ADITYA GOKHALE | 2nd July 2020

After 7 months and 2 days of waiting, Formula 1 will finally be back on track as the 2020 season finally gets underway at Austria’s Red Bull Ring. The season almost got underway 3 months ago as scheduled at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, but it was not to be as the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and all teams came to an agreement that racing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic’s peak would be dangerous even without fans as none of the teams or officials were ready with countermeasures for the same.

After a lot of planning and safety measures put in place by the ruling body and Liberty Media, a preliminary schedule was put forward with the season starting with a doubleheader at Austria, followed by Hungary and another doubleheader at Silverstone. The teams have been advised by the FIA to create a sort of bubble within themselves where they can stay close to each other without the risk of infection after the season does get underway. As the world continues to come to terms with the pandemic, F1 will be a welcome sight for fans as they get to see some on-track action at long last.

Here, we look ahead to the weekend, weather forecast, past results, and predictions.

We Go Racing in Austria

The Red Bull Ring in Spielberg will host Round 1 and Round 2 of the 2020 Formula 1 season. The FIA originally had plans to try out a different weekend structure at the second grand prix at the Red Bull Ring but it was scrapped after the FIA failed to reach a unanimous decision. The plan was to have a reverse grid race for the Steiermark GP so that the second race would not be a copy of the first, but it was Mercedes who denied the change in format, and the whole idea had to be scrapped.

Austria has always been a venue that generates excitement and this double header has potential for the same, as teams will look to get their season underway with a bang. As for now, Renault, Mercedes, and Red Bull are the only teams to bring major upgrades to their cars from preseason testing in Barcelona. Renault has confirmed a triple aerodynamic package for the first race, with Cyril Abiteboul stating, “We will see a very different R.S.20 in Austria. On the chassis side, the upgrades are coming. It’s been a huge effort in internal production to get the package from race 3, race 5, race 6 (the initial numbering of the season), Vietnam, Netherlands, and Barcelona – that will be on our car in Austria. Those races have obviously not happened but the performance that was supposed to come will be in Spielberg (Red Bull Ring).”

The home team, Red Bull, have tested a new floor with 7 vertical deflectors in front of the rear wheels, which improve the airflow around the rear tires and may look after tire temperatures which was a problem for the team in 2019’s Hungarian GP. Mercedes boss, Toto Wolff, has confirmed that the team will be bringing almost 3 months’ worth of upgrades to the car but did not reveal any specifics. As for the Ferrari, the Italian outfit has said that there won’t be any major upgrades to the car in terms of aerodynamic and chassis performance but they will be bringing their Power Unit Evo 2 for the first race in Austria which will have an extra 15 Horsepower for the Prancing Horses. It is not revealed whether Ferrari engine customers will be getting the upgrade in Austria.

A New Look

British F1 outfit, Williams Racing has had to change their livery for the 2020 season as their main sponsor, RoKit Smartphones has pulled out of contract as they feared major losses due to Williams’ poor performances and the finances being hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Williams’ future was put in doubt after the loss of their head sponsor and the losses the team made over the 2019-20 Financial Year. The 7-time Champions will be looking forward to a good campaign in 2020 as their fate hangs in the balance.

Another livery change came from the reigning 6-time Constructors’ champions, Mercedes as they look to tackle serious societal issues, dedicating their livery to the Black Lives Matter campaign as they have stripped all the silver off their car and replaced it with black, with neon turquoise accents. The F1 community has backed Lewis Hamilton’s calls for equality for all in every aspect of life and introduced the new campaign, We Race as One, and will have a logo on each car in the 2020 season.

Verstappen and Red Bull; 3 in 3?

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will be looking to complete a hat-trick of race wins at the Red Bull Ring, having won the Austrian GP in 2018 and 2019. The Dutchman fought his way into the lead last year after a poor start put Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in prime position to win the race. Verstappen will be looking to have a fast start to the season with the first two races taking place at a Red Bull dominant track. The 2018 race saw Verstappen cruise to a victory after mechanical failures for both the Mercedes cars, of Lewis Hamilton and teammate, Valtteri Bottas.

In the midfield, McLaren’s Lando Norris finished best of the rest after dominating the midfield battle and even beating Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly last year. Norris claimed the Red Bull Ring was where he felt most comfortable while driving for McLaren in 2019.

Cloudy with a Chance of Rain?

Spielberg has been receiving plenty of rain in the past few weeks, and it is most likely to continue. Although, early weather metadata suggests the clouds will stay away from the action on Qualifying and Race Day. However, rain is likely to disturb the first Free Practice sessions of the 2020 season, as heavy rain is predicted throughout Friday. Perhaps, a lack of dry running in practice could help mix up the field for race day. Could a little bit of rain bleed over into Sunday and spice things up, or will the rain gods take a day off to enjoy some on-track action? It will be left up till Sunday, but entertainment is guaranteed.

Predictions for the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix

1st: Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

Yes, my prediction is the most obvious one, but everyone knows the reasons. Max Verstappen has shown enormous skill in finding a tenth or two per sector at the Red Bull Ring. It is Red Bull’s home race, albeit without their adoring fanbase, but the crew will be eager to perform and so will Max. The Dutchman will make it 3 in 3, come the chequered flag, and maybe even 4 in 4 with the Steiermark GP in a week’s time.

2nd: Sebastian Vettel (Scuderia Ferrari)

Now, it’s time for the surprise. Sebastian hasn’t always been at his best at the Red Bull Ring and has only been on the podium twice since it’s return in 2014. However, he struggled mainly due to performance and tire maintenance issues with his Ferrari. However, Ferrari did show a lot of promise in 2019, but the German failed to qualify in Q3 after an engine oil leak ended his qualifying early. Having started in 9th, the German made a fabulous comeback finishing in 4th, above a struggling Lewis Hamilton. Perhaps if not for that oil leak, Seb could have challenged Max and Charles for the top spot.

3rd: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes AMG Petronas)

The 6-time Drivers’ champion will be looking to make a good start to his search for his 7th and record-equaling, Drivers’ Championship. The Mercedes has struggled a lot with tire temperature in Austria, and although a lot of work has been done to solve this, I expect the Merc to still struggle in making a mark.

Best of the Rest: Sergio Pérez (BWT Racing Point)

The Racing Point car made a lot of headlines in preseason testing in Barcelona, with the RP20, dubbed the ‘Pink Mercedes’ looking almost identical to the Silver Arrows’ championship winning W10. While the move may not be liked by fans, it ensures the soon to be Aston Martin can expect good results in this pandemic hit 2020 season, and the Mexican has always outperformed the car he’s had at the Red Bull Ring.

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