t have a trouble-free weekends. Ferrari will surprise and win the Steiermark Grand Prix. The most convincind midfield drivers of the first two races will be Perez and Ocon.

  4. With the emphasis being on having a minimum number of people on site, will Netflix have their “drive to survive” cameras about? You would assume not…

    1. @eurobrun I could see them being allowed a very minimal staff, and using creative techniques to get around that limitation (for example, they might set up cameras in garages and motorhomes, and just have remote-monitoring staff who spend most of the race weekend looking at a screen in their hotel room, ready to fix things that need to be during the curfew windows).

  5. I really can’t wait. Even without the pandemic, there are so many exciting storylines this year.

    I’m hoping that:
    – Vettel shows he’s still got it and nicks a few wins, or even the Championship.
    – Ricciardo beats Ocon, to convince Renault that they need to sign a top driver for 2021.
    – Perez thumps Stroll, to convince Racing Point that they need to sign a top driver for 2021!
    – Verstappen gets a great start to the year in Austria and Hungary to put the pressure on Mercedes.
    – The “Pink Mercedes” bridges the gap from the front to the midfield a little.
    – The unknown length of the calendar leads to an “all or nothing” approach to races by the drivers.

    Should be fun!
    – Williams can find a rescue

  6. As it’s the (re)start of the season we should at least talk about Kimi and if he can become the most experienced F1 driver.
    From memory it’s 10 or 11 races short of the record.

    PS and will Alonso beat that record in 2021 ;)

  7. And what wedon’t want to see:
    1) Ocon taking Ricciardo out
    2) Bottas having to play wingman from the start
    3) Vettel spinning over and over
    4) Abiteboul blaming Ricciardo for the (poor) performance
    5) Russell fighting for 18th place
    6) An extra 5kg of fuel added by mistake to Leclerc’s car
    7) Honda and Renault telling the press they are on par with Mercedes… just beat them fair and square like Gasly did in Brazil!
    8) Championship decided with races to spare. We want last-race-1-point-deciders. 07/08/12 if you know what I mean.

    1. We’ll probably get 8, if only because I can see us getting to November and still not know how many races are left.

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