F1's spectacular start to the season

Tuesday, Jul 7th 2020, 6:39 am | Category: Formula One

F1 finally got underway in Austria on Sunday in a jaw-dropping spectacle, reminding fans why the series represents the peak of global motorsport.

 


Whilst so much of the pre-race attention was focused on how the first major global sporting event would cope in the context of creating a COVID-19 secure environment, it was the twist and turns of a spectacular 71-lap race around the Red Bull Ring, which reminded all those watching from around the world that F1 can provide incredible excitement, whatever the circumstances.

The race weekend was held without fans in a highly controlled environment to protect the safety of all participants and there were many noticeable differences to the show. Masks were worn by all those present at the circuit, social distancing everywhere, which was tricky at times for media trying to interview drivers with engine noise in the background. Press conferences went online, no driver parades, a reduced podium celebration and none of the usual hugging celebrations at the end.

 


Remarkably though, these measures didn’t take away from a race which delivered on excitement from start to finish. As the first race of the season, reliability was always going to be an issue, which meant that just 11 of the 20 cars completed the race, which also included several safety car incidents.

The safety car restarts proved useful to keep the race tight, in an environment where Mercedes was demonstrably the fastest car on the track. So whilst Bottas, qualifying on pole, set the pace for much of the race, his teammate Hamilton was subjected to a grid penalty just before the race began and started from fifth and had regular company from Red Bull in particular.

 


Every time the Mercedes drivers looked like they were going to run away with it a safety car would bunch the field back together. For that reason, it’s difficult to really establish the pecking order for the rest of the teams. There were high expectations from Racing Point, but perhaps they were let down by pure race pace. Red Bull did manage to show they were closest to Mercedes, albeit Max Verstappen’s mechanical failure brought an end to his race and Albon’s hopes for a podium were dashed after a collision with Hamilton, which led the Stewards to issue a five second penalty to the reigning World Champion. It was those crucial five seconds which meant a first race podium which will have had much significance for many fans in Bahrain, handing a spectacular podium for McLaren.

There were mixed fortunes for Ferrari who have set their expectations low for the early part of the season. Despite that, Leclerc managed to avoid the carnage around him, finishing an impressive second, whist Vettel struggled through into 10th place.

 


For many avid McLaren fans in Bahrain, however, the race will be remembered for Lando Norris’ first ever F1 podium, finishing third in a drive which showed incredible maturity and focus by the young Brit. The challenge for McLaren now, I expect, will be trying to keep a lid on the expectations of passionate fans around the world for the rest of the season.

For now, it’s a matter of great joy that F1 has returned. At the BIC, we are working hard on preparing our own return to racing and look forward to welcoming race fans as soon as it is safe to do so. In the meantime, there’s another F1 race this weekend, so strap yourselves in…

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