What did we learn from the 2020 F1 season?

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The coronavirus outbreak has severely disputed every segment of the world in one way or another with Formula One forming no exception to that. Balázs Szabó recaps the trending topics and major lessons of the 2020 F1 season.

The 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship was set to get underway in Melbourne on March 15. Following the pre-season testing, teams and driver travelled to Australia despite the early signs at the end of February that indicated that the novel coronavirus started to spread in Europe as well.

Apart from some precautionary measures, the season-opening race weekend started as usual with drivers and teams gearing themselves up for the first real competition with the brand-new cars. However, when a team member of the McLaren F1 Team tested positive for the coronavirus, things started to take a new turn.

Following a lengthy discussion between Formula One Management, the FIA and the teams, it was decided that the season-opener should be called off. The cancellation was only the first of many as the world started its battle against the new Covid-19 virus that quickly turned into a pandemic.

The reliable young Briton – McLaren’s Lando Norris notched up the highest mileage in 2020. The Belgian-British racing driver completed a total of 5116 on his way to the ninth place in the Drivers’ Championship with only failing to see the chequered flag at the Eifel Grand Prix. Despite a difficult year for Alfa Romeo, the Swiss-Italian team’s champion Kimi Räikkönen completed the second highest mileage with 5099kms. The Finn finished every single race except the season-opener when the right-front wheel of his Alfa Romeo detached from the car, and he was forced to stop on the pit straight, bringing out a third safety car. Alexander Albon completed the third highest mileage, followed by Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo.

The reliable experienced Briton – Lewis Hamilton was the only driver to finish every single race he entered. He was only beaten by Lando Norris to the highest race mileage as he was forced to miss the Sakhir Grand Prix after contracting Covid-19.

Fans again – Following the long delay to the start of the 2020 F1 season, the season kicked off at the Austrian Grand Prix on July 5. However, fans were not allowed in as the opening races were run according to FIA’s Closed Events protocols. Ferrari’s 1000th Formula One race, the Tuscan Grand Prix became the first race in 2020 to allow in spectators with 2,880 fans getting the chance each day to follow the action at Mugello from the grandstands.

Updated calendar – The coronavirus outbreak forced Formula One to heavily update its calendar for 2020. The original schedule featured 23 races, but the heavily-upgraded final calendar was made up of 17 events. The season started at Spielberg-Knittelfeld which was the first time for Austria to kick off a F1 season. The first part of the season saw the Red Bull Ring and Silverstone host a second race with those events called the Styrian and the 70th Anniversary Grands Prix respectively. The season saw Italy host three grands prix as Monza was joined by Imola and Mugello, marking the first time that a country hosts three Grands Prix since the 1982 season.

Portugal’s Portimao track was also added to the schedule. The race at the Algarve International Circuit represented the return of the Portuguese Grand Prix for the first time since the 1996 season. The Istanbul Park also returned to the grand prix racing, marking the first Turkish Grand Prix since the 2011 season. The last not planned race was the Sakhir Grand Prix with Bahrain staging two races of which the second one took place on the short configuration of the track called Outer Circuit.

Driver changes – Two teams made changes to their driver line-up for the 71th running of the FIA Formula One World Championship. Renault replaced Nico Hülkenberg with Esteban Ocon who made his return to Formula One after a year’s absence. Following a difficult season, Robert Kubica left Williams at the end of the 2019 season, and his seat was taken by Canadian driver Nicholas Latifi. The one-time F1 race winner joined the Sauber-operated Alfa Romeo team as a reserve driver.

The fastest pit stop – Red Bull Racing won this year's DHL Fastest Pit Stop Award on 555 points, followed by Williams (264 points) and Mercedes (253 points). Red Bull also executed the fastest pit stops of the year in Russia and Portugal, taking just 1.86 seconds to change tires. The energy drink-owned team was the only team to produce a sub 2s pit stop in 2020 by changing the tyres on the RB16 under two seconds on nine occasions in total.

Sudden changes – The unprecedented season saw sudden changes to the driver line-ups. Nico Hülkenberg stepped in for Sergio Perez at the British and the 70th Anniversary Grands Prix after the Mexican tested positive for the coronavirus. When Lewis Hamilton contracted Covid-19 ahead of the Sakhir Grand Prix, Mercedes decided to promote George Russell, giving him the chance to race in the sport’s dominant car. The King’s Lynn-born driver was replaced by Jack Aitken who made his F1 debut for the Grove-based Williams team. Following Romain Grosjean’s horrific crash at the Bahrain Grand Prix, Emerson Fittipaldi emerged as the Frenchman’s replacement, becoming the fourth Fittipaldi to race in F1. The others were Emerson, Wilson and Christian Fittipaldi.

A new name – Red Bull, the parent company of Scuderia Toro Rosso decided to rename its junior team for the 2020 F1 season. The Faenza-based outfit was rebranded Scuderia AlphaTauri with the name being derived from Red Bull's AlphaTauri fashion brand. The outfit joined Formula One in its current form after Paul Stoddart sold his remaining interest in the Minardi team at the end of 2005 to Red Bull's owner, Dietrich Mateschitz.

Friday drivers - Across the 2020 F1 season, four drivers drove as a test or third driver in free practice sessions. Jack Aitken and Roy Nissany both drove for Williams at one and three Grands Prix respectively, Robert Kubica drove for Alfa Romeo Racing at five Grands Prix and Mick Schumacher drove for Haas at one Grand Prix.

Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman were also due to make an appearance during a grand prix weekend with Haas F1 Team, but the poor weather conditions meant that the Briton could not drive at the Nürburgring and Shwartzman ultimately got his chance to drive for Ferrari at the post-season Abu Dhabi test.

The record-braking champion team – Mercedes did not fail to extend its domination that started in 2014 with the introduction of the hybrid power units. In 2020, the Anglo-German outfit clinched its seventh consecutive constructors’ championship title with which it established a new record for most consecutive constructors’ championships. This was previously held by Scuderia Ferrari that was crown team champion between 1999 and 2004.

The experienced Finn – For Kimi Räikkönen, the 2020 F1 season has been an important one. The 2007 world champion has become the sport’s most experienced driver after completing his 329th race at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix which equals to 87,378kms driven during these races.

New record – Lewis Hamilton has set new all-time records en route to his seventh world championship title with which he equalled Michael Schumacher’s previous record. The 35-year-old Briton now holds the record for most race wins (95), most pole positions (98), most podiums (165), most point finishes (229) and most consecutive race starts (265). Furthermore, the Stevenage-born driver holds the record for most wins at different circuits (29), most wins with one constructor (74), most consecutive points finishes (48) and the most distance led with 25,900km.

The fast Mexican – For Sergio Perez, the 2020 F1 season has been like a ride on a rollercoaster. He tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of the British Grand Prix which ruled him out for two races. Following his return to the paddock, he later announced that he would leave the Racing Point outfit, because the team decided to replace him by Sebastian Vettel.

Things started to get better for him at the challenging and exciting Turkish Grand Prix where he ended up second. Although he was on his way to another podium finish at the following Bahrain Grand Prix, technical issues related to the Mercedes power unit prevented him to take another top 3 finish. However, the subsequent Sakhir Grand Prix saw the 30-year-old clinch his first F1 victory following Mercedes’ series of mistakes in the pit lane. With this sensational triumph, the Guadalajara-born holds the record for most starts before first win as he needed 190 starts to claim a Grand Prix victory.

Unusual changes – The Constructors’ Championship saw teams rise and fall compared to the previous seasons. Red Bull Racing ended up second behind Mercedes. That was the fourth time after 2009, 2014 and 2016 for the Milton Keynes-based team to finish as the runner-up outfit in the Constructors’ Standings. McLaren recorded its best finish in the Constructors’ Championship since 2012 by finishing third behind Mercedes and Red Bull, beating Racing Point and Renault by seven and twenty-one points respectively.

For Ferrari, the 2020 season was one of the worst of its history. The Scuderia finished in sixth position just as it did in 1962, 1969 and 1973. The only time that Formula One’s most successful team finished lower than that was in 1980 when Ferrari’s driver line-up of Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve collected just eight points in total which saw the team clinch the 10th place in the Standings.

The sport’s second most successful team Williams also endured a difficult season. Although their car showed an improvement compared to their 2019 machinery, the team failed to collect a single championship point. That was the first pointless season in the history of the Grove-based outfit apart from its debut year in 1977 when it joined the championship halfway through the season.

The fastest lap – Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was declared winner of this year's DHL Fastest Lap Award before this season-ending round after going quickest six times in the course of the season. He has now won the award five times in the last seven years. Max Verstappen set the fastest race lap on three occasions while Valtteri Bottas, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo achieved this feat twice apiece. Carlos Sainz and George Russell also claimed the fastest race lap once. The all-time record still belongs to Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen who set the fastest race lap ten times within a single season in 2008.