As the first international sport to return, more eyes than ever have been on Formula 1 and the FIA (International Automobile Foundation), observing how the sport copes with the COVID-19 pandemic.
A raft of measures have been put in place; everyone wears masks; presenters socially distance amongst themselves and when talking to drivers; teams have been placed into bubbles – there’s even been a robot awarding trophies on a makeshift podium.
Yet whilst the atmosphere in the paddock seems a little odd, on track it’s no holds barred. Over three weekends we had back-to-back Grand Prix; two in Austria followed by the Hungarian Grand Prix and now, after a week’s break, we have the first of two Grand Prix at Silverstone. Though some were wary about having two races at the same track one after the other, as happened in Austria and is soon to happen here in the United Kingdom, the races turned out to be far from repetitive.
The first three Grand Prix of the season have more than made up for missed racing. From the two Ferraris’ crash in the first lap of the Styrian Grand Prix that saw them out of the race to the emergence of Last Lap Lando who gained his first ever Formula 1 podium in Austria, races have not been short of action.
Perhaps the most impressive moment of the past three races came not from a driver but from the Red Bull mechanics who managed to reattach a completely new front wing to Max Verstappen’s car in record time after he crashed on the out lap to the starting grid. With events like these, talk about COVID-19 and its effect on the sport has almost taken a back seat.
With the start of the season comes resumption of paddock gossip. In fact, even before the start of racing proper, the merry go round of driver seats tuned up. As Sebastian Vettel is replaced by Carlos Sainz at Ferrari, Daniel Ricciardo moves to McLaren and Fernando Alonso returns to take Riccardio’s seat at Renault – quite the shuffle within a mere few weeks. Most recently, there have been rumours of Vettel, who remains seat-less, taking Sergio Perez’s place at Racing Point despite the fact that Perez’s contract is not up at the end of the year. Perez himself admitted to the press that the sport is also a business, and anything can happen.
Understandably, there has been a lot of talk surrounding COVID-19, with Charles Leclerc breaking the rules and Perez testing positive for the virus on Thursday.
With three races now complete we are starting to see a pattern emerge. Mercedes’ domination has been near total and their cars are clearly in a league of their own whilst Ferrari are struggling to match pace. Though we will never know the results of last year’s investigation by the FIA, it is clear that whatever happened did not work out well for Ferrari and, sadly, things do not seem to be improving. Vettel was forced to sit FP1 out at Silverstone on Friday due to an intercooler issue and Leclerc told the official F1 website his car was “extremely hard to drive” due to experimental low downforce levels.
McLaren and Racing Point are storming ahead in comparison, so much so that some are even asking whether Sainz, who currently drives for McLaren, has made a mistake. Though Mercedes’ success suggests that this season will be a repeat of the last, one should pay close attention to how the chips fall behind them, as those podiums are anything but certain. Thanks to an indefinite number of Grand Prix, and by extension an indefinite number of points up for grabs, the championship is still very much up for grabs.
Tune in to Sky Sports F1 or Formula 1 TV to watch the next instalment of what is shaping up to be a very unconventional season at 2:10pm tomorrow, Sunday 2 August.