Start, Yas Marina, 2020

Abu Dhabi GP rated F1’s worst race in 13 years – but 2020 had highlights too

2020 F1 season review

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The 2020 season might not have happened as intended but there was still plenty of dramatic racing. Here’s how the RaceFans readers ranked all seventeen rounds, from least-loved to best.

2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2020

Average rating: 3.2

Rarely a highlight of the calendar, despite resolving several intriguing battles the Abu Dhabi season finale wasn’t just the lowest-scoring race of the year, it is the worst rated race we’ve had since beginning Rate the Race back in 2008.

Max Verstappen took his first pole of the year – the first not powered by Mercedes – and also his second victory. Team mate Alexander Albon managed to improve from fifth to fourth and finished closely behind the Mercedes in second and third. But with the top three holding the same positions all race long, to say this wasn’t a classic would be putting it very kindly.

2020 Spanish Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020

Average rating: 4.4/10

The most notable feature of the Spanish Grand Prix is that the familiar front-starting trio of Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen had reordered themselves to Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas by the time they crossed the finish line. Compared to Yas Marina, that was riveting stuff.

2020 Belgian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Spa, 2020
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Spa, 2020

Average rating: 4.5/10

Spa is normally a hotly anticipated Grand Prix on the calendar and last year’s Charles Leclerc victory made your top six. This year, however, it wasn’t to be – particularly for the team in red. Despite a scrappily passable start to the 2020 season, Belgium brought a new low to a straggling Ferrari and a shambolic qualifying as teams searched for slipstreams couldn’t redeem the situation. Plenty of midfield action didn’t make up for the spectacle of the Ferrari cars qualifying thirteenth and fourteenth and crossing the flag in the same positions.

2020 Russian Grand Prix

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2020
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2020

Average rating: 5.0/10
A grand prix of errors, in many ways, including a first-lap misjudgement that saw Sainz go off-track and into a barrier, ending his own race and ruining his team mate’s (amongst others shortly before Leclerc and Lance Stroll collided and the Racing Point’s running also ended. Lewis Hamilton had started from pole but was handed two ten-second penalties for practicing starts too close to the pit lane exit, effectively gifting the win to Bottas.

2020 Hungarian Grand Prix

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Hungaroring, 2020
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Hungaroring, 2020

Average rating: 6.1/10

A drying track led to some tension about when to dare go for slicks, both Haas cars the only ones bold (or desperate) enough to switch from the start.

After playing rain-chicken with strategy, Hamilton was eventually able to take a straightforward win with a huge margin, however, battles down the field gave plenty of action and a last-lap fight between Bottas and Verstappen for second kept it interesting to the very end.

2020 Bahrain Grand Prix

Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Alexander Albon, Sakhir Circuit, 2020

Average rating: 6.3

Marred by Romain Grosjean’s shocking crash on the opening lap, the red-flagged Bahrain Grand Prix ended almost anonymously. Red Bull scored their first double podium since 2017 after Sergio Perez’s late retirement.

2020 British Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2020
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2020

Average rating: 6.3/10

A hot day in Northamptonshire plus an early Safety Car period meant Pirelli’s hardest compounds were under strain and late-race blow-outs for Bottas and Sainz wrecked both their races.

Verstappen very nearly took his first win of the season when Hamilton also fell prey to a disintegrating sidewall on the final lap. The Red Bull was just a few hundred metres behind Hamilton as the Mercedes driver limped across the line with just three tyres fully inflated.

2020 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Imola, 2020
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Imola, 2020

Average rating: 6.5/10

Formula 1’s return to Imola was unkind to its other Italian team, after Monza had hurt Ferrari. Pierre Gasly qualified on the second row but was forced to retired early into the race with a mechanical failure, despite running well until then.

Verstappen suffered a tyre failure in the later stages of the race, prompting a Safety Car period during which George Russell denied himself a chance of his first F1 point, crashing heavily.

2020 Styrian Grand Prix

Daniel Ricciardo, Renault, Red Bull Ring, 2020
Daniel Ricciardo, Renault, Red Bull Ring, 2020

Average rating: 6.6/10

Hamilton’s first win of the 2020 season, at the second race of the year. The Styrian Grand Prix proved no two races are the same, even run a week apart at exactly the same track – useful, given this calendar trick would repeat in the pandemic-affected calendar.

The Ferrari pair collided on lap one, spectacularly breaking Vettel’s rear wing and Leclerc’s front, ultimately leading to both retiring from the grand prix. It might have been the first appearance of the Hamilton/Bottas/Verstappen podium template which soon became drearily familiar but behind them there was drama to the chequered flag. Sainz grabbed the fastest lap bonus point on the penultimate tour while Ricciardo, Perez and Stroll crossing the line three-wide, separated by only two tenths of a second.

2020 70th Anniversary Grand Prix

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Silverstone, 2020

Average rating: 6.8/10

At the time, it might have been reasonable to fear this might be the only 2020 race not won by a Mercedes driver. Severe tyre degradation affected the previous week’s race at Silverstone and Pirelli supplied softer compounds for the second weekend. Verstappen delivered a masterclass in management that saw him confidently take victory away from the Mercedes drivers, who blistered their rubber.

2020 Eifel Grand Prix

Daniel Ricciardo, Renault, Nurburgring, 2020

Average rating: 6.8/10

The Nurburgring’s first F1 race for 2020 delivered a hammer blow to Bottas’s title hopes as he retired, though Hamilton had already muscled his way past his team mate.

2020 Portuguese Grand Prix

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, Autodromo do Algarve, 2020
Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, Autodromo do Algarve, 2020

Average rating: 7.1/10

Concerns going into the weekend were that Pirelli’s tyres would not be able to hold up to the demands of Portimao with modern F1 cars. However, the cooler temperatures of race day and slippery, freshly-laid surface alleviated those concerns.

Carlos Sainz Jnr sensationally took the lead at the start as light rain fell. The usual Hamilton-Bottas-Verstappen top three was reformed after an entertaining afternoon racing, witnessed by actual spectators for once, and Hamilton surpassed Schumacher’s win record with a classy 92nd triumph.

2020 Tuscan Ferrari 1000 Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Mugello, 2020
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Mugello, 2020

Average rating: 7.2/10

Two red flag periods disrupted the race following a pair of major incidents: A shocking crash on the start-finish straight following a Safety Car period and an alarming tyre failure for Lance Stroll on one of the quickest corners on the Mugello circuit.

Amid the chaos Mercedes scored another one-two and Alexander Albon seemingly boosted his chance of staying at Red Bull by finally scoring his first podium finish.

2020 Austrian Grand Prix

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Red Bull Ring, 2020
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Red Bull Ring, 2020

Average rating: 8.2/10

The first race of 2020 was not expected to be a classic but its high rating does not come from only being the first grand prix which followed one of the longest breaks between rounds F1 has ever seen, due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Bottas made a convincing start to his title campaign, though one he proved unable to sustain, by winning. Hamilton made a rare error, hitting Alexander Albon for the second time in three races, and copping a penalty which dropped him off the podium.

Lando Norris’s flying final lap allowed him to claim the final spot on the rostrum, and Leclerc took what turned out to be Ferrari’s best finish of the year at the first race.

2020 Italian Grand Prix

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, Monza, 2020
Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, Monza, 2020

Average rating: 8.4/10

If 2020 is to be regarded as an excellent year for Formula 1 racing then the Italian Grand Prix has to be a stand-out moment. Gasly scored a shock win for AlphaTauri in a race disrupted by red flags triggered by a heavy crash for Leclerc.

Ferrari’s sorrows were AlphaTauri’s joys. Gasly’s win was hard-fought for it, out-running McLaren’s charging Carlos Sainz Jnr up until the chequered flag. Hamilton had taken himself out of contention by copping a stop-go penalty by entering a closed pit lane.

2020 Sakhir Grand Prix

Sergio Perez, Racing Point, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Sergio Perez, Racing Point, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020

Average rating: 8.8/10

Gasly wasn’t the only first-time winner in 2020. Perez, seemingly two races away from ending his F1 career as Racing Point had announced mid-season they were tearing up his contract, scored an unfathomable win after being knocked into a spin on the first lap and falling to 18th and last.

Russell looked on course to take victory while substituting for a Covid-struck Hamilton until misfortune intervened – twice. First Mercedes fumbled a pit stop, sending him out on tyres meant for Bottas, then he developed a puncture while closing on Perez. That left the Racing Point driver home free.

2020 Turkish Grand Prix

Esteban Ocon, Renault, Istanbul Park, 2020
Esteban Ocon, Renault, Istanbul Park, 2020

Average rating: 8.9/10

Istanbul Park had been a much-missed venue but F1’s return, especially to the notoriously high-speed turn eight, did not go as expected. A last-minute resurfacing of the track left it almost grip-less, a situation not improved by the absence of any support races and the arrival of persistent rain from Saturday.

Although the slowest grand prix of the year by far, plenty of action and rare errors by podium regulars like Verstappen meant a Hamilton, Perez, Vettel finish that satisfied fans’ desire for unpredictability. Mercedes were an incomprehensible four seconds off Stroll’s pole position time in qualifying, yet Hamilton patiently worked his way forward for clinch his seventh championship with victory.

All-time ratings

How do this year’s races compare with previous seasons? And which tracks tend to provide the best racing? Find all the data here:

Over to you

Was the Turkish Grand Prix the best race of last season? Was the season finale really that poor?

Have your say in the comments.

2020 F1 season review

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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48 comments on “Abu Dhabi GP rated F1’s worst race in 13 years – but 2020 had highlights too”

  1. I don’t share the rating of the Abu Dhabi GP. There has been even worse races quality of racing-wise in this period, for example, the inaugural Abu Dhabi GP back in 2009, which I also found worse than the two French GPs at Circuit Paul Ricard since the track’s return. Some Monza races have also been straightforward, as was the Canadian GP in 2015 and 2018.

    1. Yeah, i think the effect of the huge contrast to the batch of races ahead of this Abu Dhabi race which were rather highlights, and in general there were quite a few interesting races this year, so that last race is more of a disappointment @jerejj.

      To me this was just about the average Yas Marina race (I think I rated it around 4 or 5, as were most of the races here)

      1. @bascb @Sumedh Fair point. The preceding races probably indeed had an impact on the rating as did the overall quality of racing this year.

    2. I think the strong reaction to Abu Dhabi also stems from the quality of racing witnessed just preceding that. Sakhir and Turkey are all time classics and Bahrain had that scary moment with Grosjean.

      In comparison, Abu Dhabi seemed like the deadest of dead rubbers.

    3. It was an easy win so those who are bored of seeing easy wins most weeks didn’t like this even though mess by the usual winner. Add that Hamilton winning meaning the “GOAT crowd” voted it down as well and you have a low scoring race.

      1. @petebaldwin Hamilton didn’t win the worst rated race for the season, and was the winner of the best rated…

    4. It’s probably an effect of the expansion of F1. Last year they voted the 2019 German GP race of the decade in the official site. Only new fans could look so close to the past for standout picks, I suspect the same happened here.

    5. “There has been even worse races quality of racing-wise in this period, ” Looks like this part was written by someone lese… :)

      1. else (gotta get a new keyboard!!)

  2. But the big story of the race was Daniel Ricciardo taking Renault’s first podium since returning to Formula 1 as a factory team, finishing third, so surprised by it he forgot his trademark podium shoey.

    This was at the Nürburgring. The Imola one is the photo you posted, which was Ricciardo doing a shoey.

  3. The most notable feature of the Spanish Grand Prix is that the familiar front-starting trio of Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen had reordered themselves to Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas by the time they crossed the finish line. Compared to Yas Marina, that was riveting stuff.

    Nicely captured what made that race somewhat better than Abu Dhabi!

  4. Evidently they didn’t know how to
    build a proper racing facility

    But they did know how to make spectacular looking racing facility.

    I’m fine with a good enough racing if it looks cool at night.

    Abu Dhabi is still one of F1s best examples of how amazing these cars look under speed. They used to scream too

    1. But the racing wasn’t good enough. And rarely is.

  5. Italy and Turkey couldn’t even reach a bloody 9.

    1. Suffering Williams Fan
      26th December 2020, 17:52

      It’s because a small number of people decided those races were worthy of a rating of 1 (2% for Turkey, 6% for Monza). I was able to go back and answer my own question about how the average is computed, and it’s using the mean, if you use the median instead those outliers get ignored and both races end up as a 9 (more than 75% of the people voting gave Turkey either 9 or 10). Impressively, this also downgrades Abu Dhabi to a 3.

      1. They all probably didn’t like the outcome of both these races at all.

    2. Of course not. These were good races, better than an average race (5) but are they going to appear in any “best F1 races of all time” lists in the future?

      People are giving out 9s and 10s way to easily. A great race is an 8, 8.5. Canada 2011 is a 10, Brazil 2008 is a 10.

  6. A brilliant season ended as usual with a damp squib.

  7. Red Bull ring (and A1 before) seems to consistently come up with good races.

    Abu Dhabi compressed the field so could be good with some tweaking.

  8. The only reason that Abu Dhabi scored that low a score is because the rest of this season has been brilliant, the best since 2012. There were actually quite a few overtakes and battles in the midfield, like the Vettel train. If this race had happened in 2015, for example, it would have got a higher score. Similarly, if the 2015 Canadian GP (or similar) had happened this year, it would have scored the lowest ever.

    Also, the British GP was rated way too low. Admittedly, the majority of the race wasn’t great, but in ten years time, nobody will remember the main part of the race; it will always be remembered as the race that Hamilton did a Lightning McQueen and dragged a puncture around for nearly half a lap to win the race.

    Mugello, on the other hand, was rated too highly. There was a lot of action, but it mostly came in the form of crashes, and red flags. The actual racing was nowhere near as good as Portugal, for example, which I also think was rated too low.

    Overall, 2020 has been a brilliant season, and I can honestly say that I didn’t find a single race boring. Abu Dhabi and Spain weren’t great, but there was still action going on in the midfield. I think the reason this season has been so good is because the midfield battle has always been really exciting, particularly in 2018, but with the top three teams so far ahead, they were only fighting for seventh (or sixth if someone retired). This year, because of Ferrari’s horrible season and Albon always getting stuck in the midfield, that battle was now for fourth, and one slip up from Mercedes or Verstappen would put a midfielder on the podium. The gap from Mercedes and Red Bull to the midfield was also smaller than in previous seasons. Even with Mercedes’ mistakes, the historic wins for Perez and Gasly this season would never have happened in 2016-2019, as the top three were just too much faster. I am hoping for more of the same in 2021, just with Mercedes slightly slower to give us a battle in the constructors and drivers championships.

    1. I agree with much of this @f1frog

    2. @f1frog Totally agreed. People complain because the best driver wins so often while a lot of them insist on random results. The racing has been great this season. In fact we did even see many people on the podium and even winning the race.

    3. @f1frog Honestly I couldn’t say whether this was the best season since 2012 – they’ve all been so forgettable that I struggle to rate one higher than the others. You make a good case though – and I agree that the Perez/Gasly wins would have been much less likely to happen any other year, as you would have needed three teams to drop the ball rather than one-and-a-half.

      In terms of the Abu Dhabi rating, I just think people are getting a bit tired of a few overtakes in the midfield being pointed out as though it makes up for a total lack of competition at the front. It doesn’t.

    4. @f1frog

      Are we rating races or highlight reels?

    5. Don’t get me wrong, but the only positive thing I see from this season was that the midfield was mental and that we had the privilege to see new circuits (that I thoroughly enjoyed and pray that they don’t stay as a one-off). Other than that, we saw a plain season with stand-out moments aided by the uncertainity of this year, but a championship fight that pretty much was non-existent, which is very important for F1, and I expect a lot in 2021.
      The more I analise 2019 and 2020, the more I appreciate and miss the 2018 season, sure, the midfiled was beginning to shape and close to what he have now but the championship fight was amazing with three teams battling out in the first half of the season, it fell out at the end however, but that’s what I think F1 needs to aim next year and even more in 2022. 2020 comes a close second (or tied with 2019) to 2018 as the best hybrid year in F1 for me.

  9. I’m surprised about the Abu Dhabi GP being worst rated for 13 years. I mean it wasn’t a good race for sure, but there have been MUCH worse races in that timespan. The 2019 French GP was honestly the most boring F1 race I’ve ever watched by some distance.

    For me the biggest disappointment of 2020 was the Belgian GP, just because I was almost always love that race, and it’s my favourite track, but barely anything happened in it this year, very forgettable. Only thing I remember is the Giovinazzi/Russell accident, which isn’t really a good reason to remember a race.

    The top 4 on that list I agree with, they were all really good to watch, mainly for the unexpected drivers fighting at the front, but also Turkey just because it had such unusual and challenging conditions.

  10. I disagree a bit with this list.

    Abu Dhabi was boring but is not that boring and there are other much less interesting races this year I can make 2.

    The Turkish GP was great but I just don’t see it the best race, I find Monza and Sakhir to be more interesting and had more drama.

  11. Not sure why the Nurburgring race is that high

  12. Worst German GP at Nurburgring since at least 2008
    Worst British GP since 2009
    Worst Bahrain GP since 2010 – though Sakhir was higher rated than any Bahrain GP bar 2014
    Best Turkish GP since at least 2008
    Best Italian GP since at least 2008
    Worst Belgian GP since at least 2008
    Worst Spanish GP since at least 2008
    Worst ever Abu Dhabi GP

    1. Worst Abu Dhabi GP ever? 2017 race was so much worse than 2020! :D

      It was the weirdest season what I saw. I love because this season was chaoticful. I hate for Mercedes dominance. However this had more good races than 2015.

    2. Turkey 2010 was better because we had a battle for the lead and there was something really controversial.

      1. As opposed to 5 different drivers in the lead in the 2020 Turkey edition? Sure Verstappen and Albon messed up royally and dropped away badly, but still.

    3. Turkey was overrated imo, besides the final few corners, the second half of that race was a bit of a non event…

  13. Mark in Florida
    26th December 2020, 15:25

    The racing has generally been very good this year in my opinion. The track change ups helped the racing get better. The drivers who learned fast drove fast. So since the racing was good most of the year by the time F1 got to Abu Dhabi it was so normal and predictable it was outstandingly boring. Having so many races in Europe was better in my opinion. Having great races is better than having perfect tracks.

  14. I too tend to think the Abu Dhabi race was not that bad, considering it was Abu Dhabi. I gave it a 6 actually. So very different.

    My worse rated races were Spain and Russia both with 5. My top rated race with 9 was Monza. Portugal, Turkey and Sakhir all got 8.

    It’s also clear that the ‘new’ races added to the calendar just for 2020, were all pretty good. I hope one of these gets the vacant place on the 2021 calendar.

    1. @phil-f1-21

      New races will get worse if they become regulars, because then the teams optimize the strategy and car setup.

  15. Suffering Williams Fan
    26th December 2020, 17:35

    Are the average ratings here based on the mean or median? I’d be curious to know how the two measures compare here – I suspect the mean is skewed quite a bit by people over(under)-rating races where their (least) favourite driver/team won.

    1. I think that’s probably at least part of the explanation for why Abu Dhabi was rated so much lower than some of the other processions this season (e.g. Spain, Belgium).

      If you look at the history of RTR you’ll see a similar pattern (for nearly 10 years, the lowest-rated race was Germany 2010, which was in no way the least exciting race of all time, but was won by Ferrari in controversial circumstances). On the whole, I think having an easily accessible archive of hundreds of race ratings is a good thing, but you have to keep its limitations in mind when making comparisons.

      1. @red-andy, I see that Suffering Williams Fan partially answers in an earlier thread above interesting that median would actually even move Abu Dhabi down a bit, guess those of us who thought it about average for this track were a minority opinion!

        Would in general prefer the ratings to be median, with perhaps the extremes noted.

  16. Is there a list that shows the average race rating by year? I’m curious to see if it reflects how we’d rank the seasons overall, or if exceptionally bad (or good) race ratings end up skewing the average for the season.
    2020’s average is 6.5, which seems low considering how much I enjoyed the season.

  17. Abu Dhabi wasn’t even that bad, doesn’t deserve to be that low.

    Imola was mostly terrible don’t get why it’s so high.

  18. It doesn’t matter how badly Abu Dhabi rates. It’s been bought and paid for so nothing will change.

    I suspect that this year it rated worse because the fans, or their families, were completely over the compressed season of race after race each week (or it felt like it). A taste of things to come perhaps if Liberty get their 25+ races per year to eventuate

  19. Funny and it was max leading, its almost like it doesn’t matter who’s leading. If merc leave then we will have even more boring races were max wins everything and his slow teammate struggling to get on the podium no thank you

  20. I thought it was a pretty good season. I thought the same of last year too. I got my fingers crossed for next year.

  21. I doubt it was that bad… I mean come on im sure there’ve been worse races at Abu Dhabi. 2017 was particularly awful if i remember.

    But seriously this track needs some layout changes because let’s be serious its gonna be on the calendar for a long long time!

    Turn 5 & 6 have got to go making turn 7 a proper overtaking spot (with some reconfiguration it can be done)… The double DRS zone with turn 8 & 9 in between is just a joke… Perhaps turn 8 could be curved so that one straight kind of continues onto the other which would make turn 11 a good chance to overtake (cars would be super quick but that way overtaking is better with just a single DRS zone).. Maybe even the last corner could made sharper like a 90 degree so that overtaking is possible

  22. The Abu Dhabi track has several problems I think. Firstly the run to the first corner from the grid is too short. Even if someone gets a bad/good start it doesn’t usually matter too much. The first corner is too wide as well and then just feeds into a full throttle chicane section, so not much chance for a brave inside lunge at the start also. The next problem is the hairpin before the straight, hard to follow closely through a hairpin so unless the performance difference is huge you rarely get an overtake on the following straight. Then there is the next overtaking zone before the chicane (the back corner of the track), too easy to defend by placing the car on the inside of the corner, attempts to overtake around the outside if not aborted usually result in a crash or cutting the chicane. Then the final section is just a series of meah tight twisty corners that do not produce and interesting racing or much of a challenge. A small improvement could be made by moving the grid and pit facilities to the start of the long back straight after the hairpin. Other than that I think the track needs to be completely redesigned.

  23. Funny when Verstappen puts it on pole and runs away for an easy win it’s boring, but it’s what the Merc drivers have been doing for 7 consecutive years.

  24. Abu Dhabi was a carnival compared to 2019 France. Nothing could be worse than that drivel, same with the circuit itself

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