When the Formula 1 year started in the Austrian Alps, at the beginning of the summer, it was still unclear how long that season would actually last. Only eight races were on the calendar at that time, the coronapandemic made the sequel extremely uncertain.
Now, mid-December, the corona season is over and Lewis Hamilton has won his seventh world title. But beyond Mercedes‘s sustained dominance, season 2020 was remarkably spectacular.
“ Maybe it was monotonous because we have the same world champion, but we also saw beautiful battles, separate winners and spectacular races,” says former F1 driver Giedo van der Garde.
‘Soon a surprising top three‘
No less than thirteen different drivers managed to make it to the podium in just seventeen races. For comparison: last year, only nine different riders were allowed to go to the podium in 21 races.
According to the commentator Louis Dekker, this is mainly due to the disappointing performance of Ferrari. “That race stable was not in use this year. That means you’ve lost two riders from the top six, and the third one who doesn‘t score is Verstappens teammate Alexander Albon. Then you will soon have a surprising top three when someone falls out.”
“ There was a ‘big three‘, including Mercedes and Red Bull, but Ferrari had a dramatic season”, racer Jeroen Bleekemolen hits the nail on the head. Drivers Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc met to no more than three meager podium places.
“Shame red on the cocks’
Dekker: “They drove the jaws with shame. Last year, they had a thing with the car that wasn‘t entirely legal, which we never know exactly what. Now the top speed was gone, their strongest weapon.”
The downward line of Vettel, often Hamilton’s main challenger in previous years, is downright painful. He reached an average of 15 points per race two years ago, comparable to a third place in a race, this season he has not made more than two points per race.
“ When we were with Bernie Ecclestone (former F1 top man, red.) in February, he said that Vettel had called him to ask him what should I do? He didn‘t feel support with Ferrari. But we didn’t think that Ferrari would drive in the middle,” says Dekker.
Ferrari leaves a hole that was only partially filled by Red Bull. The number of stage seats (13) of Max Verstappens racing stable is similar to the previous seasons, but what is particularly striking is the number of teams that also finished with a car in the first three.
A special achievement, since it was not before the introduction of the current V6 engines in 2014 that drivers from seven different race stables were allowed to uncork the champagne.
Hamilton won two thirds of the races this season, and the midfield of Formula One has been pushed together. “This variety is good for the sport”, says Bleekemolen. “You can‘t say it’s been boring.”
Most eyes are usually focused on the leader of a race and his closest attackers, but also behind that, according to Dekker, it was more than worthwhile. “If you look at the fight for fifth place, you‘ve had a great season. The fun thing is: when something happens at the front, these drivers suddenly fight around the stage. That’s why it was a fun season.”
The victories of Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri) and Sergio Pérez (Racing Point) were the most prominent. Dekker: “The most important thing is the course of the race, what about the safety cars? Both Pérez and Gasly had the victory due to the safety car, or incidents on the track at a favorable time.”
‘Verstappen wins on its own power’
For Van der Garde and Bleekemolen the two victories of Verstappen, in England in August and last Sunday in Abu Dhabi, are their highlights of the season. “He did it on his own and on Sunday in Abu Dhabi spectacularly.”
Bleekemolen: “Mercedes is always the best. If Verstappen succeeds twice in winning a race, that‘s very good. We’ve almost started to find it, but it‘s not.”
Few changes to the car
The chance that a lot of different drivers will be on the podium next season seems great, because there is little change in the 2021 cars. Because of the coronacrisis, the cars remain almost the same. The Verstappen car is not called RB17 next season, but RB16b.
However, there is a crucial part that will be adjusted “The floor of the car is partially changed and that is super important for your downforce, the downpressure,” says Van der Garde. “That could make you win a race.”
Bleekemolen: “The field will grow even closer to each other. The top teams can’t improve much more, the others can.”