Early assessment of the 2020 Formula One season

The 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship season is currently in its second one-week break from racing amid a bizarre start to the sport’s 70th anniversary of F1 racing.

In a season that was scheduled to start in March but was delayed until July amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the final schedule itself remains incomplete, with many races across multiple nations being cancelled until next season or being postponed to an unknown date. Amid the adjustments towards the sporting, technical and regulatory aspects prior to and during a race weekend, the competitiveness amongst the 20 drivers (10 teams) have not changed through the first six races of this season with all pursuing the same goal: win the championship in F1’s 70th season.

For nearly the entire early portion of this year’s Formula One season, it has been dominated by Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic and the delay of this year’s racing season, the dynamic pairing of Hamilton, Bottas and Mercedes continue to be unstoppable on the track, thus leaving other competitors and teams to grind their gears. 

It all started during the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix at Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring on July 5, where Bottas won and achieved his eighth career victory. Afterwards, Hamilton, the reigning six-time champion, went on to win the next four out of five races, including last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. One of Hamilton’s heroic performances of this season was when he suffered a left-front tyre puncture on the final lap, but he had a huge advantage over the field and enough power to limp home and win the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on August 2. Following his victory last weekend in Spain, Hamilton recorded his record-breaking 156th podium result in Formula One after previously tying Michael Schumacher for the most (155). He has now won a total of 88 Formula One career races, leaving him three shy of tying Schumacher for the most (91), and has won a record 92 poles (his recent one coming last weekend in Spain).

Through the first six races of this season, Hamilton, who has finished in the podium in all but one race and who awaits his racing plans for next season, leads the drivers’ championship standings by 37 points over Dutch’s Max Verstappen while Bottas, who has finished on the podium in all but one race and is set to remain with Mercedes for next season, is ranked in third place in the standings and trails teammate Hamilton by 43 points. In addition, Mercedes leads the constructors’ standings by 86 points over Red Bull Racing and strives to achieve its unprecedented seventh consecutive constructors’ title. Despite the season being far from over, the momentum Mercedes continues to exemplify on the track could very well result with the team etching more milestones on the track and in the record books.

The competitor who emerges as a possible championship threat to Hamilton and Mercedes this year is Max Verstappen. Verstappen, who is currently in his sixth season driving for the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team, is the only non-Mercedes F1 competitor to win this season after he won the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix on August 9 for his ninth career win. Verstappen’s season started off on a low note, where he finished in last place of the 20-car field due to early electrical issues. Since then, Verstappen has recorded podium results through the Spanish Grand Prix (including his win at Silverstone). One of his best performances this season was during the Hungarian Grand Prix, where he rallied from wrecking his car while making his way to the grid to record a second-place finish. Even during last weekend’s race in Spain, where he recorded his third runner-up finish of the season, Verstappen was heard over the radio venting his frustration towards his crew and in failing to keep pace with Hamilton for the win. Despite the early frustrations, he is 37 points behind Hamilton and he has split the two Mercedes competitors atop the drivers’ standings. Both factors are crucial in giving the Dutch competitor and Red Bull Racing time this season to continue to intimidate Mercedes for this year’s F1 crown and pursue more Grand Prix wins. 

Verstappen’s teammate, Alexander Albon, is currently situated in a tie for fifth place in the drivers’ standings with Canadian Lance Stroll with 40 points. Albon’s first full season driving for Red Bull Racing and since transitioning to the organization late last season started off on a disappointing note in the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, where he spun following late contact with Lewis Hamilton while battling for a podium result late in the race and settled in 13th place. This marked the second time since last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix where Albon and Hamilton made contact and resulted with the Thai competitor missing an opportunity in recording his first F1 podium result. For the next five races, he has recorded top-10 results with a best result of fourth place in the Styrian Grand Prix in July. Though Albon has yet to establish his racing plans for next season and beyond, he continues to put his best foot forward on the track while aiming for his first victory and podium result in F1.

With Mercedes and Red Bull Racing off to a fast start this season, BWT Racing Point F1 Team occupies third place in the constructors’ standings following a strong start. Through the first six Formula One races of this season, at least one car from Racing Point has finished in the top 10. Lance Stroll rallied from retiring during the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix to finish in the top 10 the following five races as he is tied with Albon for fifth place in the standings. Stroll’s teammate, Sergio “Checo” Perez, has also had a productive start to this season, though he missed two races after being diagnosed with COVID-19 symptoms. In his other four races, Perez achieved top-10 results with a best result of fifth place last weekend in Spain. He is situated in eighth place in the standings. During his two-race absence, Nico Hülkenberg, who was left out of a full-time ride for this season after being released by Renault, filled in with hopes of returning to the sport next season. Hülkenberg competed in both Silverstone races, where he did not make the starting grid for the British Grand Prix due to an engine failure before he rallied during the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix after qualifying an impressive fourth place and finishing in seventh place. 

Despite the on-track success between its two-car lineup, Racing Point was deducted 15 points following a protest launched at them from Renault following the Styrian Grand Prix, which alleged that Racing Point copied and utilized brake ducts from the Mercedes F1 W10 car used last season. Following similar protests launched against them in Hungary and at Silverstone, FIA stewards ruled that Racing Point illegally copied the brake ducts from the former Mercedes F1 car and the team was docked 15 constructors’ points and fined €400,000. Racing Point, nonetheless, continues to be situated in third place in the constructors’ standings by a slim margin with 63 total points and a long season ahead.

Trailing right behind as the fourth best team in the competition is the McLaren F1 Team with 62 points accomplished between its youthful lineup of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris. Having achieved 12 drivers’ championships and eight constructors’ titles, the McLaren team is coming off a productive 2019 season, but continues to strive in returning back to competitive form and reigniting its past success on the circuit this season. 

Thus far, the team got off to a fast start during the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, when Norris, currently in his second full-time F1 season, notched his first podium finish and was awarded third place as a result of Hamilton given a five-second time penalty following late contact with Albon. The late turnaround made Norris the third youngest F1 competitor to stand on the podium. In addition to his podium result in Austria, Norris has recorded top-10 results in five of the first six F1 races this season and is situated in seventh place in the drivers’ standings while hungry for more. Sainz, on the other hand, is looking for momentum and a strong conclusion following an up-and-down start to his second and final season racing for McLaren before joining Scuderia Ferrari for the 2021 season alongside Charles Leclerc. Last season, it took him until the first four races of the season for him to claim his first top-10 result. This season, Sainz recorded a strong fifth-place result in the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix before he backed it up with back-to-back ninth-place results. He then struggled in both races at Silverstone, where he finished in 13th place in both races, before he rebounded with a sixth-place result at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, his home track. Currently situated in ninth place in the drivers’ standings, Sainz strives to achieve his first podium result since last season in Brazil, along with his first career win, and push for more on the track in his sixth season in F1. 

Coincidentally, the Scuderia Ferrari team is situated in fifth place in the constructors’ standings with 61 points. Compared to previous seasons, this season has been a struggle for an organization that has achieved 15 drivers’ championships and 16 constructors’ titles. Thus far, Charles Leclerc, who is in second season driving for Ferrari, has achieved two podium results, including a runner-up result in the Austrian Grand Prix. Though he sustained two retirements, including last weekend in Spain, he is fourth in the drivers’ standings while trailing Hamilton by 87 points. Sebastian Vettel, on the other hand, has yet to record a podium result in his sixth and final season driving for Ferrari. The four-time F1 champion from West Germany is in 11th place in the drivers’ standings, trailing Hamilton by 116 points, and has finished no higher than sixth place, which occurred at Silverstone during the British Grand Prix. With Ferrari admitting its struggle to find pace on the track with their new car, they have a long season ahead to turn the corner around and return to challenge Mercedes and Red Bull for podium results and wins on a weekly basis.

Next is the Renault DP World F1 Team with 36 points and currently in its second season with Daniel Ricciardo and first with Esteban Ocon. For Ricciardo, this season marks his best start with Renault compared to last season. After the first six races of last season, Ricciardo achieved two top-10 results and was situated in 13th place in the drivers’ standings. This season, the Australian native has recorded three top-10 results, which includes a best result of fourth place in the British Grand Prix, and is 10th place in the standings. Ricciardo strives to achieve as much success as possible with Renault as he did in the past with Red Bull Racing before he moves to McLaren for 2021 alongside Norris. Ocon, on the other hand, is continuing to rediscover his competitive form as a full-time competitor following his one-year absence from the sport, where he was a Mercedes reserve competitor last season. This season, since joining Renault, the Évreux, France, native has achieved three top-10 results and is in 12th place in the drivers’ standings while he attempts to repeat the success he produced on the track in 2017 while racing for the Sahara Force India F1 team. Despite this season being far from over, Renault is already setting its sights for next season in returning to competitive form with two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso set to return from a two-year retirement period and reunite with the organization, where Alonso achieved his two series titles with Renault.

Situated in seventh place in the current constructors’ standings with 16 points is the newly formed Scuderia AlphaTauri team. This team made its debut this season when rebranded from Toro Rosso to promote the AlphaTauri fashion brand, but it remains as a sister organization to Red Bull Racing. Though the team was rebranded, it retained its current driver lineup, featuring Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat, and it continues to run and be supplied with Honda engines like Red Bull. Through the first six races of this season, Gasly has recorded three top-10 results and is in 13th place in the drivers’ standings with 14 points while Kvyat has recorded two top-10 results and is in 16th place in the standings with two points. Though both competitors achieved a podium result last season (Kvyat in Germany and Gasly in Brazil), consistency on a weekly basis is the key element that the competitors and the team have yet to achieve to climb their way through the standings and serve as a competitive threat towards the likes of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.

With two points recorded throughout the first six races of this season in total thus far, the Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen is situated in eighth place in the constructors’ standings. The team was rebranded from Alfa Romeo Racing to Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen when Robert Kubica, who raced for Williams Racing last season, joined Alfa Romeo as a reserve competitor and brought his sponsor PKN Orlen with him as a co-title sponsor for the team. Currently, the team’s best result has been a ninth-place run in the Austrian Grand Prix with Antonio Giovinazzi. Giovinazzi is ranked in 15th place in the drivers’ standings and has finished no higher than 14th place (twice) in the last five F1 races of this season. His teammate, Kimi Räikkönen, is ranked in 18th place in the standings and he has finished no higher than 11th place through the six races of his 18th season in Formula One. Räikkönen, Giovinazzi and Alfa Romeo Racing have yet to announce their racing plans and lineup for next season.

With only one point recorded throughout the early stages of this season in total thus far, this marks the lowest number of points recorded by the Haas F1 Team in the team’s fifth season in competition. Though the team’s two-car lineup emerges into competitive form prior to a Grand Prix race, from practicing to qualifying, they struggle in race trim and keeping pace with the leaders. The team’s best run this season was during the Hungarian Grand Prix in July, where both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were racing within the top five in the early stages of the race. In the end, however, Magnussen recorded a 10th-place result and a single point for the Haas team while Grosjean fell all the way back to 16th place. Through the first six races, Magnussen is in 17th place in the drivers’ standings with one top-10 result and three retirements while Grosjean is 21st in the standings with a best result of 13th place, one retirement and no points recorded early this season. With the slow start to this season, Haas, America’s lone F1 team, have a tall mountain to climb in order to muscle their way back into competitive form against the sport’s elite and to achieve their first podium result in F1. 

Finally, the Williams Racing hold possession of the 10th and final position of the constructors’ standings with no points recorded this season thus far. For a team that achieved seven drivers’ championships and nine constructors’ titles in the late-20th century, the last three seasons, including the start of this season, have not been playing into the favors of the Williams team. The good news for the organization is that they have retained their current driver lineup, featuring Nicholas Latifi and George Russell, for next season. The bad news is that both competitors are ranked well below the drivers’ standings this season with both struggling to keep pace with the leaders. This season, the team’s best results include a 11th-place finish with Latifi in Austria and a 12th-place result with Russell at Silverstone. Latifi is currently 19th in the drivers’ standings while Russell is 20th and one of four competitors, along with his teammate, to have no points recorded early this season. Like the Haas F1 team, Williams have a tall mountain to climb in order to reignite the on-track success achieved from the past.

The 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship season will resume on August 30 at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix and the seventh racing event of this season.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com


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