5 Thoughts From the 2020 Austrian GP
Updated: Jul 6, 2020
217 days in the making, the return of Formula 1 delivered with a bang.
Courtesy - RACEFANS.net
Spielberg, Austria - At one point in 2020, it seemed like we wouldn't get any Formula 1 racing at all. Fans spent the better part of three months watching old grand prix's and virtual races trying to fill the void of no live F1 action. So after 217 days without seeing Formula 1 cars on track in official competition, it's safe to say that it was well worth the wait. The 2020 Austrian Grand Prix pretty much ticked all the boxes in terms of what fans want from a grand prix. It seemed like after qualifying it was a forgone conclusion that Mercedes would run away at the start and take home another 1-2 finish. But before the race even started, that result looked in doubt thanks to a protest from Red Bull. As the race progressed, the more pressing question was not where a car would finish but 'if' the car would finish. 71 laps of the Red Bull Ring left us with a lot to discuss in our upcoming race recap podcast but for now, here are five quick thoughts from the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix.
1. Ferrari looks like the 6th best team on the grid
Courtesy - RACEFANS.NET. Sebastian Vettel went on to finish P10 after an abysmal race weekend
Expectations for Ferrari entering the Austrian Grand Prix were pretty low, but maybe even Ferrari didn't expect to be this bad. Sure Charles Leclerc pulled off a surprise P2, but that was more a case of race circumstances than outright pace. Sebastian Vettel was up against it after failing to qualify for Q2 and his fortunes did not improve come raceday. "I didn't recognize it anymore compared to yesterday afternoon & Friday, said Vettel, the pace was not there, not an easy race today.." The SF1000 looks more like a three legged donkey than a prancing horse these days and the following on-board from Vettel's car shows just how much of a handful it is to drive.
Vettel sawing away at his steering wheel in T4 & T6
The car is lacking aerodynamically and since the FIA engine investigation, Ferrari have now lost the engine power which used to mask their other problems in 2019. Seeing that Ferrari were out qualified by two Red Bulls, a McLaren, and a Racing Point, it would suggest that at the moment Ferrari could very well be the 6th best team on the grid. Upgrades are planned for the Hungarian Grand Prix but with their poor performance this weekend, Binotto stated post race that they will try and bring some of those updates forward for the Stryian Grand Prix. If you're Ferrari or are a Ferrari fan, you're praying that those upgrades will significantly improve the flaws of the SF1000. But if they don't, Ferrari's closest rivals might be Papaya and Pink instead of Sliver and Blue.
2. Williams have made a step forward from 2019
Courtesy - RACEFANS.net. Nicholas Latifi finished P11 on his F1 debut
After finishing dead last in the constructors standings in 2019 and only scoring one point, one would assume that Williams Racing couldn't get any worse in 2020. The good news is that it seems like Williams have indeed made a significant step forward so far in 2020. Getting both cars out on track for the first day of testing was already a big win for the team but the subsequent running showed positive signs they could actually challenge the cars ahead. Williams can take some positives away from the first race weekend in Austria. For starters, George Russell was only 0.07 seconds off from making it into Q2. Russell's time however was good enough for P17 ahead of the two Alfa Romeo's and his teammate. Nicholas Latifi was a little farther behind Russell, but even the Canadian rookie was only six tenths off of Q2. Considering the start of the 2019 season where Williams regularly locked out the last row of the grid, the pace so far looks promising. Even in the race, Williams was holding their own until George Russell's unfortunate retirement. Russell was holding onto P12 at one point and was going toe to toe with the mid-field teams. Latifi's P11 finish came at great fortune thanks to nine other cars failing to finish the race, but Latifi's pace was actually quite impressive. He got a bit unlucky after Williams didn't double stack under the safety car which left him a lap down and then failed to catch up to the rear of the pack at the green flag. But after racing resumed, he was lapping just 0.1 seconds slower than Russell and was quicker than the Haas of Romain Grosjean in front of him. Let's see how Williams does in the following races (especially as we hit more aerodynamically dependent circuits like Hungary and Silverstone) but overall Williams can be satisfied with their work on the opening weekend of the season.
3. Mercedes are miles ahead of the competition
Courtesy - RACEFANS.net . The Mercedes duo finished every session 1-2 except for the race
Mercedes wrapped up 2019 with their sixth consecutive world championship dating back to 2014. Typically when sporting dynasties have long runs of success, they usually self destruct or the competition catches up. As the cars took the track for testing in Barcelona, it wasn't Red Bull or Ferrari creating headlines with their new cars, it was in fact Mercedes. Somehow, someway, the six time champions didn't get complacent and debuted an innovative Dual Axis Steering system that left teams and fans scratching their heads. They left testing as the clear favorite and after one race weekend, they cemented themselves as head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Mercedes finished 1-2 in every session except the race and it never seemed like any of their rivals could get close. It was a pleasure to watch the beautiful black livery of the Mercedes W11 attack the final sector of the Red Bull Ring. The car looks like it's on rails, the front end turns in exactly the way the driver wants, and the car seems to have no obvious weaknesses. The only issue Mercedes really ran into was some gearbox and sensor issues during the race. The punishing kerbs in Austria proved to be a problem for many teams but especially Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton at one point were told to completely stay off the kerbs by their engineers which showed the urgency Mercedes were facing. Prior to those problems arising, Mercedes were comfortably out in front controlling the race. Would Verstappen have challenged the Mercs had he not had to retire? It's difficult to say but I think it's highly unlikely. At the moment, it seems like it is Mercedes' championship to lose. As much as fans want the championship to be competitive between multiple teams, it is quite remarkable to see the talent and work from the Mercedes Formula 1 team.
4. Reliability could have a massive impact on the championship
Now, you might be thinking that this is quite an obvious statement. In a normal championship, reliability is crucial to a teams' success. It is even more important in modern day Formula 1 with these complex turbo-hybrid engines. But in 2020, the world championship is quite unique in that we have no idea how many races we will get this season. What we do know is that we will not get a full 22 race calendar as originally planned. Most likely we'll be able to squeeze in 12-15 races when it is all said and done. So with a shortened calendar, every single point is as critical as ever. Take Max Verstappen for example. His championship aspirations have taken a huge hit because of his DNF in Austria. Now it doesn't mean that it's all over after one race, but he is already down 25 points to championship leader Valtteri Bottas. With Mercedes looking so strong already, it will be tough for Verstappen to claw back that gap weekend after weekend unless Mercedes runs into mechanical issues of their own. Only seeing 11 out of 20 cars finish in Austria was a blast to the past where lots of mechanical failures were common. It's so crucial for teams to minimize these issues as their is a possibility we might only finish the 8 races that are currently scheduled. We also have to take into consideration the triple headers we will get this year. That means spare parts will be scarce and with teams in a precarious financial position, it might be costly to have to take extra engines and components.
5. Lando Norris is the real deal
Courtesy - RACEFANS.net . Norris secures his maiden Formula 1 podium.
Lando Norris was the MVP of the pandemic lock down. The avid sim racer provided us with a lot of entertainment on social media through his banter and sim racing successes. We often forget he is a Formula 1 driver because of his fun and jovial attitude. Not to mention he looks like a second year university student instead of a Formula 1 driver who pulls 4G through a corner at 250km/h. But make no mistake about it, Norris is the real deal when it comes to racing. He had a successful 2019 campaign, finishing 11th in the championship and out qualifying Carlos Sainz throughout the season. One place Norris was still rough around the edges was race craft. He came up short against his more experienced teammate on Sunday's but everyone could see that the raw talent was there. The first race of the 2020 season has shown us that Norris has made some significant improvements in his driving during the off-season. On qualifying day, Racing Point were expected to make the headlines, but it was Lando Norris who stole the show. It resulted in Norris qualifying a career best P4 ahead of both Ferrari's and a Red Bull. It was quite the lap and it had the whole paddock talking. In the early stages of the race, Norris suffered a little bit in pace but he kept his head calm and powered through. His dive bomb on Perez into turn 3 was Verstappen like and his final lap to stay within the five seconds of Lewis Hamilton even surprised Mercedes. Seeing Norris collect his first career podium was a terrific moment for McLaren, fans, and of course Norris himself. In a off-season where his teammate made all the headlines by signing for Ferrari, it was Norris who tasted champagne at the end of 71 laps in Austria and propelled McLaren to second in the Constructors standings.
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