2020 has been one of the weirdest years on record. What started as a fresh new decade and full of exciting opportunities, quickly turned into a living nightmare for most. With a global pandemic on our hands, life was forced to drastically change and that included F1.
We went from not knowing if we would even be able to race, to having one of the most unusual and exciting championships in recent years.
For most of us motorsport fans, the severity of COVID-19 was made apparent in early March when it was confirmed several members of McLaren had tested positive for the virus and the team was to pull out of the Australian Grand Prix.
This news was not only a shock for us as fans, but the team, its drivers and F1 in general. Yes, the sport had put procedures in place to make the event as safe as possible, but soon questions began to arise about whether the grand prix should go ahead as planned when it was clear that this invisible enemy was present and could create a serious outbreak.
After media day, global attention was on F1 and if the race would go ahead. It’s understood that promoters wanted the event to continue, whereas F1 itself wasn’t comfortable. Hours and hours passed, with dawn breaking in Melbourne, and fans and personnel confused if they should head to the race track.
Finally, a statement from F1 that the race had been cancelled. Shortly after, other countries followed by postponing or cancelling their grands prix and left us wondering if we would even get an F1 season at all in 2020.
After what felt like a lifetime, F1 finally returned in July with the Austrian Grand Prix opening the season for the very first time. Valtteri Bottas scored pole and took the victory, as we all held our breath thinking this could be the year he truly challenged Lewis Hamilton (it was a cute idea).
Hamilton faced a weekend of penalties. First for ignoring yellow flags in qualifying which demoted him to fifth ahead of the race, and then for causing a collision with Alexander Albon towards the end of the grand prix. Albon tried to pass Hamilton on lap 61 for second place, but Hamilton punted him off and ruined what could have been a potential first win for the Red Bull driver. Hamilton was given a five-second penalty for the incident.
Lando Norris managed to cross the line +4.8s ahead of Hamilton, handing him a maiden podium and kickstarted a brilliant season for McLaren. Quite the jump from pulling out of the Australian Grand Prix months earlier.
Elsewhere, Charles Leclerc put in his drive of the season going from seventh to second, while Max Verstappen joined a long list of drivers with reliability issues including George Russell, Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo. Overall, just eleven drivers crossed the finish line.
Just four races into the newly revised calendar, Racing Point’s Sergio Perez announced he had tested positive for coronavirus and went on to miss the following two grand prix around Silverstone. The news was a bleak reminder for drivers just what a real threat this virus was, and we would go on to see two more drivers test positive throughout the season.
With Checo out of the picture, Nico Hulkenberg was rushed to the rescue and took his seat for the British Grand Prix; unfortunately though, a faulty power unit in the car meant Nico never got the chance to compete. The Hulk was able to get another shot the following week at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.
During that same British Grand Prix weekend, two early safety cars meant that teams like Mercedes gambled on a different strategy and pitted earlier than planned for the hard tyre. On a track as demanding as Silverstone, the tyres deformed with just laps to go and caused huge delamination for the likes of Bottas, Carlos Sainz and Hamilton.
What unfolded was one of the most dramatic last few laps in recent F1 history, with Bottas losing second place as his tyre blew just after he’d passed the pits. Verstappen was able to swiftly pass and pit for a fresh set of softs with no competition nearby and didn’t want to risk a similar issue costing him a second place.
Of course, it was when race leader Hamilton had the same issue on the final lap that fans jumped up from the sofa in disbelief. Max hunted him down but was +26s behind Hamilton with half a lap to go. In the end, Hamilton crossed the finish line with three tyres on his W11. Pretty unbelievable.
After a couple of average races following on from the British Grand Prix, F1 headed to Monza for the eighth race of the season. It seemed to be a fairly predictable weekend, with both Mercedes of Hamilton and Bottas locking out the front row in qualifying. How wrong we would all be.
Bottas had another shocker of a start, dropping from second to sixth. Laps later Sebastian Vettel’s brakes failed and his Ferrari ploughed through polystyrene barriers in a slip road. Haas’ Kevin Magnussen also had an issue with his car and was forced to stop just shy of the pit entry. What we didn’t know is this move would change the course of the entire grand prix.
Soon a virtual safety car was deployed, followed by an actual one and the pit lane closed. However, it was quickly evident that Hamilton and Antonio Giovinazzi didn’t get that instruction and pitted when they shouldn’t have. Both were placed under investigation.
When the pit lane reopened, almost all the field opted for new tyres including McLaren who aced a double-stack strategy. Racing soon resumed with Hamilton leading followed by Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly, Giovanzzi and Raikkonen. Leclerc quickly passed both Alfa Romeo drivers and looked set for an excellent comeback before he slammed into the wall at Parabolica and caused an immediate red flag.
Hamilton was handed a ten-second-stop-go penalty, which he stopped for later, and the race was reset with a standing start on the start/finish straight. A mega start from Gasly saw him pass Stroll for second, with both Alfa Romeo’s looking strong and Stroll appearing to struggle.
Eventually, Hamilton pitted for his penalty and handed Gasly the lead of the race; not a bad outcome for the man who started tenth on the grid ahead of the grand prix. Raikkonen looked strong in second, but soon Sainz and Stroll passed him to move into second and third respectively.
As we entered the final lap of the race, Carlos had his sight firmly set on Gasly as he was just +0.351s behind and had the benefit of slipstream and DRS. Neither had won a grand prix before and, in the end, Gasly managed to cling on to earn his first victory in F1.
Gasly became the first Frenchman to win an F1 race since Oliver Panis won the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix.
2020 was such a difficult year for Alex Albon, but at the Tuscan Grand Prix he was able to earn his debut podium in F1. Although his teammate was out early on in the race, Albon pulled some stunning overtakes on the likes of Perez and Ricciardo in the final few laps to secure third.
It might have taken nine races, but it was certainly progress for the driver who could have even won the first race of the season had he not been punted off by Hamilton in the closing laps.
In a race that was halted with three safety cars and two red flags, Hamilton managed to keep a cool head and take victory after some competition from Bottas who stole first place going into Turn 1 on the first lap.
As well as Albon’s podium place, the grand prix will also be remembered for a horror crash that occurred on Lap 6 after the back of the field all collected one another in a big shunt. The accident was a result of ‘misunderstanding’ when those at the back of the pack believed the race had restarted and put their foot on the pedal only to quickly realise the midfield and those at the front were taking things ‘slowly’ in comparison.
After a run of near-misses throughout the season, Renault made sure we all knew they were wanting to fight for that all-important third spot in the constructors’ championship. With Racing Point struggling after some disappointing results for Stroll, and McLaren facing reliability woes, Renault took full advantage when Ricciardo found himself on the podium at the Eifel Grand Prix.
Despite forgetting a shoey, which we still haven’t forgiven you for Daniel, Ricciardo became the first Renault podium finisher since Nick Heidfeld at the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix. He would go on to get yet another third-place finish, as well as Esteban Ocon who finished second at the Sakhir Grand Prix near the end of the season.
As we approached the second half of the season, it seemed that Lewis Hamilton was destined to smash record after record put in place by Michael Schumacher.
At the Eifel Grand Prix, Hamilton tied the record of Schumacher’s 91 career victories and was presented with one of Michael’s race-worn helmets by his son Mick in an emotional ‘handing over the crown’ sort-of ceremony.
Just a race later at the Portuguese Grand Prix, Hamilton became the most successful driver ever by taking his F1 win tally to 92, which he continued to add to as the season went on.
At the chaotic Turkish Grand Prix, we witnessed a true masterclass from Hamilton as he won his seventh world title – equalling the great Schumacher. There appeared to be no stopping the man… well except COVID-19 which we would go on to find out in just a few races time.
With races being cancelled in bulk at the start of the year, F1 had to be smart when redesigning a calendar in such short notice. It had to be safe for all those involved and minimal travel was necessary, with rounds in the Americas wiped off and a very European-centred calendar was drawn up.
One of the ‘perks’, if you can even say coronavirus had any, was that F1 relocated racing to several circuits we hadn’t been to in years or even at all. Tracks like Istanbul Park, Imola and Nürburgring made a welcomed return to our lives, with new additions Portimao, Mugello and the Bahrain ‘Outer’ being some of the best races of the year.
As much as us fans love the history that comes with epic tracks like Spa or Silverstone, adding that little bit of *spice* with these new circuits made for an unpredictable element to the sport that we haven’t seen in years.
Let us know in the comments below what your favourite new track was that we visited this year!
Bahrain was used to host another double-header of races in the same location. For the first of these, F1 used the same layout we go to every year but for the second race, it opted for a shorter ‘outer’ circuit that had never been used by a racing series before.
During the two weekends, we seemed to experience every emotion possible.
Romain Grosjean suffered a heavy crash on Lap 1 of the Bahrain Grand Prix in one of the most traumatising racing accidents we have seen in modern motorsport. His car hit the metal barriers, burst into flames and split in two. Thanks to the phenomenal safety efforts that have been made over the decades, he was able to walk away with some burns to his hands. Without a doubt, the halo saved his life that day.
For the rest of that grand prix, most of us felt very numb but incredibly grateful for all the men and women that had dedicated their lives to making the drivers safer in the sport we all love. There was also the medical crew who were straight on the scene and of course the marshals who bravely ran into the wreckage with their fire extinguishers. All heroes.
In the following days, news stories seemed to break every other minute:
Grosjean confirmed he wouldn’t be able to compete in his final F1 race, Pietro Fittipaldi was brought in to replace him, the Schumacher name was to return to F1 next year, oh and Hamilton had tested positive for COVID-19.
The latter was one of the biggest shocks of the year, and although Hamilton had already won the championship, the opportunity to race the W11 was the impossible dream for so many drivers… until now.
Eventually, after much speculation, it was George Russell who got the call up from Williams to race alongside Bottas at the Sakhir Grand Prix. Determined to make an impression, Russell demonstrated incredible skill to qualify +0.026s behind pole-sitter Bottas and even passed him into Turn 1 for the lead on race day.
During the actual race, Leclerc made a mess of the first lap, crashing into Perez and forcing Verstappen to swerve off the track leaving him beached in the gravel. Perez was able to recover and limp back to the pits, where he ended Lap 1 last of the pack.
Russell quickly made a huge gap to the field and looked in a comfortable position to win the race, but disaster struck with a monumental “fuck up” as Toto Wolff called it occurred during a double-stack pit stop.
In short, the wrong tyres were on the wrong cars. Mercedes have since said it was thanks to a radio communication error, but it cost Russell and Bottas the 1-2 positions they had been occupying for all the race. After several pit stops to rectify the cock-up, Russell began to fight his way back up the grid and even pulled off possibly the overtake of the year on his temporary teammate Bottas.
All seemed to be going Russell’s way when an unexpected puncture forced yet another pit stop and he fell back to ninth in the final few laps. Us fans were heartbroken, but whilst all this drama was unfolding a certain Mexican driver was making up positions like nobody’s business.
From being last on the first lap, Perez was storming ahead and soon found himself leading the race – a position he would remain in for the rest of the grand prix. Checo took his maiden F1 win, breaking records in the process.
Not only did he become the first driver ever to win a race having been in the last position at the end of the first lap, but he also became the driver with the most number of races competed in before their inaugural victory (190).
Fans all over the world were heartbroken for George but delighted for Perez in one of the strangest grand prix weekends we’ve ever seen. The Sakhir podium also included Ocon in second place with his best-ever finish and Stroll in third place for Racing Point’s first double podium result.
What were your biggest moments from the 2020 season? Let us know!