Formula 1 at 70: The story so far

Six long months after the 2019 season finale, Formula 1 (F1) has finally come back to life, with its roaring engines and champagne showers. Like many of the other sports that have restarted in the midst of the pandemic, the competition’s organizers have set precautionary measures in order to keep everyone safe while getting the cars back on track. 

Starting over three months later than the season’s planned debut, the 2020 F1 season is looking to be more stacked than ever; with races scheduled closer to one another, the action on and off the track seem just as fast-paced as the sport—a fitting image for the sport’s 70th anniversary season. 

The first three races were held on three consecutive weekends last July, and there will be more consecutive race weekends to come—a joy for the spectators, but at a tiring expense for the teams. After five races, there have already been a number of noteworthy moments—surprising teams, unpredictable performances, and of course, the F1 drama the fans all know and love. 

The top of the pack

This year’s F1 season is looking to be one of the most thrilling seasons in a long time. Opening the season with a bang, the Austrian Grand Prix had a number thrilling overtakes, three safety car deployments, and nine driver retirements. The Mercedes duo, Valterri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, dominated the race, leading in first and second for most of the 71 laps. However, after causing a collision with Alexander Albon, Hamilton was handed a five-second penalty, which dropped him down to fourth place.

Collectively, both the Mercedes drivers have placed the team in the lead of the constructors’ championship. It looked as though Bottas was coming into the season as the quicker Mercedes driver, after he claimed both the pole position and the victory at the Austrian Grand Prix. However, despite failing to take a podium spot in Austria, Hamilton made a huge comeback in the next three races, claiming all pole positions and victories in the Styrian, Hungarian, and British Grand Prix. The six-time world champion currently reigns at the top of the championship standings, with Bottas behind him by 34 points now in third place, as Red Bull driver Max Verstappen managed to wedge his way in between the two. 

After the initial five races, Red Bull seems to be the top contender to challenge Mercedes. In the opening race, Alexander Albon nearly overtook Hamilton for second place, if not for the collision that transpired in the battle. With this, both Albon and his teammate Max Verstappen were both unable to finish the race, as Verstappen’s car encountered a power failure early in the race.

In spite of the double-DNF in their home Grand Prix, Red Bull rose up through the standings after consistent performances in the following races. Constantly trailing the dominant Mercedes cars, Verstappen claimed podium finishes in the Styrian, Hungarian, and British Grand Prix, and even went on to take the victory at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. Currently, Max Verstappen is the only non-Mercedes driver to have led and won a race. Albon, on the other hand, does not seem at par with the high standards set by his teammate Verstappen, as shown by his rather underwhelming qualifying results over the past race weekends. However, he somehow makes up for this with his many overtakes and fights within the middle of the grid during races. With their performances, Red Bull has been able to create a 57-point difference from Racing Point, who sits behind them in third. 

It would seem that not an awful lot has changed since last season, as Mercedes and Red Bull still sit at the top of the pack. However, there have been a lot of surprises in the midfield this season—and this is where most of the drama and excitement lies. 

Midfield surprises 

In a position regarded as the “best of the rest”, Racing Point has been a surprising force this season. In 2019, the team finished in seventh place in the constructors’ championship, but this season, drivers Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll are looking ahead to compete for a higher spot in the midfield. They have been highly competitive within the midfield, with Perez’s replacement driver Nico Hulkenberg even qualifying in third at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. However, their surprising rise to the top and their new competitive shape has raised suspicion from other teams. 

After the Styrian Grand Prix, wherein Perez and Stroll placed sixth and seventh, respectively, the Renault team filed a complaint to the FIA, questioning the legality of Racing Point’s car design and manufacturing. Many have noticed the similarities between the team’s current cars to the 2019 Mercedes cars, with some fans even dubbing them as the “Pink Mercedes”. The case drew out through the two following race weekends, but right before the the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, the FIA handed the team a EUR 400,000 fine, as well as a 15-point deduction. However, even with the 15-point penalty handed to them, the team still has a total of 56 points to their name—already more than half the points they collected over 21 races last season. 

Another surprising team this season, trailing excitingly close at fourth just one point behind Racing Point is Ferrari. After a strong 2019 season, finishing second in the constructors’ championship, many Ferrari fans believed that their quick pace would see it through to this season as well. However, Ferrari’s performances this season have been relatively disappointing thus far. In the second race, both Ferrari drivers did not even make it through the first lap, as they collided with one another, effectively ending the race for them both.

In spite of this, Charles Leclerc has been able to finish on the podium twice in five races, and even claimed fourth place after getting away with a nail-biting one-stopper at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. He has recorded a total of 45 points for Ferrari thus far. On the other hand, his teammate Sebastian Vettel has only collected 10 points after five races and currently sits all the way down at 13th in the championship standings. Furthermore, the team’s issues within the internal management structure also seem to be affecting performances, especially Vettel’s, which may keep the team lagging behind at the stretch of the competition. It’s rather unusual to call Ferrari a midfield team, but thus far, this is what they seem to be, as they sit in fourth place in the standings, just two points above Mclaren. 

McLaren disrupted some pre-season predictions after registering their highest season-opener since 2014 with 26 points, which had put them in second, before they were overtaken by Red Bull in the following races. Both McLaren drivers, Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz, started the season strong, with Norris even clinching his first-ever podium finish during the opening race. However, the team still appears to be figuring the season out as they go along, as they haven’t had the most consistent results. Though Norris and Sainz were both high up on the midfield in the first two races, the following races saw the drivers looking less competitive, especially compared to the other midfield teams. 

There have been surprises left and right already this season in many shapes and forms, and with nine circuits still on deck in the season calendar, with more races to be announced, the standings remain wide open for the contending teams to fight their way up as the tournament unfolds.  

From here on out 

It looks as though Hamilton is en route to take this year’s drivers’ world championship, with his 30-point gap from second place keeping him safe. Along with Bottas’ competitive performances, Mercedes thus seems poised to take this year’s constructors’ championship as well for a seventh season in a row. Currently, the team is way ahead of the field, with their 67-point lead in the standings, and realistically, it seems like a lead only Red Bull can cut down. 

Verstappen has consistently found himself on the podium thrice, just behind the Mercedes drivers, and he even took a commanding victory over Hamilton and Bottas at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. These performances have collectively bumped him up into second place in the championship standings, and as he splits the two Mercedes drivers, it is evident that he is the only contender from the rest of the field that can consistently take the fight to Mercedes as of now—and the fight will definitely be difficult. 

In the last two races on Silverstone, both Mercedes drivers suffered from severe tire issues during the races, proving that they are not a perfect team. Red Bull was able to out-strategize Mercedes in the last race, which pushed them to their first victory of the season, so even with Mercedes’ considerable lead, the frontrunners still have to watch their backs very carefully. 

Verstappen is known to be a relentless driver, and after seeing him bring out his competitive spirit and his incredible skills at the last race, it is certain that he will pounce on any opportunity put in front of him. But for Red Bull to fully compete with Mercedes, Albon needs to find his way to the top of the pack to maximize the points the team can gain from each race. 

In the midfield, in spite of the cases raised against them and their penalties, Racing Point appears set to see one of their best team performances, but only if they are able to maintain their position at third. However, this will definitely prove to be a challenge for them, with the looming suspicions against their cars, as well as the other mid-pack teams competing so closely together. The drivers from Ferrari, McLaren, and even Renault have already seen their share of fights on the track, which will undoubtedly translate to the championship standings as the season moves forward. 

Although the top places seem to be determined this early in the season already, while the midfield teams compete closely with one another, nothing is set in stone. There have already been a number of unpredictable moments both on and off the track within just five race weekends, and it could get all the more unpredictable from this point on. Ultimately, no matter which direction this season will take in the coming races, it seems as though it will unfold in dramatic fashion.

Arvin Abaniel

By Arvin Abaniel

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