Formula 1 celebrated its 70th Anniversary in 2020. The pinnacle of motorsport had elaborate plans for the 2020 season with a record 22 races in 22 different countries, promising a memorable experience for the fans. Vietnam and Zandvoort were the newest entrants with the season kicking off in March and ending in November.
However, the news of a new virus called COVID-19 threatened to put the schedule in disarray. The new virus eventually became a pandemic and hit some in the F1 fraternity on the Australian GP weekend. The start of the season got postponed, and soon enough, the world went into a state of lockdown. 13 races got subsequently cancelled.
The pandemic intensified, and there were doubts about whether the season would get underway, but the FOM had worked hard to ensure a sizeable season. The revised calendar got announced, featuring 17 races, majority of which were in Europe. Many venues hosted two race weekends, and there were double-headers and triple-headers in the revised calendar. It was a hectic schedule for the teams and their members. Classic tracks like Nurburgring, Imola and Istanbul got added while Mugello and Portimao ( Portugal ) hosted an F1 Grand Prix for the first time. A couple of races saw fans ( in limited attendance ), but the FOM ensured that fan engagement was at its best throughout the season.
How did the teams and drivers fare in this season like no other? Time for a recap!
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :
Mercedes, the kings of the Turbo Era, were untouchable in 2020 too. The team sported an "All Black Livery" to support their fight against racism with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas leading the charge. There were some challenges along the way, but none caused concern as Hamilton romped to his 7th World Title. Hamilton broke the record for the maximum number of poles and victories with 11 wins and three podiums in 2020. The only blip he suffered was when he contracted COVID-19 and missed the Sakhir GP weekend. George Russell, his replacement, was winner elect but for some misfortune that left him languishing down in 9th. Valtteri Bottas began his challenge in 2020 on the right note with a win in Austria. However, he had no answer to Hamilton, who found a new gear every time Bottas tried to bridge the deficit. His second win was at Russia besides eight podium finishes. The Finn ended the season second best, once again and would need to dig deeper to give Hamilton a semblance of a challenge.
Mercedes were relentless in their quest for the 7th title and amassed 573 points, comfortably clear of Red Bull in 2nd.
Hamilton is yet to renew his contract for 2021, and this remains a concern for Mercedes.
Red Bull Racing F1 Team :
Red Bull Racing has been going from strength to strength after switching to Honda Power. The power unit was one of their biggest forte in 2020. Max Verstappen had a brilliant 2020, taking the fight to the Mercedes duo. The Dutchman won 2 races ( 70th Anniversary GP and Abu Dhabi ) and was on the podium on nine other occasions. Albon, meanwhile, managed only two podium finishes in Tuscany and Bahrain. Verstappen finished the season 3rd in the standings while Albon was 7th having scored less than half of Verstappen's haul.
The absence of both their drivers at the sharp end of the grid ( regularly ) cost Red Bull dearly. There were a few gremlins and a couple of incidents which cost the team and drivers points, but Red Bull was the only challenger to Mercedes all season long.
Red Bull finished the season with 319 points, well off the leaders Mercedes. 2021 is the final year for Honda and where Red Bull goes for their power unit needs will be interesting. The arrival of Sergio Perez to partner Verstappen for 2021 will help the team bring home consistent results.
McLaren F1 Team :
McLaren has been on a resurgence since the past couple of seasons. The partnership of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr has augured well for the Woking-based outfit. The team was involved in an intense midfield battle throughout the 2020 season but emerged victorious thanks to its excellent chassis and parts reliability. They ended the season 3rd in the Constructors' Championship with 202 points, seven clear of Racing Point in 4th.
Sainz won the intra-team battle. The Spaniard secured a podium ( 2nd ) in Monza besides 11 points finishes. Norris scored the first podium of his career at the opening race in Austria and finished in the points on 12 occasions. Sainz finished the season tied on points ( but ahead ) with Albon in 6th while Norris was 9th.
Despite having a long term contract with McLaren, Sainz decided to switch to Ferrari to replace Vettel. Time will tell if it was the right decision or not. As for McLaren, they were delighted to have landed the services of Ricciardo for 2021 besides switching to Mercedes power. 2020 has given them the perfect launchpad to push for the sharp end of the grid in 2021.
Racing Point F1 Team :
Racing Point began its charge in 2020 by retaining its driver pairing in Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll. While all was calm in the driver lineup, Racing Point's 2020 challenger, RP20 attracted the attention of one and all at the pre-season tests. The car had a striking resemblance to the Championship winning 2019 Mercedes and got named the "Pink Mercedes". The competition wasn't pleased with the designs and data getting shared between the Mercedes works team and its customer and a protest got lodged against Racing Point over the legality of its brake duct design. Subsequently, the team got fined 400,000 Euros besides the docking of 15 Constructors' Points before the 70th Anniversary GP at Silverstone.
Nevertheless, they had their best season in F1 finishing 4th with 195 points in a hotly contested midfield. They were only 7 points shy of McLaren in 3rd and got relegated to 4th after a disappointing final race.
Perez had a strong start to the season but contracted COVID-19 before the British GP ruling him out of the double-header. Nico Hulkenberg got the call to replace Perez but didn't start the race due to a mechanical issue on his RP20. He got another shot at it a week later and finished a commendable 7th.
Lance Stroll also caught the virus at the Eifel GP weekend, and Hulkenberg got called in again, coming home in 8th.
Perez was a revelation in 2020 having finished 4th in the Drivers' Standings with 125 points to his name. The Mexican helped the team register their first win at the Sakhir GP with great racecraft. He also secured 2nd at Turkey besides points finishes in 11 other races.
Perez had a contract till 2022, but the team decided to replace him with Vettel for 2021. The Mexican was without a drive until Red Bull came calling after the season ended.
Stroll, his team-mate, also bagged two 3rd place finishes in Monza and Sakhir, but five retirements along the way cost him valuable points. The Canadian finished the season in 11th, tied with Gasly on 75 points.
The team undergoes a makeover for 2021, becoming Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team, and with a four-time World Champion in Vettel coming in, the sky is the limit!
Renault Sport F1 Team :
Renault has been an integral part of F1 for many years. The French marque returned to being a full works team in 2016 and have striven to return to winning ways in the Turbo era. The fight has been uphill with little to celebrate along the way. Daniel Ricciardo got a new team-mate in Esteban Ocon for 2020. The Frenchman who was the reserve driver for Mercedes in 2019 made a return to F1.
Renault was involved in an intense midfield battle which saw them finish 5th in the Constructors' Standings, but they had moments to cheer about in 2020.
Ricciardo scored two 3rd place finishes at Nurburgring and Imola while Ocon came home in 2nd at the Sakhir GP. Ricciardo was the more consistent of the two team-mates with points finishes in 12 ( other ) races to Ocon's 9. The Australian finished the season in 5th with 119 points while Ocon managed 62 and 12th place. The team suffered retirements at pivotal moments in the season, costing it the chance to finish higher in the Constructors'.
Reliability remains the biggest chink in Renault's armour. They would be disappointed about losing to a customer team in McLaren.
Despite the improvements seen in 2020, Ricciardo announced that he would switch to McLaren for 2021. Fernando Alonso, the Double World Champion who had retired in 2018 ( apparently ) makes a return with a two-year contract. The absence of a customer team in 2021 will pose an added challenge. Renault will become Alpine Racing F1 ( named after the brand's racing division ). Hopefully, the future is bright and blue!
Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :
The Ferrari works team had an interesting 2020. It wasn't smooth sailing between the new team-mates ( Vettel and Leclerc ) in 2019, but fans hoped to see one of them take the fight to Hamilton for the title in 2020. Ferrari worked hard over the winter to improve the downforce on their car. They had the most powerful engine on the grid which came under the scanner due to a dodgy fuel flow sensor. The FIA findings forced Ferrari to dial down the engine power. The result was devastating, and all Ferrari powered cars suffered from a lack of straight-line speed.
There was more drama over the winter when an announcement broke out that Sebastian Vettel would be leaving the team at the end of the season with Carlos Sainz taking his place. Vettel later revealed that the team did not attempt to renew his contract, an experience that left him with a sour taste. The lack of trust set the tone for Vettel's season as the four-time World Champion struggled with multiple issues ( balance ) on his car. The 3rd place in Turkey was his best finish besides points finishes in 6 other races. He ended the season a lowly 13th with a mere 33 points to his name.
Leclerc, on the other hand, yielded better results with two podiums in Austria and Silverstone. The Monegasque scored points in 8 more races, but the team failed to score a win for the first time since 2014. Leclerc finished the season in 8th with 98 points.
"Oh, how the mighty have fallen" is synonymous with Ferrari's performance in 2020. Change is needed at multiple levels to stem the downturn, and 2021 is where the journey begins.
Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team :
Red Bull's B-team, formerly known as Scuderia Toro Rosso got a new name for 2020. Named after Red Bull's fashion line, the Italian outfit got rechristened as Scuderia Alpha Tauri.
The team had one of its best seasons in the sport.
Pierre Gasly led the charge with an unlike victory at Monza, amassing 75 points and bagging 10th place in the Drivers' Standings. He scored points finishes in 9 other races while his team-mate Daniil Kvyat was able to bag only 32 points. Kvyat's best finish was 4th at Imola with points finishes in six more races.
Alpha Tauri finished the season in 7th in the Constructors' Standings, only 24 points shy of the mighty Scuderia Ferrari. Honda Power was one of the reasons for its success in 2020. The Red Bull and Honda Protegee Yuki Tsunoda landed a drive alongside Gasly for 2021 and the only way forward is upwards for Alpha Tauri.
Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :
Alfa Romeo Racing had a great 2019 and hoped for an even better showing in 2020. Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi renewed their partnership with Robert Kubica joining them from Williams as a reserve driver. However, like the Ferrari works team, Alfa Romeo too struggled with straight-line speed, unable to replicate their successes from 2019. They finished 8th in the Constructors' Championship with their drivers scoring 4 points apiece. Raikkonen's best finish was 9th at Mugello and Imola while Giovinazzi bagged 9th place at the season-opener in Austria and 10th in Nurburgring and Imola. Giovinazzi won the intra-team battle in Qualifying, but Raikkonen was more consistent on race day.
Some race strategies adopted by the team were questionable and cost them more points finishes.
The goal for 2021 would be to bridge the points gap to Alpha Tauri and build a car to counter the lack of outright speed from the Ferrari Power Unit.
Haas F1 Team :
Haas F1 persisted with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean for the 2020 season, a decision that attracted mixed reactions from the fans and experts. The Ferrari-powered Haas cars had a torrid 2020, the lack of straight-line speed combined with braking issues costing them dear in close racing. The team managed to score only 3 points over the year with Grojean's 9th place finish at the Eifel GP and Magnussen's 10th at Hungaroring. Gene Haas, the team owner, re-considered Haas' commitment to the sport citing its poor run over the recent years. However, the team decided to persist with this venture until 2025.
Grosjean had a near-death experience when he collided with the barriers at the start of the Bahrain GP, emerging from a rising inferno, an image which became the flag-bearer for safety in the sport. The Frenchman who eventually won the intra-team battle was unfit for the final two rounds of the season. Pietro Fittipaldi, the grandson of the legendary Emerson Fittipaldi, got the nod to take his seat. 17th was the best that Fittipaldi Jr could manage at the Sakhir GP.
Haas needed to bring a change if they were to better their results in 2021, and announced an all-new driver lineup with Mick Schumacher ( Michael Schumacher's son ) teaming up with Nikita Mazepin ( F2 Driver ) for 2021. Returning to more points-scoring finishes is a priority, and it was time to choose youth over experience.
Williams Racing F1 Team :
Williams began its 2021 campaign with George Russell and rookie Nicolas Latifi with the hopes of reducing the deficit to the rest of the field. However, 2020 was another challenging year for the team. They failed to score a point despite coming close on a few occasions. The recurring costs and the challenges associated with running a team became too big a mountain for the Williams family to scale and Williams Racing got sold to a US-based investment firm Dorilton Capital in August.
Russell had the rare opportunity of racing at Sakhir GP with Mercedes when Hamilton contracted COVID-19, but an unfortunate incident robbed him of what would have been a famous victory. Jack Aitken, the reserve driver, also got the opportunity to race and finished a commendable 16th. Russell's best finish was 11th at the Tuscan GP while Nicolas Latifi bagged three 11th place finishes in Austria, Italy and Emilia Romagna. The Canadian had an impressive debut year with Williams and will be pivotal in the team's plans to return to higher finishes in 2021.
The talented pairing in Russell and Latifi combined with the financial influx of new owners should make 2021 a different story for the Grove-based outfit.
2020 was a memorable year for the sport despite the challenges that it posed. Fans got treated to great races throughout the year, and there was a lot done by the sport to improve fan engagement.
Hopefully, 2021 would feature the full calendar with tracks opening their doors to fans again!
Mercedes and Hamilton were flawless in defence of their respective titles. Winning it for the 7th time was no easy feat, and it highlighted how the hunger for success never dies. Records got broken, and there will be more mountains to climb in 2021. Hamilton is now the most successful driver in the history of F1. Is he the "Greatest of all time?" is a discussion for another time.
The contenders for the titles in 2021 have work to do over the winter break, but for now, Hamilton and Mercedes keep rising.