2020 F1Season Recap
By Jim K. December 17 2020
Image: AMG Mercedes F1
Image: © Mercedes AMG
Image: Mercedes AMG
No matter where you’ve turned throughout 2020, expressions like “unprecedented times” or “the new normal” were there to greet you. Formula One was no exception. Although once the season got underway, things did sometimes feel as though we were in “precedented times.” Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes took both championships with ease, for example, much to the ire of fans. But I still will look back fondly at F1’s 2020 season for the extraordinary moments it produced in an already remarkable year.
Way back in Q1, everything appeared to be relatively conventional. The pre-season testing had Mercedes at the front with Red Bull a little further behind. Ferrari lacked their pace from recent years, but that would surely come back, right? The farewell to the Toro Rosso name brought about an all-time stunning two-tone livery from their rebrand as AlphaTauri.
We saw Renault and Alfa Romeo with gorgeous test liveries, too, but both reverted to their traditional looks when the season began in earnest. And come round one, Mercedes had switched from silver to black in support of the BLM movement.
But it was only once the promotors decided not to run in Australia that the F1 world turned completely upside down. Fans had no idea whether the sport would even run in 2020 as the teams’ factories went into hibernation. Instead of being a few rounds into the season, Formula One entered May with only virtual tracks seeing racing in the short-lived eSports competition where some of the younger drivers competed.
Fans were starving for news. And then the floodgates opened. Sebastian Vettel will leave Ferrari! Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris will be teammates! Carlos Sainz is emulating his hero Fernando Alonso and joining the Scuderia! No on-track action yet, but there was tangible and unexpected news as the silly season moved forwards ahead of round one.
That first domino drop from pre-season of Vettel’s Ferrari departure even affects the post-season. Sergio Perez, who Vettel will displace at Racing Point/Aston Martin next year, and Alex Albon continue to be candidates for the last 2021 seat to be filled at Red Bull. The driver market this year has been a wild subplot to the main story.
That main championship story has shown that most of the switches in the merry-go-around of F1 drives will be sideways moves for the drivers. That’s because the midfield fight of 2020 has proven to be more exhilarating than the title “battle” between Mercedes and Red Bull. Ferrari descended into the chasing pack, dropping out from the “big three.” With Renault, McLaren, Racing Point, and AlphaTauri all showing genuine pace, it was impossible to know who would be the best of the rest at each race.
The consequence of such tight running was that two-thirds of the regular grid, thirteen of twenty, to be precise, enjoyed a trip to the podium in 2020. The Hamilton-Bottas-Verstappen top three has become a bit of a joke with how frequently the trio have shared the top three. But while they have undoubtedly appeared together an awful lot, the majority of podiums this season weren’t a HAM-BOT-VER variation.
Lando Norris, Alex Albon, and Esteban Ocon all broke their podium duck this year. Daniel Ricciardo, Charles Leclerc, and Sebastian Vettel all ascended the steps, too, though not as often as they have enjoyed in the past. Lance Stroll and Carlos Sainz also revisited the top-three, with Sainz’s P2 at Monza being the actual first televised visit to the podium for the Spaniard (Brazil 2019’s P3 came after the stewards demoted Hamilton).
Image: © Red Bull Media House
Image: Racing Point F1
The remaining two drivers didn’t just visit the podium to collect silverware. They went there to have their national anthem play after becoming maiden F1 race winners. Pierre Gasly amazingly won his team’s home Grand Prix to clinch his first win, too. With Ferrari faltering to a double-DNF at Monza, AlphaTauri instead was the Italian pride that Sunday as Gasly took the chequered flag.
At the Sakhir Grand Prix, it was a possible fairytale ending to the career of Sergio Perez, who won against all odds. In last place on the first lap, “Checo” drove with relentless pace and picked up some positions to take his first career F1 win. Both of these Grands Prix demonstrated how much entertainment F1 has when the right circumstances allow for it.
In both those instances, those conditions meant a neutralized Lewis Hamilton. Yet the calendar’s standout event was not only a Hamilton win; it was a victory that sealed the championship. Turkey had an unplanned return to F1, along with Germany, Portugal, and two additional Italian events, but it was Istanbul Park’s Grand Prix that was the weekend of the year for me.
From the moment the cars’ rubber rolled onto the recently surfaced slippy tarmac, that race looked to be a thriller. Couple that with the (unusually accurate) wet weather reports, and even then, the resulting race surpassed my sky-high expectations. From Lance Stroll starting on pole, to potentially any one of five drivers having a realistic chance of winning throughout the race, and finally, those last three corners deciding P2, P3, and P4… It was F1 at its absolute best.
It’s a shame Abu Dhabi has to end the F1 season as the last memory is usually a procession. That goes even more than usual for 2020, which has seen so much action packed into such a short time. Tire explosions at Silvertone, a miraculous survival from a horror crash at Bahrain, Nico Hulkenberg’s double return, George Russell’s cameo in Mercedes… I could go on for some time. For a season that might never have happened, F1 2020 was tremendous. Just pretend Abu Dhabi never happened.