Welcome to the first, much-belated round of the 2020 Formula 1 World Championship. The venue for the first round begins and ends with A, but no, it’s not Australia, but instead it’s Austria. Interestingly the Red Bull Ring will host two consecutive races in as many weekends, but next week’s race won’t be called the Austrian Grand Prix – that would just be too confusing.
Whilst 2020 has brought much in the way of chaotic change, some things don’t change. Mercedes have emerged from the enforced break with a car that is comfortably the fastest – both Bottas (starting on pole) and Hamilton were half a second quicker than Verstappen’s Red Bull in third.
Beyond that, we seem to have a tight midfield, if both race sims in practice and qualifying are any indication. McLaren are much improved, with Lando Norris taking fourth on the grid for today’s race ahead of the second Red Bull of Alex Albon (who may be a touch disappointed with his qualifying performance). Racing Point also look better – Perez matched Albon’s Q3 lap, and starts behind the Red Bull only by virtue of the finest of fine margins.
Among the more disappointing performances would be Renault – Daniel Ricciardo squeezed into Q3 but will start 10th. Ocon was 14th, four tenths slower than his teammate. The biggest shock (or not shock, depending on your view) came from Ferrari. Charles Leclerc was nearly a second slower than the Mercedes pair, and he will start 7th on the grid, sandwiched between Perez and the second McLaren of Ferrari-bound Carlos Sainz (it will be fascinating to see how Sainz approaches that fight).Sebastian Vettel didn’t even break into Q3 – starting 11th.
So begins what could possibly be one of the most dramatic seasons in F1 history. There’s no margin for error – less races means mistakes that lose points will prove more costly. The flip side is that risks will bring greater reward. In the middle of it all, expect Mercedes to be, as always, a class beyond.