Today sees the first of – nobody quite knows how many – races of this year’s Formula One season as the Austrian Grand Prix gets under way.
After planning of hauling everybody to Australia for the traditional season opener in Melbourne in March, the sport’s governing body soon realised that to expect teams, fans and journalists to assemble for a Grand Prix during a global pandemic was, at best, foolish.
So the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled, as were subsequent races. First Bahrain, then Vietnam, then China. And so it continued, until organisers realised they needed a completely new approach.
And here we are today – Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes – and everyone else still has no points on the board.
At this stage of the season in pre-Covid-19 coronavirus times, eight or nine races would have already been held by now.
Faced with the desire to start broadcasting races and, presumably, pressure from the broadcasters, F1 announced an eight-race calendar, to which the organisers are hoping to add further races later in the year. Austria and the UK are hosting back-to-back races on consecutive race weekends, however, they will be very different to what F1 fans are accustomed to.
For one, the drivers will be racing urged on by nobody except the 80 people the teams are allowed to bring to the track to change tyres, hold up the information board or plan strategies.
Yes, the races will be held, like most sporting events, behind closed doors and each team will be restricted to only 80 people.
However, it is not all doom and gloom, as the sporting side will hopefully at least offer some temporary respite; an opportunity for F1 fans to watch their favourite drivers and teams live.
And it is here that local fans are hoping that the weekend sees a Red Bull festival. Not only will the race be held at the Red Bull Ring, but the Red Bull team should be among the favourites to win at home.
Max Verstappen won the race in 2018 and last year, despite starting from fifth and third positions, respectively. World champion Hamilton, on the other hand, who has been so dominant, traditionally struggles on the Red Bull Ring.
Last year, he managed a disappointing fifth place, having failed to finish the year before. The last Mercedes victory here was in 2017, but it belonged to Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton finished fourth.
If the Red Bull team had been asked which track they wanted to race the first Grand Prix of the year on, they would undoubtedly have chosen the Red Bull Ring.
And with back-to-back races on the track and then Hungary on the cards, Red Bull’s star driver Verstappen could quite easily go from his first back-to-back victory to his first hat-trick of victories, and so open up a good lead in the standings.
Hamilton, though, could get his share of the news headlines as he has been outspoken in his support of the ongoing anti-racism protests. He said the team was planning something for the first race.
“I’ve got a platform and I think it would be irresponsible of me not to utilise that and help educate people, educate myself and push for accountability with the brands and the industry I work in.
“What you are going to see at the first race is going to be a very, very powerful moment for us,” Hamilton said in an interview posted on the Daimler website.
After two championships that Hamilton and Mercedes controlled throughout, fans are hoping that this year will be a bit more exciting, and Verstappen and Bottas seem the most likely candidates to challenge the Briton.
As usual, a huge question mark hangs over Ferrari. Sebastian Vettel has already announced that he will be leaving the team at the end of the season, while Charles Leclerc, who finished ahead of the German last year, will be expecting to be the team’s number one driver.
A competitive and fierce internal duel seems most likely in Austria today.
- Today: Austria – Red Bull Ring
- Sunday: Austria – Red Bull Ring
- July 19: Hungary – Hungaroring
- August 2: UK – Silverstone
- August 9: UK –Silverstone
- August 16: Spain – Barcelona-Cataluña
- August 30: Belgium – Spa
- September 6: Italy – Monza