When the lights went out for the first race in the 2020 Formula 1 season in July, no one was quite sure how the rest would play out. Yet 9 Grand Prix in, one thing has remained the same: Mercedes still dominate. Their drivers have claimed victory in 7 of the 9 races, Lewis Hamilton with 6. He already has a 55 point lead over his teammate and nearest rival Valtteri Bottas, outperforming him for race wins 6-1.
Qualifying is the biggest show of this dominance; they are frequently up to a second quicker than their nearest competitors. In a sport where a 10th of a second is the difference between victory and defeat, that is a huge margin. There has only been one race so far, the Styrian Grand Prix, where Mercedes did not quality both first and second.
In truth, the predictability results race-to-race is damaging the sport’s appeal, especially if there is no serious competition in the long term. 2020 has seen only 4 different winners from 3 teams, and one of those was incredibly unlikely. The highlight of the season so far has been the Italian Grand Prix which produced the podium no one would have foreseen: AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly won his first F1 race, with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz in 2nd and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll in 3rd. The joy of seeing this young driver reach such a milestone in what has been a turbulent career so far, showed us a glimmer of the future – this was the youngest podium in history, and the sport at its best: captivating for being unpredictable.
No wonder Ferrari are languishing 6th in the Constructor’s table on 66 points, while Mercedes sit unrivalled in at the top with 325
The lack of competition for Mercedes can be attributed to Ferrari’s dramatic decline in form. Only 3 times out of 9 have both Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel finished inside the top 10, and the team have twice suffered double DNFs. No wonder Ferrari are languishing 6th in the Constructor’s table on 66 points, while Mercedes sit unrivalled in at the top with 325. By comparison, Ferrari finished 2nd last season, 235 points behind Mercedes, but only halfway into this year the difference is already 24 points worse off than the end of 2019.
So what has gone wrong? The controversial power unit the FIA allowed them to run on their engine last year is no longer there, and now this year’s car seems to be void of the straight line speed that carried it to Grand Prix victories last season. All 6 cars powered by Ferrari engines are considerably slower than the Mercedes, Renault and Honda ones scattered around the grid, and as mentioned, this is a sport where 10ths of a second matter.
There is also visible tension within the team. There have been several instances where race strategy has seemed unclear and drivers have questioned strategy decisions mid-race. It seems that nobody quite knows how to make things better, and so the end of the season cannot come soon enough.
Vettel had hoped to follow in the footsteps of F1 greats and win the Driver’s Championship in the iconic red car, but he was not even offered a new deal on his contract
For 4 time World Champion Sebastian Vettel, the end of the season ends his time at Ferrari after an unsuccessful 6 years. Vettel had hoped to follow in the footsteps of F1 greats and win the Driver’s Championship in the iconic red car, but he was not even offered a new deal on his contract. Instead, Ferrari turn to youth with their 2021 line-up consisting of Leclerc and new signing Carlos Sainz, who leaves a resurgent McLaren team. Vettel, meanwhile, moves to Racing Point, ousting the unfortunate Sergio Perez.
Looking forward to 2021, Daniel Ricciardo comes in as Sainz’ replacement at McLaren, in a move completed before the season even started, and this opened the door for the return of Fernando Alonso to F1 and to the Renault team with whom he won 2 World Championships.
Unsurprisingly, money is the difference between running a team, and running a championship winning team
But perhaps the biggest story this year has been the announcement that the Williams family is to leave the sport. The Williams team has been owned by founder Sir Frank Williams for 43 years, but have struggled in recent years, and so it is hoped that new investment from the American firm Dorilton Captial will inject the much needed funds to compete. Unsurprisingly, money is the difference between running a team, and running a championship winning team, and as long as the gulf of spending has existed between the ‘Big 3’ of Mercedes, Ferrari & Red Bull, and the rest, competition has suffered. 2021’s spending cap promises to help with that issue.
With 10 races still scheduled for the rest of this season, there remains a lot to race for, and the calendar may yet be altered. But considering the uncertainty, delay and adjustment that has gone into making anything of this year, it is a wonder there have been any races at all. Once they started however, Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton have made it feel like any other year, and if they go on in their superior form then both will be crowned 7 time World Champions. At least some things never change…
Featured image used courtesy of Artes Max via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image use license here.
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