Reviewing the first 3 F1 races of 2020
2020 saw the second-ever triple-header in F1 history, with the first being in 2018 for the French, Austrian and the British Grand Prix. However, this was the first-ever doubleheader race at the same track. Austria played host to the first 2 races of the season with the third race being at Hungary with Valtteri Bottas winning the Austrian opener for Mercedes with teammate and current World Champion Lewis Hamilton winning the other two. Let’s review all the significant events and the talking points of these 3 races.
The Mercedes dominance
The first three races gave everyone the impression that as always in the V6 turbo-hybrid era, Mercedes were the kings of the F1 jungle. Austria was mixed for both drivers with Bottas starting the season on a high with Hamilton getting 2 penalties, one before the race start for not ignoring yellow flags and a 5 second time penalty with Red Bull’s Alex Albon for causing a collision.
The next weekend, the Styrian Grand Prix, went according to plan for the Black Arrows (as an initiative for the Black Lives Matter movement), with Hamilton winning from lights to flag and Bottas finishing 2nd.
The Hungarian GP was more or less the same affair, with Bottas recovering from a poor start from 2nd to 6th at the end of lap 1, to finish 3rd at the flag. Hamilton again had a more comfortable Sunday to win from lights to flag and avoiding all the chaos behind him.
So overall, 3 great weekends in the office for the Black Arrows who now comfortably lead the Constructor’s Championship and Hamilton heading the Driver’s Championship from Bottas.
Ferrari and Red Bull struggles
The Mercedes dominance was also due to the results of the other 2 teams of the Top 3 struggles. Ferrari looked puzzled with their overall pace over the 2 tracks. Even Charles Leclerc was shocked to get a second-place finish at the Austrian GP. However, teammate, Sebastian Vettel wasn’t up to his best when he was knocked out of Q2 in the season opener. A scrappy race for him accounted for 1 point.
The next race was a double disaster when both drivers collided at Turn 3 on Lap 1, with Sebastian’s rear wing broken and Charles with a damaged floor. Both of them retired from the race and thus no points for them.
Hungary again proved difficult, but nothing compared to the 2 Austrian races. Both drivers got into Q3 for the first time in 2020 and started on the 3rd row. However, the strategy gamble for Charles didn’t work of going to softs after the rain went away and Seb going for the medium tyres sort of did the trick. But in the end, lots of questions are needed to be answered for Ferrari in 2020 before Carlos Sainz joins the team from next year.
Compared to Ferrari, Red Bull faired slightly better in terms of results and points. The season opener was a double retirement for Max Verstappen and Alex Albon, with Max retiring with an electrical issue and Alex retired (after colliding with Hamilton at the exit of Turn 4) with a suspected hydraulics issue. The next race was a vast improvement with Max finishing 3rd and Alex finishing 4th. The following weekend at Hungary was surprising for the whole paddock when Alex was knocked out of Q2 (started P13), and Max qualified P7 when they were expected to battle with the 2 Mercedes’. In the end, Alex had a race-long battle with the 2 Ferraris and in the end finished 4th, while Verstappen, after crashing at Turn 12 on the warm-up lap, managed to give the mechanics the result they deserved by finishing 2nd, behind Hamilton.
McLaren and Racing Point surprise
The midfield race (or F1.5) was clearly between McLaren and Racing Point. These two teams have been stellar in every single weekend of the season so far. The Austrian opener was McLaren’s first podium visit to the Red Bull Ring since 2003 with Kimi Raikkonen when it was called the A1-Ring. That acclaim went to Lando Norris. He was fortunate to get that podium due to Hamilton’s five-second penalty. To add the icing on top, he took that podium by setting the fastest lap of the race. The next race also gave McLaren their best qualifying since 2014 when Carlos Sainz qualified P3. The Hungarian GP went according to per plan, and because of this, they are behind Mercedes and Red Bull in the Constructor’s Championship.
The midfield surprise has definitely been Racing Point. They brought out the car with a controversial feature. That feature is that the vehicle looked incredibly similar to the double-championship-winning Mercedes W10 from 2019. A lot of the midfield teams have lodged complaints against them for this very reason. No wonder, the car looked immense in every single session of the first 3 races. The best result so far being Lance Stroll finishing 4th in the Hungarian GP. The best qualifying session of the season for them was locking out the second row at that very same race. The ‘pink Mercedes’ team is now level on points with McLaren in the fight for 3rd in the Constructor’s Championship after a blinding start to the season.
Haas and Alfa Romeo difficulties
The other Ferrari-powered teams, Haas and Alfa Romeo have struggled too along with the works Ferrari team. Due to the lack of straight-line oomph that was seen last season has gone completely missing. Just to give an example, all the Ferrari-powered teams were at least 1 second slower than their times in 2019. This is saying a lot. On the car front, both parties had issues aplenty.
Firstly, in Austria, Kimi Raikkonen lost his left front wheel 1 lap after the 2nd Safety car ended and teammate Antonio Giovinazzi finished P9. In addition, the Haas cars had issues. Kevin Magnussen retired with brake failure, and Romain Grosjean after spinning at Turn 4. Although Giovinazzi got lucky with points, the deficit to the rest of the midfield was massive with both Alfas got out in Q1 itself.
The next race saw all the 4 cars finishing not in the points and also a lap down to the race winner Hamilton.
Hungary was a decent race for Haas with both cars gambling to change tyres at the end of the formation lap. It turned out to be a masterstroke with Haas getting off the mark with 1 point for Magnussen, but Grosjean didn’t fare that well, finishing in P16. The Alfas didn’t score points either with Kimi P15 and Gio P17. But the common theme of all the 3 races was that both the Alfas were knocked out in Q1.
Alpha Tauri & Renault showing steady gains
Alpha Tauri (formerly Toro Rosso) started 2020 on a positive note with Pierre Gasly finishing P7 in the season opener. However, Daniil Kvyat suffered a late puncture and retired from the race. The next weekend saw the reversal in terms of points scorers with Kvyat scoring 1 championship point and Gasly finishing a lap down. Hungary, though, was one of the worst weekends Gasly must have had in his F1 career. Firstly, he had an engine change after practice and then in the race he retired with engine troubles. Kvyat didn’t fare that well either, not scoring and a lap down.
Renault had hoped to challenge the likes of McLaren (customer team) and Racing Point for the ‘Best of the Rest’ spot. However, things haven’t gone according to plan for them. In both the Austria races, both drivers (Daniel Ricciardo & Esteban Ocon) scored points with Ocon P8 in the first race and Ricciardo P8 in the second race too. Ricciardo finished P8 again in Budapest, taking their total to 12 points for the season so far.
Williams gaining the most in the midfield
The other big surprise was the rise of Williams. Compared to a horrific 2019 campaign, 2020 has started on a bright note for them. The first race was a difficult race, to say the least with Russell qualifying in P17, but retired with a fuel pressure issue for his Mercedes Power Unit. Nicholas Latifi, although started last, managed to finish P11, Williams’ best result since Germany 2019.
Then at the second race, Russell managed to get out of Q1 for the first time since 2018 and started P12, whereas Latifi qualified P18. Both cars finished the race, though 2 laps down.
Hungary was another giant-killing performance from Russell when he qualified P12 again, ahead of Alex Albon in the Red Bull. Besides, this was the first time since Italy 2018 that both Williams cars were into Q2. The race though didn’t go to plan with Russell second last and 1 lap down, and Latifi last with 5 laps down. Overall, the cars have shown immense 1 lap pace but lacking in race pace.
Even though these are early days of the season, we see a trend in the way the races are going, with Mercedes dominating as always with the other top teams playing catch-up to them. Also, the midfield battle may get separated due to the form McLaren and Racing Point are in, and the other midfield teams have to catch-up to them. Let’s see what happens at the British GP this weekend.