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Formula One 2020 season: Five key things to watch out for

From Sebastian Vettel’s final season with Scuderia Ferrari to racing adapting to covid-19, a new and modified season of Formula One is here

Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on track during the F1 winter testing in February. Photo from Getty Images
Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on track during the F1 winter testing in February. Photo from Getty Images

In a tweet earlier this week, McLaren driver Lando Norris aptly described the excitement before the 2020 Formula One (F1) season. “Oh my godddd it’s race weeeeeeeek!!!!" the 20-year-old tweeted. It has been a surreal year for sports and the after-effects of covid-19 will also be felt on the F1 circuit. The Austrian Grand Prix, originally supposed to be the 11th race of the season, is now its starting point. There’s plenty more to watch out for as a new, modified season of F1 begins this weekend.


Racing restarts, but not without some changes. No more podiums, for instance. Winning drivers will celebrate away from each other on the grid. Teams are also following strict “minimum personnel" and social distancing guidelines that will apply everywhere, from the paddock to the circuit. “There’s a massive uncertainty factor. Not only because it’s a truncated season but nobody knows how many races there are going to be and where they will be held. For a sport like F1, the cars are adapted better to particular circuits. When you don’t know what’s in store, it’s all going to depend on the early momentum," says sports expert and commentator Suhail Chandhok. All the eight races announced so far will also be closed events, with no spectators. “The fans will be a big miss but there are plenty of positives. For the drivers, the biggest is that you are back, competing at the very highest level. The crowds are a massive part of the sport but once you put on that helmet and are inside the cockpit, you are so focused that you try to tune out the crowd. I also think the sport is quite well-tuned to TV audiences," he adds.


Sebastian Vettel and Scuderia Ferrari’s decision to part ways , announced in May, shocked the racing world. What looked like a perfect match in 2015 hasn’t worked out as many would have imagined. Where does the 32-year-old German go from here? Chandhok says Vettel has nothing to lose and will go all-out in his last season with Ferrari. “I think Ferrari do have what it takes to push for the title but it will be absolutely on between Vettel and (Charles) Leclerc. There’s no reason for Sebastian to give him an easy time. He has still got the speed," says Chandhok.


At 22, both Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc have the chance to pull off something spectacular this season: the opportunity to become the youngest F1 champion. The two also represent the future for their respective teams. “For me, Verstappen is the dark horse for the title, especially in a shortened season. He was simply outstanding at Austria last season and Red Bull love the circuit. They are quite suited there and will be coming in with a very good package," says Chandhok.


Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have been the perfect winning combination over the last few seasons. Now, the Brit is just eight wins away from eclipsing Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 F1 victories. If he wins the championship this season, Hamilton would also match Schumacher’s record haul of seven F1 championships. “He is definitely the favourite (for the title). The other thing that is spurring him on is everything that is happening with the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s his voice that is dominant not only within the Mercedes team, but also in F1 at the moment," Chandhok says.


Vettel’s imminent exit from Ferrari started a merry-go-round of driver moves that ended with Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo signing up for McLaren and Carlos Sainz leaving McLaren for Ferrari for the 2021 season. Ricciardo has been considered a championship-winning driver for the longest time but failed to reach the heights with either Red Bull or Renault. “The funny thing is how contrasting both the moves were. Daniel’s leaving Renault on a sour note, while Carlos has a great relationship with his team. On Ricciardo’s side of the fence, you also have Esteban Ocon, who is back after a layoff and is going to be very quick on the outset," says Chandhok.

The 2020 Austrian Grand Prix starts on 3 July.

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