The Formula One circus stays in the Styrian mountains as the Red Bull Ring plays host to the Austrian Grand Prix, just seven days after Max Verstappen claimed victory at the same circuit in the Styrian Grand Prix.
It would take a brave person to bet against Verstappen taking his third consecutive victory on Sunday, given his dominant performance last weekend. Sergio Perez will be hoping he can make it two Red Bulls on the podium, after coming within a second of Valtteri Bottas in the previous race.
A double podium is probably the best case scenario once again for Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton making a rare trip to the Brackley simulator in an aim to extract every last inch of performance out of his car. The quick turnaround means no upgrades for this race, and there are mixed messages from the Mercedes camp regarding how much more development we will see on their 2021 car.
The pace from the top two teams meant Ferrari and McLaren were once again left fighting for fifth. Although it was Lando Norris who won the midfield battle last weekend, Daniel Ricciardo was showing good pace before reliability troubles dropped him down the order. Ferrari will also be hoping for a smoother weekend from Charles Leclerc, who showed some inspired moves after being controversially involved in Pierre Gasly’s retirement.
AlphaTauri, Alpine and Aston Martin will look to pick up some of the lesser points once again, in what looks to be one of the tightest midfield battles for years. Strategy could well be key in this battle, as free air is hard to come by on the track with the shortest lap time of the year. Pirelli are also bringing softer tyres to the Austrian GP than they did at the Styrian round, which might lead to more action in the pitlane.
For George Russell, he will be hoping his pitlane action is much more conventional this weekend. A pneumatic leak cost him a shot at his first ever points for Williams, with the Brit admitting that there’s no guarantee he will be able to replicate that performance again this time around. His teammate will also be hoping for a better result, after being an innocent victim in last weekend’s lap one shenanigans.
Alfa Romeo will be hoping they can sneak a point, after just missing out with Kimi Raikkonen last time around. The intriguing battle between the Haas cars will also be one to watch, as Mick Schumacher and his teammate battle for inter-team supremacy, which must be a small ray of light in a very difficult debut season for both drivers.
It’s fair to say last week’s race was not a classic, but different tyres (and possibly different weather) could make the Austrian GP an entirely different beast indeed.
When Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc crossed the line at Monza back in 2019 to join the likes of Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso as first-time winners for the Scuderia in front of the Tifosi, I was absolutely elated for him. However the following year came and Ferrari were heavily hampered by amendments to rules regarding the engine. They plummeted from second in the constructors’ championship in 2019 with three wins, to sixth in 2020 with a best of a second place finish courtesy of Leclerc at the season opener in Austria.
After spending a lot of time prior to the delayed 2020 opener on the F1 game with Leclerc, Lando Norris was asked during the season if he felt sorry for the Monegasque and he answered that he did not. On the surface, it might seem as if Lando is being very callous in his response but when you actually take the time to understand what he’s saying, it does make sense.
Norris pointed out that Leclerc had been in a position to win races in 2019, winning two and coming close to winning many more. You have to consider yourself very fortunate to find yourself in such a position; not every driver is able to be in racing-winning machinery and as a wiser person than me once said, you have to savour the good days because they don’t always last.
The reason I bring this up is because Lando repeated this comment in relation to his new teammate at McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo. The Aussie found himself in a race-winning position many times during his tenure at Red Bull between 2014 and 2018, before making a move to Renault and now McLaren for this season.
Ricciardo hasn’t had the smoothest of starts to his time with the Woking-based outfit, so far only out-racing Norris in the most recent race at Spain, with Lando having moved over for him, repaying the favour that Daniel did for him at Imola which resulted in the Brit scoring a podium finish.
When Norris was asked about his teammate’s struggles, he was again brutally honest. He pointed out that adapting to a new car and overcoming these issues are part and parcel of this cutthroat business of Formula One. He also said that he has no doubt that Daniel will get the hang of it eventually.
But even then, success is not guaranteed or handed to you on a plate. Even if you’re Sebastian Vettel, who is the only non-Alfa Romeo, Williams or Haas driver to have failed to score a point so far this year, you can’t use the excuse “But he’s a four-time champion”.
When the announcement of Ricciardo and Norris becoming teammates at McLaren happened, a lot of people began making mountains out of molehills claiming Lando was scared, that there’s tension between them and that they’ll be glad when Ricciardo ends Lando’s career.
Who needs Netflix to do it for Drive To Survive when we already are creating this needless and petulant drama?
But my point is, Lando clearly isn’t saying any of this with malice. There may come a point when Lando is in a position where he is winning races and contending for championships; I would hope that is soon. But if after that, things aren’t going his way, you shouldn’t pity him. That’s the way life is when you’re in a sport that is as competitive as Formula One.
People are reading way too much into his comments believing he’s immensely arrogant, rude and doesn’t even have the results to justify his demeanor. First of all, even if you’re as successful as Lewis Hamilton, it still doesn’t mean you get to treat people terribly. But that’s besides the point.
Primarily though, Norris is mature enough to understand that success isn’t guaranteed and you need to overcome your difficulties in your own way. He’s said some regrettable stuff and has acknowledged that, impressing many of us with how self-aware he is.
In the end, people will create conflict where there is none and the people who are successful will have earned it, in spite of what they’ve achieved before. Think of it this way: Lando Norris was the best placed driver outside of Mercedes and Red Bull in the first three races, with that streak broken in Spain. Do we feel sorry for him for that? No.
There are plenty of people who said he underperformed last year. Whether you agree with that or not, that’s up to you. I don’t believe so personally, finishing only eight points behind his vastly more experienced teammate Carlos Sainz, and winning the intra-team qualifying battle in both seasons together. Yes there will have been some elements skewing those numbers but that’s part and parcel of life.
But do we feel sorry for him that he didn’t get more points or wasn’t more successful? No. You just have to take what comes at you in this sport and hope brighter days are only ahead, and even if not, there’s nothing you can do about it.
It’s not like Lando is smugly reveling in the misfortunes of others. He’ll face highs and lows like many of the drivers; the highs will have come from hard work and the lows will require effort to be overcome. We can all learn a thing or two from Norris’ approach – of course not everything can be overcome with hard work but the last thing any of us needs is to be wallowing in pity.
In the cases of the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc, I can see things are definitely improving already and it’s very likely they will be contending for regular podiums throughout the season. So don’t read into Lando’s comments and assume he’s saying it with hostility. It’s ridiculous.
Valtteri Bottas ended the second day of pre-season testing in Bahrain with the fastest time, despite more mechanical problems afflicting Mercedes and their customer Aston Martin.
Bottas set his pacesetting lap of a 1:30.289s late in the afternoon session, on a run on the softest C5 tyres. However, Bottas lost a considerable amount of running earlier in the session due to an issue with his car’s floor, which compounded the gearbox problems that held him back yesterday.
Similar Mercedes gearbox issues stopped Sebastian Vettel from getting any meaningful running with Aston Martin. The German managed just six laps in the morning session before his car began a lengthy spell on jacks in the garage. Vettel did return to the track before the end of the session, but only recorded four more laps before handing over to Lance Stroll for the afternoon.
Lewis Hamilton also had a troubled day of testing for Mercedes. The defending champion drove in the morning but spun into the gravel towards the end of the session and brought out the red flag. He ended the day 15th fastest, only ahead of Vettel.
Not all the Mercedes-powered teams had problems today, however, with McLaren continuing the strong pace displayed yesterday. Daniel Ricciardo was one of the early pacesetters and topped the morning session, while Lando Norris was quickest for a while in the afternoon before ultimately ending the day fourth behind Bottas, Pierre Gasly and Stroll.
Alpine also had a solid day with Fernando Alonso at the wheel of the A521. The Spaniard was second-quickest behind Ricciardo in the morning session, and logged a total of 128 laps by the end of the day. He also completed a comprehensive run plan that included testing three different floor configurations and two different engine covers.
Following Esteban Ocon’s 129 laps from day one, Alpine are now leading the way in terms of combined mileage heading into the final day of testing. Meanwhile, all four Mercedes-powered teams have the fewest total laps, with Williams on 215 followed by McLaren (195), Aston Martin (177) and Mercedes themselves (162).
However, Nicholas Latifi did record the most laps of any driver on day two, with 132 for Williams.
McLaren have become the first F1 team to unveil their 2021 challenger in a launch held at their factory in Woking.
Externally, the MCL35M is quite similar to its 2020 predecessor, featuring the same orange and blue livery. The most notable difference is around the power unit with tighter bodywork and a narrower floor.
Speaking of the launch in a press release, CEO Zak Brown said, “After a challenging but rewarding 2020, we have firmly hit the reset button for this season as we continue on our path towards the front of the grid. This will be an even tougher season but we’re ready to meet the challenge. I want to pay tribute to Formula 1 and the FIA and our fellow teams in continuing to work hard for the benefit of our sport as we strive to bring exciting racing to fans around the world.”
McLaren’s driver line-up has partially changed for 2021. Lando Norris is staying on for a third season, while Daniel Ricciardo is now driving alongside him. He replaces Carlos Sainz, who has moved to Ferrari for this year.
Team Principal Andreas Seidl said, “Together, Lando and Daniel comprise one of the most competitive driver line-ups in the sport. With these two behind the wheel of the MCL35M, we know we’ll have a team that gives total commitment in the pursuit of on-track performance as we head into the 2021 season.”
After using a Renault power unit from 2018 to 2020, the 2021 McLaren features a Mercedes power unit. McLaren previously worked with Mercedes between 1995 and 2014, a partnership that yielded three drivers’ championships and one constructors’ championships.
Speaking of the partnership, Technical Director James Key said, “One of the key elements of the MCL35M design is the integration of the Mercedes-AMG power unit, which has taken a considerable effort from the team in Woking, as well as our colleagues at Mercedes. Despite our limited scope for installation in a homologated car, the team has done a fantastic job of optimising our design work.”
The MCL35M will run for the first time at Silverstone tomorrow as part of a filming day.
At just 103 days, the winter break between 2020 and 2021 is one of the shortest, certainly in modern history in Formula One. In actual fact, it was set to be shorter still, but with the postponement of the Australian Grand Prix, the new season will kick off in Bahrain, but what can we expect from this year?
Well, in truth, this year will probably be a case of “same, but different”, as regulations set in place for 2021 mean that the 2020 cars have been carried over to this year, and only aero parts and PUs are eligible to be changed. Fundamentally, though, the cars must remain the same, and the chassis will be identical to last year, so do not expect any massive jumps in performance.
This means to say that Mercedes should still be top dogs, Red Bull should be a close second, and the midfield will still be as intense as it was throughout the entirety of the 17 races last year.
But while substantial increases or otherwise in performance is too much to expect, little nuggets of gold may just help swing the tide a little as someone, somehow, looks to topple Mercedes’ absolute brilliance at the front.
Sergio Perez, surprise winner of the crazy Sakhir Grand prix last season, will make his highly-anticipated Red Bull debut having replaced the hapless Alex Albon. The discussion has been raging as to whether he will be able to beat their current titan Max Verstappen, and whether the Mexican truly does have the pace to compete at the front and spur Red Bull into serious Constructors’ Championship contention. It is widely expected that, if Perez is dominated by Verstappen the way Albon and Pierre Gasly were, it is a case of the car being geared to the Dutchman, as opposed to a lack of pace from Max’s team mates.
264 points separated Mercedes and Red Bull last year, so it will be fascinating to see if Red Bull’s third driver pairing in as many years will be able to close the gap and make life a little more uncomfortable for the imperious champions.
Speaking of whom, newly-crowned champion Lewis Hamilton has finally put pen to paper on a new contract with the German team, in a deal that takes him to the end of the 2021 season.
Reasons for just the one-season extension have been speculated about; who knows if it could be down to the impending salary cap, or whether it is because Hamilton feels as though he only has one year left with the Silver Arrows, and in Formula One as a whole?
This would make sense. Hamilton is set to win his eighth championship this season, beating Michael Schumacher’s remarkable seven in the process. The sport could certainly do with having Hamilton around next year, and we are likely set to see one of the most historical moments in the history of Formula One.
His team mate Valtteri Bottas could well be going into his last year with the Silver Arrows, but conversely to Hamilton, his future may not be in his own hands. In spite of a second-placed finish in the championship last season, Bottas’ overall performance has occasionally left something to be desired, and he will need to show stronger title credentials this year if he is to remain a part of the team in 2022.
A large part of this equation is the impressive progress of George Russell who, with a good performance in the Williams in 2021, could find himself in line for a drive next season. Particularly after Russell’s magnificent pace last year in the Sakhir Grand Prix alongside Bottas, this season will be a monumental one for both of them.
Further down, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo are definitely ones to watch as they make their debuts for Ferrari and McLaren respectively. Ferrari acquired the services of Sainz after Sebastian Vettel’s departure for Aston Martin, while Australian Daniel Ricciardo left Renault for McLaren, replacing Spaniard Sainz. Ferrari’s new engine and aero parts for this season could lift them further into the midfield battle, and above the abysmal eighth place they managed last season with Vettel and Leclerc. Vettel meanwhile, with his new team and new haircut to boot, will attempt to make his presence felt in his new adventure with the new Aston Martin team, who take over from Racing Point this year.
Just as exciting as the German’s new venture, Fernando Alonso makes his comeback in 2021 in the Alpine team that has replaced Renault for this year, and after two seasons out, expectation is high. Frenchman Esteban Ocon, who managed his first podium last season in Sakhir, gets a real test of his ability by going up against a driver who, as well as being a two-time champion, is widely regarded as one of the quickest and most skilled drivers in F1’s rich history.
Alonso, though, comes back probably feeling a fair bit older than he did when he left. He raced against Jos Verstappen and Michael Schumacher during his first 18-year spell in the sport, and he is now about to race against their sons.
While Max had already become a fixture towards the end of Alonso’s first tenure, Michael’s son Mick will now be on the same grid as one of his father’s greatest rivals, as two generations collide.
Schumacher claimed glory in the F2 championship last season with Prema, and he arrives in Formula One with one of Ferrari’s junior teams: Haas. The American outfit enter this year will a new driver lineup; the departing Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are replaced by Schumacher and car number nine.
As Lewis Hamilton seeks a record eighth championship, and Mercedes try to extend their record of Constructors’ championship successes, the 2021 season is a huge one for a lot of drivers, in what is the last year before the regulation changes in 2022.
Ahead of Renault’s new identity as Alpine, and a reshuffle at the team, Cyril Abiteboul is leaving his role as team boss effective immediately.
Abiteboul’s journey as a team boss began in 2013 when he took charge of the doomed Caterham, having acted as Renault’s Deputy Director of Sport until 2012.
In 2015, he returned to this role and, having seen the Renault name return under Frederic Vassuer’s leadership, he took charge of the French outfit at the back end of 2016.
Sandwiched in between these stages of his career has been the controversy with Red Bull. On various occasions between 2015 and 2018, he had several public fall-outs with Red Bull Principal Christian Horner. Red Bull’s struggles with Renault power in the hybrid era led to tensions between the two teams, and Horner’s complaints about the performance and reliability of the Power Unit began to irritate Abiteboul.
This relationship came to a head in 2018, when Red Bull announced they would no longer be using Renault engines for 2019 onwards, and would instead turn to Honda, who had supplied Toro Rosso that season to a degree of success.
Renault endured a tough 2019, finishing fifth compared to fourth in 2018, and a long way behind McLaren.
A similar story rang true in 2020, but they were much closer to McLaren and Racing Point, fighting for third during much of the campaign, but ultimately finishing fifth again.
They also managed three podiums last year; Daniel Ricciardo finished third in Germany and Imola, while Esteban Ocon claimed a spectacular P2 in Sakhir, in what was Sergio Perez’s first win in Formula One. The Mexican has signed for Red Bull this year, replacing Alex Albon.
Abiteboul’s tenure will be remembered with a great deal of respect. He fearlessly led the team through thick and thin, and has laid the groundwork for Alpine to progress and achieve the success Renault once enjoyed. He enticed Ricciardo into his project, and having lured Fernando Alonso back to the team after the Australian’s departure, Abiteboul bows out with the team in a far better state than it was in when he arrived.
What a year. 2020 was tipped by many to be one of the most exciting in modern times and, well they were not wrong.
This has been by far the most astonishing year any of us have ever witnessed, both on and off the track, and even the most ardent of optimists cannot deny that it has been a struggle for everyone.
However, you also have to appreciate the fruits that have come out of a very tough situation. We have seen amazing race tracks like Mugello, Imola, Istanbul, Portimao and the Nurburgring introduced to a revised calendar, which has been a real delight for us all.
We went from 22 races to 17, and it all culminates this weekend at the Yas Marina Circuit for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In a year that has been dim for many, the floodlights will shine a light of F1’s season finale.
The 5.5 kilometre track made its debut in F1 in 2009, closing out Jenson Buttonb’s title-winning year, and Brawn GP’s successor Mercedes arrive here having won every race in Abu Dhabi since 2014.
And this will fill them with hope, because a horrible race in Bahrain last weekend leaves them desiring a strong result to close out what has been an otherwise phenomenal year.
It is yet unclear whether newly-crowned seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who contracted Coronavirus in the build-up to the Sakhir Grand Prix, will recover in time for this weekend. It therefore may be that George Russell returns to the car that he so nearly steered to victory in a stunning debut last race, only to be denied by not one, but two disasters.
Mercedes fitted team mate Valtteri Bottas’ tyres to race leader Russell’s car, forcing him to stop again and Bottas to stay out on dead tyres after a safety car. Having passed Bottas and made his way back up to second, Russell was baring down on Sergio Perez, only for a slow puncture to send him back to the pits. He would finish ninth, while Bottas ended up just one place better in eighth.
It was the aforementioned Perez that took his first ever F1 win, and the first ever for Racing point too. Following his devastating retirement last race that cost him a podium, he gave himself a great chance of securing fourth in the drivers’ standings this weekend, while Racing Point have now moved 10 points clear of McLaren in the battle for third in the Constructors’. Renault sit a further 12 points back.
It makes for an extremely intense finale in the context of the midfield battle, with all eyes firmly fixed on who will claim valuable positions in the drivers’ and constructors’ standings.
The gains will be valuable both financially and in terms of personal pride, and McLaren would be fully grateful of third following their cash flow issues at the start of 2020. As the race for third reaches a head, we eagerly anticipate this enormous battle between Racing Point and McLaren under the lights of Abu Dhabi.
It has been a tough year for many, but hopefully F1 has helped make it that bit easier for you all, and we look forward to covering one last race for you before we gladly turn our backs on 2020.
What a race! In the jumbled up 2020 calendar that began in July at the Red Bull Ring, the last three races are a triple feast in the Middle East. Beginning with the traditional Bahrain circuit last weekend and ending the season at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi but that middle race would be another one at Bahrain. However it would be on the outer circuit which the F1 cars had been lapping at under a minute all through the weekend.
The lead up to the weekend was already packed with action, as Romain Grosjean’s horror crash from which he thankfully escaped with just a few burns meant that Haas drafted in reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi. Then the huge bombshell dropped that world champion Lewis Hamilton had tested positive for COVID-19 which meant Mercedes had to go looking for a replacement driver. That turned out to be George Russell who left a vacant seat at Williams, and that ended up being F2 racer Jack Aitken.
In qualifying, it was Bottas who just pipped Russell to pole by a microscopic margin. Max Verstappen qualified third and Charles Leclerc put in a mighty lap to drag that lacklustre Ferrari to fourth on the grid, and following him were Pérez, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Sainz, Gasly, Stroll, Ocon, Albon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Latifi, Aitken, Räikkönen, and at the back were Norris and Fittipaldi who had taken grid penalties.
At the start, Russell immediately got away better than Bottas who had to hold off Verstappen’s advances, and struggled to get out the first few corners. His compatriot Räikkönen spun in the back of shot and thankfully no awful imagery to worry about like last week at the same corner. But Bottas’ eyes were on Verstappen, closing the door on him which left an open opportunity for Pérez to go past the Red Bull.
But it was Leclerc who got caught out trying to brake for the corner, smacked into the Racing Point and spun him round, leaving Verstappen with nowhere to go but into the wall and retirement along with Leclerc. Somehow, Pérez was able to continue and pitted, benefitting from the subsequent safety car and was able to rejoin the back of the pack in 18th.
At the front, Russell’s massive lead that he got at the start was eliminated, but he wasn’t done. The safety car period ended on lap six and Russell eased off whilst Bottas was under pressure from McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who rose to third amid the first lap chaos. He went around the outside of Bottas into turn one, but going through the turn two and three complex, Sainz ran wide and that allowed the Merc right back through.
Whilst Russell was experiencing what it’s like to be in the lead in an F1 car, further down the order were two of his mates, Lando Norris and Alex Albon. Lap 20 and Albon made a move stick on Norris, who was then immediately overtaken by Pérez despite the Mexican being spun on the first lap. The following lap, Albon was then passed by Pérez at the same corner.
Back at the front with Russell, he already had a gap of over a second before the DRS was enabled. The Mercs began gapping Sainz, and it was a steady lead Russell held over Bottas which fluctuated as they negotiated lapped traffic. He extended that lead after he pitted, undercutting Bottas after he was left out for a further four laps, and the gap went to the highest it had been all race even in spite of a sensor scare.
Russell’s typical Williams teammate Nicholas Latifi pulled off and caused a Virtual Safety Car, and not much changed other than Bottas swiped into Russell’s lead. But Pérez was continuing his charge through the field, putting a move on teammate Lance Stroll going into turn four and then the following lap, on former Force India teammate Esteban Ocon. The Mexican was absolutely flying out there. He was now on course for a podium finish with his strategy completely played out.
However, Russell’s replacement at Williams Jack Aitken lost the car coming out of the last corner and clattered the tyre barrier, leaving his front wing on the track and he dove for the pits. A Virtual Safety Car was initially called, but that became a full Safety Car, and Mercedes felt the need to cover off Pérez. But man, did they mess up.
The two Mercs double stacked, Russell came in and they put on the tyres, all well and good. Then Bottas came in and there seemed to be some hesitation, and they sent him back out on the same tyres he pitted with, which was a bit odd as to why they did that. Then it became very apparent. Russell had been sent out on tyres which were intended for Bottas, so now he was bunched up behind the safety car with Pérez, Ocon and Stroll behind him and he was called back to the pits to change the tyres.
This was a huge mess-up on Mercedes’ part. Russell came back out in fifth behind Bottas who remained on his old set, but looked to have the best tyres out of everyone in the top five. Racing resumed and Russell was a man on a mission, making quick work of his teammate on the old set of tyres pulling off an immense outside move going through the long turn six, then passing Stroll and Ocon with the help of DRS. He then set to work catching Pérez who was a long way up the road.
Russell was eating into Pérez’s advantage lap after lap but yet again, disaster. Russell was called back to the pits AGAIN as he had a slow puncture and they put him on softs, whilst the other Mercedes of Bottas just went backwards as he was overtaken by Sainz, Ricciardo and Albon in very quick succession.
But up at the front, a man who for some reason doesn’t have a drive in 2021 guaranteed. Sergio Pérez took an incredible first win for both himself, and the team that he’s leaving after next week’s season finale. Esteban Ocon took second ahead of Lance Stroll, then it was Sainz, Ricciardo, Kvyat had also passed Bottas in the closing stages, Russell recovered to ninth ahead of Norris who scored the last point.
Russell finally got his long awaited first points finish as well as another for fastest lap, although it was little consolation for what was throughout the entire race looking set to be an incredible first win for the guy. He did absolutely incredibly all weekend, and it definitely will not be the last we hear from Russell, who may get a second stab at the cherry this weekend in Abu Dhabi providing Hamilton isn’t well enough to participate.
But it was Pérez who after 190 starts, finally took victory and became the first Mexican to win an F1 Grand Prix in 50 years. A win that was perhaps long overdue, especially if we harken back to Malaysia 2012 when he came very close in his Sauber to denying Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso a win that day. But better late than never, and hopefully Pérez is not out of F1 for long.
In a year that has not seen an awful lot of light either in Formula One or the outside world, darkness will soon descend on the 2020 season, with three night races in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi closing out the championship.
And whilst the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships have already once again been grabbed with authority by Mercedes, it is the battles further down that, true to form, promise to be as eccentric as ever as we head to Sakhir.
The 5.4 kilometre circuit has played host to 16 Formula one races since its inception in 2004, and was eventually rushed onto this year’s calendar after it had to miss out on its slot as the second race of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It will play host to two consecutive race weekends, but not quite as we know it. While this weekend utilises the accustomed track, the following weekend will see the vastly shortened version take its place, with sub-one minute lap times predicted.
Such pace will not be afforded in the first of the two meets in the desert, meaning that Mercedes’ dominance could possibly be kerbed slightly.
If we remember back to last year, Charles Leclerc all but had the win in the bag before engine issues cost him the victory, and would have cost him a podium had it not been for a late safety car.
But this performance from Ferrari is as much a concern this year as it was promising last year. The Prancing Horses were really the only team able to touch Mercedes that weekend, with Red Bull struggling find podium-earning pace.
And Ferrari have been woeful this year; their pace has picked up since the beginning of the season in Austria, but no wins and just three podiums are a damming indictment on what has been an extremely one-sided affair for the titles.
As a result, we should not anticipate much of a challenge for the win, and Valtteri Bottas in particular will be hoping this is the case following one of the most disastrous days of his career last time out in Turkey. To compound his non-points finish, he had to watch his team mate Lewis Hamilton beat him to the championship and claim his seventh title.
But it is the aforementioned midfield that will be catching the eye. Bahrain does seem to be able to promote some decent side-by side action down the main straight and up towards turn four, and drivers have shown plenty of times at this track that they are perfectly unafraid of an audacious overtaking attempt elsewhere too.
Sergio Perez’s phenomenal podium last time in Istanbul sees him an impressive fourth in the Drivers’ standings on exactly 100 points. He is three clear of Charles Leclerc, and you only have to count back another one point to find Daniel Ricciardo in fifth.
Istanbul certainly aided the shaking-up of the order, making for what will be a scintillating final three rounds of the season. The close racing in Sakhir will be an excellent catalyst for the showdown for what will now be a coveted fourth spot.
With eighteen points between third-placed Racing Point and fifth-placed Renault in the Constructors’ standings too, prepare for three weekends of thrills and spills as the championship reaches its last chapter.
After a 24-year absence, Formula One is finally about to return to Portugal this weekend, as we gear up for round 12 of the 2020 season and the first ever at the Algarve circuit.
Having visited the country 16 times in the past on world championship level, F1 will be hosted by the 4.6 kilometre circuit as part of the new circuits hurriedly introduced to fill the gaps in the staggered Formula One calendar in 2020.
As a result, you could be forgiven for suggesting that Algarve has been on of the scarce positives to come out of the Coronavirus pandemic, along with multiple new and returning tracks that have added to a thus-far vibrant season of racing.
Perhaps said vibrance does not quite apply to the 2020 drivers’ and constructors’ title battles; Mercedes’ 10 wins and Lewis Hamilton’s impressive eight can testify to that, and the same rang true after a marvellous drive from the six-time champion earned him victory at the Nurburgring a fortnight ago.
Daniel Ricciardo’s mightily impressive podium for Renault, and Max Verstappen’s second place with the fastest lap followed Valtteri Bottas’ failure to finish, with the Finn admitting over the two-week break that he “needs a miracle” if he is to mount a serious challenge to his team mate Hamilton for the drivers’ title in 2020.
Renault’s result was a further example of just how tight the midfield battle is. McLaren, Racing Point and the occasional cameo from race-winning Alpha Tauri have made for an enticing season in the midfield over the opening rounds, with Renault power finally proving itself a serious contender for the top three in the Constructors’ battle this year.
What has been curtailed, however, is the usual three-way battle between Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari, with the Scuderia falling massively from any sort of grace performance-wise this season. The Portimao circuit may provide some relief to their issues though. While Portimao does feature a long home straight and a couple of braking zones in the first sector, there are lots of flowing parts of the track where, technically, there will be lots for the drivers themselves to do in order to find lap time. This is particularly the case into the double-right of turns 10 and 11. This should help somewhat to mitigate the time lost down the straight with Ferrari’s shocking power deficit and seemingly woeful chassis. Bear in mind though that Mattia Binotto is confident that new upgrades the Maranello outfit have brought to the car will further improve their chances of a strong result this weekend.
Conversely, the non-Ferrari powered teams will be excited for this weekend. Getting it right through the tricky technical sections, including the deceptive final corner, as well as having some decent performance down the straight could make for some surprise qualifying results, and a fiery battle for position during the Grand Prix.
Having just equalled the once-unbeatable Michael Schumacher race-win record, the first ever championship grand Prix at Algarve may be Lewis Hamilton’s time to become the first ever 92-time winner.