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F1 2020 Season Round-up: The Highs & The Lows

It’s been a freaky year with a lot of negatives, and for some of us, the nightmare continues. But as motorsport fans, especially of Formula 1, we got quite lucky. When the Australian GP was cancelled, at the last minute as the whole world seemed to go into a lockdown, it seemed uncertain if we’ll get to see any Grand Prix action this year. The various teams were putting their technical expertise to help the medical field where possible and organisers turned their sights to eSports. We saw the latest generation of F1 drivers who grew up on social media and sim racing take centre stage from their respective homes. But in that time, Formula 1 managed to put together a plan for a shortened season, starting in July 2020. In the end, we got a total of 17 races in the space of 6 months. All thanks to the organisers and the teams whose staff put their everything into a jam-packed timeline. These past six months of F1 gave us a nice mix of highs and lows and here our top picks for both, in no particular order:

The Highs

Monza GP

We got three races in Italy in 2020, but it was Monza that gave us the best one, as usual. A podium full of customer teams with Pierre Gasly on the top step for the Italy-based AlphaTauri team. The result was a massive breakthrough for Gasly who was making a comeback after a difficult 2019 where he was demoted from Red Bull to the junior team mid-season. He was also the first Frenchman in decades to win an F1 GP. For the Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri team, it was their second-ever victory, the last one also at Monza with Sebastian Vettel in 2018. Gasly also had the challenge of defending against McLaren’s Carlos Sainz in the closing stages of the race. It was Sainz’s second podium in F1 but this time he got to stand on it too (albeit without any fans in attendance). The final podium spot went to Lance Stroll for Racing Point. While the race was mostly a snoozefest with the final standings being a direct result of Hamilton being penalised for a technical mistake (entering pit lane when closed), that podium was one of the best moments of the 2020 season.

Read the full race report here.

Turkish GP

This is an easy explanation: we finally got a wet race at an exciting circuit. Turkey was among the last additions for the shortened calendar making a return to F1 after a 9-year gap. Thanks to the tricky conditions, we got to see Lance Stroll on Pole with Sergio Perez starting 3rd on the grid. The nearest Mercedes was Hamilton’s, starting 6th. Everyone expected the track to dry up at some point, but the cold temperatures on the freshly resurfaced tarmac made it too big a risk. In the end, everyone was using the Intermediates as the dry option. This should have been Max Verstappen’s best chance but in his eagerness and frustration on missing Pole in qualifying saw the Dutchman make one too many mistakes that put him out of podium contention. Instead, we saw a pure masterclass from Hamilton who did a one-stop on these uncertain tyres and the gravity of his wet-weather prowess was highlighted when we saw it Intermediates looking as bald as slicks. This was certainly a memorable way for him to cement his 7th World Championship. We also saw the two Ferrari’s competing for podium positions and the final result was decided on the penultimate corner of the last lap. Leclerc was fighting Perez for P2 but the youngster locked up his brakes, which also allowed teammate Sebastian Vettel to slip past into P3. Considering Seb was replacing Sergio in 2021, it was emotionally satisfying to see them share a podium again. 

Read the full race report here.

Sakhir GP

The Sakhir GP was memorable for two reasons: Russell’s nightmare and Perez’s dream. Since this section is about the highs of the season, we’ll save the former for the lows section of this story. The Bahrain circuit was the only one to offer a different layout for a double-header unlike Red Bull Ring or Silverstone. For the second race there, they used the outer layout that was a lot shorter and comprised mostly of straights which resulted in sub-1 minute laps from everyone. With those conditions in mind, we hoped for a lot of mid-field action. On the first lap, we saw Leclerc do a Kvyat, collide with Perez and somehow Verstappen ended up in the wall while trying to avoid hitting either of the two. So, the Racing Point driver was in last place at the race restart. However, he’d pitted for the Hard tyres to do a longer stint from the back of the pack. Not only did Sergio have a strong climb up the order, a strategy fumble from McLaren and Renault and a horrific pit-stop from Mercedes saw the Racing Point in the lead for the closing laps. In the end, Perez took his first-ever F1 win at the Sakhir GP and long-time F1 fans know how much it meant to the veteran racer. This result was even more special since Perez lost out on a podium the weekend before since his engine caught fire with less than 10 laps to go.

We also saw Lance Stroll secure another podium, making it the first win and double podium for Racing Point. The final podium spot saw a new face too, that of Esteban Ocon who claimed his first podium in F1 and the third podium for the reborn Renault F1 team. It may not have been the perfect podium, but it was definitely satisfying to see Perez on the top step and none of the usual top finishers. 

Read the full race report here.

Norris’ podium

Ah, Lando. He was already a popular fellow after his impressive F1 debut performance in 2019 but 2020 was a step up for him. During the lockdown, his streaming presence took off thanks to his pleasant and entertaining personality but also improved on his race form once the season started. At the very first GP, Norris ended up picking his first-ever F1 podium with a phenomenal final lap that saw him capitalise on Hamilton’s 5-second penalty for colliding with Albon. An F1 driver’s FIRST podium is always special but even more so when it’s a youngster driving for a customer team. Norris’ result felt even more memorable as it was the first time we saw McLaren properly take part in podium celebrations along with the fact that it was a fun result for the first race of the delayed F1 season.

Read the full race report here.

Daniel’s podiums

Many feared that we won’t see the honey-badger on the podium for a while after his move to Renault, but 2020 presented the Australian driver the chance to score not one but two podiums. The first one came at the Nürburgring GP after a stellar performance while the second one followed soon after at Imola. The German GP result was such a surprise for Ricciardo that he forgot to do his iconic “shoey” celebration on the podium stage. He more than made up for it at Imola and even got Hamilton to take a sip from his other boot. Daniel’s Nürburging result marked Renault’s first podium since they returned as a factory outfit in 2016. ICYMI, the first podium came with a bonus: Ricciardo gets to choose a tattoo for team boss Cyril Albeitoul. COVID precautions and the busy calendar had kept Cyril from keeping his end of the deal but the fans are eager to see what the final prize looks like soon.

Read the Nürburgring GP race report here.

Read the Imola GP race report here.

McLaren’s 2020 (content and championship results)

The orange team has had their best season in F1 since 2013 as McLaren finished 3rd in the Constructor’s championship. Yes, it took a bit of luck to beat the Merc-powered Racing Point, but they beat them nonetheless. The team secured two podiums in 2020 (Monza and Austria) and it could have had more if it weren’t for the occasional bad luck in terms of reliability, incidents or even strategy. McLaren also won many hearts and minds with its digital content showcasing the chemistry between its drivers. From McLaren Unboxed episodes to the various sponsored YouTuber-style content, the team has endeared itself to fans old and new. While we will miss the CarLando content in 2021, we are also looking forward to the chemistry between Norris and Ricciardo as both are seen as the fun ones of the paddock. 

Return of classic circuits

The travel restrictions during the pandemic complicated the matter of the venues available to Formula 1 for its 2020 season. Many tracks had to be cancelled and city circuits were simply out of the question. In the end, we had a predominantly European F1 calendar with Bahrain and Abu Dhabi for the final rounds of the season. As a result, we saw various iconic circuits host GP races in 2020. Some were making a comeback while others were making their debut on the F1 calendar. Race venues like Nürburgring, Istanbul and Imola were the classic circuits we enjoyed immensely. While they didn’t offer the most action, we did get some of the most exciting races at these very circuits. The Portuguese GP at Portimao was a cool race too and it’s a circuit we’d love to see in future F1 calendars as well.

Kvyat @ Imola

This pick is one that is not related to the result as much as the ones mentioned before. We’ve already spoken of the Imola GP in relation to Ricciardo’s podium but another highlight from this weekend was the last-minute charge from Daniil Kvyat at the race restart after the SC. Since we are unlikely to see the Russian in a full-time seat in F1 again, these amazing overtakes are a good tribute to his final season in the sport:

Both British GPs

Silverstone hosted two races back-to-back. The first one was quite a snoozefest with Mercedes’ dominant form but the final lap was an intense one. Hamilton’s tyre blew out just a few corners from the finish line but he managed to make it to the chequered flag on just three wheels. Verstappen had pitted a few laps before to avoid the same situation but that gap ended up costing him a potential win. Bottas suffered the same blowout but earlier than Lewis, so he lost out on a podium spot which got picked up by Leclerc. Boring race, but that finish was quite the spectacle.

The second race at Silverstone was celebrated as the 70th Anniversary of Formula 1. This one was pretty boring too but there was some satisfaction to be had from Verstappen dominating the race, comfortably ahead of both Mercedes drivers as they struggled to manage their tyres. Vettel had another one of his spins at the start of the race while teammate Leclerc finished P4.

Vettel’s last podium for Ferrari

Even before the 2020 F1 season began, Ferrari announced that they were letting go of Sebastian Vettel and replacing him with Carlos Sainz. It was later reported that Vettel had no say in this decision and it seemed that the German was clearly not enjoying his time under the latest Ferrari management. While the 2020 Ferrari was quite the slow horse that saw Vettel struggle to finish in the top 10, the wet Turkish GP gave us one last treat. Capitalising on Leclerc’s mistake two turns from the chequered flag, Vettel seized P3 for his last podium appearance in Ferrari-red.

Check out the full report on the Turkey GP here.

Super-sub Hulkenberg

2020 was the first F1 season without Nico Hulkenberg since 2012 after he was replaced at Renault by Esteban Ocon. However, we got to see him on track thrice this year. He substituted for Racing Point whenever one of the driver’s tested positive for COVID-19. Perez had to miss both rounds at Silverstone and Hulkenberg was called in last minute. While the Hulk missed the first round entirely due to a last-minute issue with the car, he had a strong performance the following weekend. He qualified third fastest and finished the race in P7. 

Hulkenberg also acted as a last-minute sub for Lance Stroll at the Nürburgring GP. The team phoned him in on Saturday morning not long before qualifying began. This time Nico struggled of course and started from the back of the grid but put in a strong performance to secure a P8 result. Both instances are a reminder that Hulkenberg is still a valuable asset to any mid-field team and it is F1’s loss to not have him on the grid.

The Lows

Grosjean’s Bahrain crash

The worst moment of the 2020 season was also the scariest one: Romain Grosjean’s crash at the Bahrain GP. An opening lap incident involving the Haas driver was no surprise but the fact that there was a fireball explosion upon impact sent shivers down the spines of everyone watching. It wasn’t until the cameras cut to him seated inside the rescue vehicle that we took a massive breath of relief. The replay of Romain climbing out of the blaze, jumping over the railing towards the rescue team was also one of the best moments. We then saw the wreckage of the car that had split apart. Its rear end had snapped off and the front end had pierced the barrier due to the high-speed impact was thoroughly burnt. Only the cockpit seemed to remain and the halo played a crucial role in the fact that Grosjean was still in one piece which allowed him to be able to walk away from it at all. The crash was Romain’s own doing but the aftermath was just another reminder about the risks taken by every single driver on the grid. Luckily, the Frenchman only suffered minor injuries and burns but the incident was definitely a low point of the season. 

You can read more about what happened in the race report here.

Tuscany GP incident

Unfortunately, the Bahrain incident wasn’t the only big collision of the 2020 season. We witnessed a major pileup at the one-off Tuscany GP, i.e. the Mugello GP at the San Marino circuit, but luckily all drivers were able to walk away from it. The incident in question took place down the main straight as the Safety Car period was ending and race leader Valterri Bottas waited till the last minute to restart. Some of the midfield drivers were darting back and forth to keep brakes and tyres up to temperature which caused some confusion. The drivers behind the darters thought the race had been restarted so they floored it but when the cars in front slowed down again, it was a classic highway pileup but at much quicker speeds. While the official blame is spread across those involved, the drivers who ended up crashing were Sainz, Magnussen, Latifi and Giovinazzi. 

You can read more the details from the race here.

Ferrari at the back

Luckily, those are all the major incidents from 2020 covered. However, the entire season was a tough one for the Tifosi as Ferrari’s championship contender was off-pace from the start of the year. After their illegal 2019 engine, the team seemed to have suffered an even greater setback with the high-downforce SF1000 and an underpowered engine. Both drivers struggled to keep up with the middle order teams like Racing Point, McLaren, Renault and AlphaTauri too. Vettel was consistently outside of the points and rarely ever made it to Q3. He was further outshone by teammate Leclerc who wrestled the car to finish in the points when possible and somehow scored two podiums too. Seb was outside of the points in 10 races (incl. 2 DNFs) while Leclerc missed out on points in 7 races (incl. 4 DNFs). As a result, the Ferrari customer teams suffered too and Ferrari was usually fighting them for scraps. In the end, Scuderia Ferrari finished 6th in the constructor’s championship.

Mercedes and Hamilton’s absolute dominance

This one could apply to the entire hybrid-era to be fair but with Ferrari out of the picture, these two ran amok on the 2020 season. Red Bull was beginning to close the gap towards the end of the season as usual but the Mercedes cars started with an absolute stinker of a pace advantage. While the team and the driver are deserving of their success thanks to the efforts made, it makes the sport quite dull to watch. Mercedes’ prolonged dominance has gone to the point that other fans are ecstatic to see them fail or stumble at any point. It’s almost toxic but also inevitable for any dominant figure in a sport. On top of that, Red Bull’s struggle in finding a competent replacement for Daniel Ricciardo meant that Verstappen was the only one taking the fight to Mercedes but that left him vulnerable to strategy as he fought both cars simultaneously.

2020 saw the most decisive championship win for both Mercedes and Hamilton and the points reflect it. In the end, Merc had amassed 573 points in the Constructor’s championship while second place went to Red Bull who scored 319. In the Driver’s standings, Hamilton scored 347 points to Bottas’ 223 as the Brit won 11 of the 17 races this season and was off the podium only thrice, both times due to technical penalties (Austria and Italy). That includes Lewis missing the Sakhir GP. 

Bottas’ unlucky streak

Okay. So Mercedes has the strongest car in F1. They have two on the grid. So at least ONE person has a better chance of beating Hamilton than everyone else, i.e., his teammate Valtteri Bottas. Unfortunately, the Finn is perfect for Mercedes as a ‘second driver’ since he does not pose a serious threat to Hamilton every race. Teammate rivalry is good for the sport, good for teams too but can easily turn ugly if they hamper each other and consequently the team’s result (whenever Red Bull has two strong drivers). Bottas is not lacking in skill but he certainly seems to be lacking the killer instinct we see in champions like Hamilton and Vettel, as well as next-gen racers like Verstappen and Leclerc. On top of that, 2020 has been one to forget for him as he has been plagued with an inexplicable streak of bad luck. He started strong with a win at the season opener in Austria but his next and only other win of the season came at the Russian GP. Bottas missed the podium 5 times and also DNFed at the Eifel GP (Nürburgring) due to a mechanical failure. Some of the key instances of bad luck include the last-minute tyre failure at Silverstone, pace issues at Monza, couldn’t keep the car straight at Istanbul, puncture at Bahrain and the nightmare pit stop during the Sakhir GP. In other races too, Bottas just didn’t have the pace or strategy that would help him take the fight to Hamilton. To finish second in the championship by a margin of 96 points while driving for the best team is certainly a season to forget.

Max’s DNFs

Many would argue that Verstappen would easily beat reigning champion Hamilton if they both raced the same car. For now, that is not the case and we simply have to hope that the speedy Dutchman can get a car quick enough to take the fight to Mercedes regularly, as well as a teammate that will help the team with strategy opportunities. While he finished third in the driver’s standings, Max only had 2 wins to his name in 2020 which don’t reflect the lost opportunities. While Verstappen has improved significantly over his previous seasons when it comes to fighting for positions, the Red Bull driver still managed 5 DNFs this season with a mechanical failure at the season opener in Austria. Most notably, he did not finish any GP hosted in Italy this year: mechanical failure at Monza, getting caught up in an incident between Kimi and Pierre on the opening lap at Mugello and tyre failure at Imola. At the Sakhir GP, he ended up crashing into the wall on Lap 1 while trying to avoid getting caught in an incident between Leclerc and Perez. Not counting DNFs, Max only missed the podium once – at Turkey, where his eagerness to pass Perez in the wet ended up costing him dearly as he made a rookie mistake of taking too much kerb while slipstreaming in the tyre-spray of the Racing Point. Overall, Max could have had a much better season based on his driving performances alone without those DNFs, at least the four that were not due to any fault on his part. But as things turned out, Max’s bad luck made for a less interesting season overall which makes it a low point overall.

Russell @ Sakhir

It gave us the surprise element of Hamilton missing a race due to testing positive for COVID and being subbed at Mercedes by George Russell. The 2018 F2 champion had spent his f1 career languishing at the back of the pack in the ailing Williams but finally got to show us what he can do in a race-winning car. Despite having barely any time to familiarise himself with the controls and even struggling to fit his tall frame into a car built for Hamilton, the young Brit was quick to place himself at the front of the grid and was making Bottas look tame. He was leading most of the race, extending his lead over his more experienced teammate even. From no points in nearly two seasons, Russell had the chance to claim his first win in F1. But it all went terribly wrong when Mercedes tried to do an impromptu double-stacked pit stop when the SC was brought on track. Due to a technical breakdown in radio communications, the team didn’t have the right sets of tyres ready in time for its drivers with Russell getting Bottas’ tyres and Bottas not getting fresh tyres and a very long pit stop. George pitted again to rectify the tyre situation and was still on the path for victory as the rest of the front-runners did not switch to fresher tyres. He seemed unstoppable when racing resumed but tragedy struck again as he picked up a puncture and had to pit yet again which put him quite far down the grid with only a handful of laps to go. While the final podium was satisfying to everyone but Mercedes fans, it was a shame to see George Russell end up with a result that was not representative of his brilliant performance in the race. 

Farewell Williams family

The most successful family-run racing team in F1 finally concluded its innings as Williams Grand Prix Engineering got bought by US-investors. This meant that the legendary Sir Frank Williams and his family were no longer a part of the sport. The final GP for Deputy Principal Claire Williams was the Monza GP. While inevitable, it was sad to see that the final years for the Williams family in the paddock saw its beloved team languish at the back of the grid for three years straight. In 2020, the team ended the season with no points at all. According to info on the internet, Williams F1 has been competing since 1975 and has 9 constructor’s titles to its credit. For the team, you could count their last few years as a low point every season but to see the Williams family make an official exit from the sport was a sombre moment. As of now, the team’s new owners are committed to keeping the Williams name alive in the sport so the brand will continue to be part of F1 for the foreseeable future.

Read more about Williams’ exit here.

That’s it. The Auto Loons’ round-up of our highs and lows from the 2020 Formula 1 season. Let us know in the comments what were your favourite/worst moments of the 2020 season and feel free to mention any that you feel we missed out on. The next F1 season brings us a shuffled lineup and some new drivers to watch out for so remember to stay tuned and subscribe to the Auto Loons for more updates from F1. 

Also, thanks for all the support through 2020 and here’s to hoping that 2021 will be a much better year for everyone.

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