The 2020 Formula 1 season is finally underway as the teams, drivers and their cars have hit the race track for the first race of the season in Austria. Although the 2020 F1 season was scheduled to begin in Albert Park for the Australian Grand Prix, the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the race and subsequent races as well leading to F1 to go into early and elongated shut-down. Now that the dust in Europe is starting to clear, the Formula 1 season is finally getting underway with the first official race weekend already having started for the Austrian Grand Prix which will be held this weekend. The teams have already been on track as Friday Free Practice is being held today. While a lot has happened over the course of Formula One’s hiatus, here are five things you need to look out for at the Austrian Grand Prix.
Mercedes-AMG in Black Livery
In order to support and promote diversity in the sport, and also support the Black Lives Matter movement, Mercedes has entirely changed its brand colours for the 2020 season. The Silver Arrows in 2020 will race in an all-black livery to show its support for the movement. The initiative has been spearheaded by Lewis Hamilton, who has been backed by his Mercedes-AMG F1 Team. As for the race itself, Mercedes, like all other teams will be bringing in upgrades to their cars, and of note are their new upgraded engine. With the first race being held on Red Bull Racing’s home ground at the Red Bull Ring, the team have been dominant in the past, while Mercedes have struggled. It will be interesting with the first two races being held on the same track the year if Mercedes have the upper hand, or the cards are in Red Bull’s favour.
Max Verstappen’s Title Challenge
Speaking of cards being in Red Bull Racing’s favour. The F1 2020 calendar features the first two rounds at the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian Grand Prix followed the Steiermark Grand Prix (Jul 10-12). The third race will be held at the Hungaroring, for the Hungarian Grand Prix. Both race tracks have favoured the Red Bull cars in the past which means that we could see Max Verstappen and Red Bull take an early lead into the season if history is to repeat itself. Red Bull held a filming day at the Red Bull Ring recently where they used their 2020 car. Red Bull says that the new car is completely different from what they tested earlier in the year in the pre-season tests in Barcelona. How this will work out remains to be seen, but if it does fall in Red Bull’s favour in the initial stages of the season, Verstappen could be within a chance to take the battle to Mercedes this year.
Last Hurrah for Vettel?
While the F1 season was on hold, the silly season was heavily underway in regard to the news about the driver market. Within a span of a few days, Ferrari announced that four-time world champion, Sebastian Vettel will no longer be racing for Ferrari after the 2020 season. The next day it was announced that Carlos Sainz will be joining Ferrari to fill Vettel’s vacant seat in 2021, while his seat in McLaren will be filled in by Daniel Ricciardo who will leave Renault after the 2020 season. Although Mercedes-AMG is yet to confirm if it plans to retain Hamilton and Bottas by extending their contracts, it leaves little room for Vettel to race for any top team on the grid for 2021. While it is rumoured that Renault is looking to bring back Fernando Alonso to fill that empty seat in 2021, this could mean that Vettel may retire from the sport after the 2020 season.
Williams, Rokit divorce
Williams, one of the most iconic privateer teams in F1 history have been struggling to say the least in the last few seasons. While its title sponsor Rokit had been supporting the team even for the 2020 season, suddenly it was announced that Rokit was pulling its sponsorship support from the Williams F1 Team. This has now put the team’s future in jeopardy, as Claire Williams announces that the team is looking for buyers and investors. It is possible that if a buyer is found, the team may even lose the Williams name and along with it, it will also lose its Formula 1 heritage and history. While Williams is still racing this season, they recently revealed its new livery without the Rokit branding. Now it’s up to the team to perform presumably putting an immense amount of pressure on George Russel and Nicolas Latifi, the drivers, and the management to find the money to keep going. How this season will pan out for Williams is something we will have to see as the season progresses.
Raikkonen undecided about 2021
Kimi Raikkonen, who is the oldest driver on the grid will be setting a new record of most number of Grand Prix starts by any single driver. The record is currently held by Rubens Barichello, but the Finn is said to beat that record this season. While Kimi won the world title back in 2007 for Ferrari, the Finn is currently in his second season with Alfa Romeo. Raikkonen’s contract expires at the end of the 2020 season. Currently, Raikkonen, now a family man, is undecided whether he will continue racing in 2021, or will retire from the sport. Raikkonen said he will make a decision later over the course of the season whether he plans to stay for another year in Formula 1 or call it day on his F1 career.
Different F1 for 2020
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the high contagiousness of the virus, the initial Grand Prix weekends are to be held in a different format. The first few races of the season will be held in the absence of any spectators. And with no spectators, the podium ceremonies will feature a different sequence than what has traditionally been the case. All teams will be limited to a handful of mechanics on the grid at the start of the race, all are required to use PPE kits wherever possible and everyone in the paddock is required to practice social distancing.
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