2020 has been a truly unique season. From surprise race winners, to unexpected visits to classic circuits and record-breaking displays by newly-crowned 7-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton, we pick out five highlights from an unforgettable year for F1.
Hamilton’s record-breaking year
Once again, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes were all but unbeatable this season. The Mercedes team has dominated Formula 1 since the dawn of the V6 hybrid era in 2014. This year, they became the first team to win seven consecutive Constructors’ Championships, while Hamilton ensured the team a seventh successive Drivers’ Championship title.
Hamilton himself has broken a long list of records in the 2020 season. To name just a few, he surpassed Michael Schumacher’s tally of 91 wins and most podium finishes, set a new record for consecutive points-scoring races, set a new record for most lights to flag victories and became the driver to have led the furthest distance in F1 history. Perhaps Hamilton’s most impressive drive of 2020 was the one which secured his seventh title, at the Turkish Grand Prix. In challenging conditions, Hamilton was the class of the field and won the race by over 30 seconds – the second-largest win margin of his career.
Off track too, 2020 was a significant year for Hamilton. While his peerless performances left him with few to battle on track, off track Hamilton spent time and energy battling social injustices, raising awareness of wider social issues, and was at the forefront of Formula 1’s push for greater diversity within the sport.
Another star of 2020 was Sergio Perez. If not for his two retirements due to engine failures in the last three races of the year, Perez would have scored points in every Grand Prix which he entered this season. Among those points finishes were two podium results – a second place at the Turkish Grand Prix and an unlikely win at the Sakhir Grand Prix. Perez’s maiden victory came on his 190th race start, which is a new record for the most number of race starts before a debut win. With Sebastian Vettel joining the newly re-branded Aston Martin team for 2021, Perez looked to be without a drive for next season. However, the Mexican has recently been announced as Alex Albon’s replacement at Red Bull in 2021, with the team citing Perez’s Sakhir win aa a deciding factor in his signing.
The battle for third
With Ferrari off the pace, there were more opportunities for a wider variety of drivers to appear on the podium in 2020. And with more points on offer, the battle for third place in the Constructors’ Championship was hotly contested throughout the year.
Lando Norris’ podium finish in the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix gave McLaren the early lead, but Racing Point were hot on their heels. The Racing Point car had been dubbed the “Pink Mercedes” in pre-season testing due to its resemblance of Mercedes’ 2019 machine. The matter was investigated, and Racing Point were fined and deducted fifteen championship points. Nevertheless, the battle was still close, especially with Daniel Ricciardo recording two podium finishes for a resurging Renault.
All six drivers for these three teams finished on the podium at some point in 2020 – a season which featured thirteen podium finishers in total; the most since 2012. Racing Point moved ahead of McLaren after the Nurburgring race, before Renault took the third spot after the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, with the three teams separated by a single point after the Imola round. Racing Point suffered a disappointing double DNF in the Bahrain Grand Prix, but Perez’s win one week later catapulted them back up to third. There was to be one final twist, though, as Perez retired in Abu Dhabi, while McLaren recorded a double top six result – sealing third place in the standings. It’s McLaren’s best championship result since 2012. Ferrari mixed with the three aforementioned teams, but ultimately finished only sixth – their worst championship result since 1980.
New and old circuits
The coronavirus pandemic delayed the start of the 2020 season by almost four months, and plenty of calendar changes were brought about by various travel restrictions and logistical issues. The majority of 2020’s races were held on European soil, with some circuits (Red Bull Ring, Silverstone and Bahrain International Circuit) hosting multiple Grands Prix in a bid to boost the number of rounds.
While many races from the original 2020 calendar were forced to be cancelled – including the new Vietnam Grand Prix and the returning Dutch Grand Prix – other new and returning venues were called upon to host races instead. Mugello appeared on the calendar for the first time to host the first ever Tuscan Grand Prix in September, while Algarve International Circuit hosted the first Portuguese Grand Prix since 1996. Three venues also made returns to the schedule: the Nurburgring hosted a Grand Prix for the first time since 2013, Istanbul Park hosted the Turkish Grand Prix for the first time since 2011 and F1 action returned to Imola for the first time since 2006. The additional rounds were a pleasant change from the usual 21-round calendar, with particular highlights being the Mugello race, which was red-flagged twice; the Portuguese Grand Prix, in which Carlos Sainz led the opening laps for McLaren; and the Turkish Grand Prix, where track surface issues and wet weather conditions led to a thrilling qualifying and race.
There is already discussion about some of the one-off races making more regular appearances on the calendar, with Chase Carey recently considering the possibility of a rotating 24-round calendar in the near future. The location for the fourth round of the 2021 season is yet to be confirmed.
When the Australian Grand Prix weekend was cancelled just hours before the F1 cars took to the track for the first time, nobody knew when the next race would be. The fact that the sport was able to fit in 17 rounds in a 23-week period is a remarkable feat. Even more remarkable are the circumstances under which it was able to do so. F1 was able to go racing in 2020 thanks to strict social distancing rules and robust coronavirus testing measures. According to Ross Brawn, around 80,000 coronavirus tests were carried out over the season, with a positive result rate of just over one in every 1,000 tests.
A disproportionate number of those positive tests were for drivers, with Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll and Lewis Hamilton all forced to skip races after testing positive. Thankfully, all three made swift recoveries. In their absences, their seats were filled by “super subs” Nico Hülkenberg and George Russell. Hülkenberg was drafted in with little notice to replace Perez at the British Grand Prix (a race at which he frustratingly failed to start due to engine issues) and replaced Stroll after a Saturday morning call up at the Eifel Grand Prix, where he scored points on the Sunday despite starting last. At the solitary race where Hulkenberg had ample time to prepare – the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix – he qualified in third place and finished seventh, proving himself still worthy of an F1 seat.
Both Pietro Fittipaldi and Jack Aitken made their F1 debuts at the Sakhir Grand Prix. Fittipaldi was drafted in after Romain Grosjean was forced to miss the closing rounds of the 2020 season due to his horrific crash at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Aitken’s Williams drive came about as a result of Hamilton testing positive for coronavirus, with the team allowing George Russell to step into the vacant Mercedes cockpit. Russell’s sensational performance over the Sakhir weekend – in which he missed out on pole by just over two hundredths of a second and comfortably led until Mercedes’ pit stop issues – will surely be remembered as one of the drives of the year.
The major downside to the 2020 season was the lack of fans in the grandstands. Efforts were made to allow a number of fans to races at venues such as Mugello, Sochi Autodrom and Portimão, while other circuits opened their doors to frontline workers to recognise their efforts during the global pandemic. Formula 1 plans to host next year’s races with spectators in attendance, and tickets for some events are on sale now. Click here for details on buying tickets for the 2021 F1 season.