Online Sport Editor Harry Scott-Munro reviews the opening 6 races of the Formula 1 season.
With 13 rounds of the F1 2020 season confirmed and 4 more expected to be announced in the coming weeks, Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix marked what is expected to be the completion of the first third of one of the most challenging seasons in Formula 1’s 70 season history.
After 6 races, Lewis Hamilton remains head and shoulders above the rest of the field, claiming 4 wins from the opening 6 races, Hamilton holds a 37-point advantage over closest challenger Max Verstappen. For all the hope of Red Bull and potentially Ferrari challenging Mercedes at the front of the field, the Silver Arrows appear almost as dominant as they were in 2014, the first year of the hybrid era.
This season could see Hamilton break a number of records, most notably a record equalling 7th world title, a mark set by Michael Schumacher that many thought would never be equalled. The Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday also saw Hamilton break the all-time record for most podiums in the sport, securing his 156th from 256 races as he cruised to victory, having led every lap. He now stands on 88 career victories, just 3 short of Michael Schumacher’s record of 91, whilst also already holding the record for most pole positions with 92 and most career points with a staggering 3563.
For all Hamilton’s undoubted talent, the strength of his Mercedes car has also played a part in his recent domination of the sport. This season, Mercedes have secured pole position at every race so far, Hamilton taking four and his teammate Valtteri Bottas securing the other two. On average, the polesitter has been 0.89 seconds faster over one lap than the first non-Mercedes car on the grid this season, a seismic time difference in Formula 1 terms. On two occasions already, the lead Mercedes qualified over a second ahead of its nearest challenger, highlighting the sheer dominance of their car compared to the rest of the field.
Despite any of the other 9 teams failing to match Mercedes in qualifying or race trim, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen appears to be the closest challenger to their dominance, the Dutchman being the only non-Mercedes driver to win a race this season. At 22 years of age, Verstappen, now in his 6th season in Formula 1 has secured nine race victories and matured from a prodigious talent into one of the finest drivers on the grid, a driver seemingly destined to win world titles in the future. The fact that he sits ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Bottas in the World Drivers Championship purely on merit highlights his talent and ability in drawing the best out of his car. Indeed, the only time he has failed to appear on the podium this season was the opening round in Austria, after an electrical failure caused him to retire.
There have been several stars so far this season, Charles Leclerc securing two podiums and currently holding 4th place in the Drivers World Championship, despite driving arguably the worst car Ferrari have designed since 2009. His sheer speed and results in comparison to teammate and 4-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel only serve to highlight how much he is outperforming his car. Ferrari have said they don’t expect to be fighting for consistent race victories until 2022, a time that cannot come soon enough, with the prospect of Leclerc and Verstappen fighting for World Championships in the post-Hamilton era meaning the future of the sport is in safe hands.
The two stars thus far though have been McLaren’s British driver Lando Norris and Alpha-Tauri’s Pierre Gasly. Norris sits 7th in the standings, having secured his maiden Formula 1 podium at the Austrian Grand Prix, Norris has secured three top 5 finishes so far this season, with Pierre Gasly rebounding superbly from being dropped by Red Bull last season, securing 3 points finishes in the unfancied Alpha-Tauri, outperforming his experienced teammate Danil Kvyat.
The other star of the season has been George Russell. Despite racing for the underperforming Williams outfit and without a point in his Formula 1 career, Russell is yet to be out-qualified by a teammate and has managed to get his car through to Q2 on four occasions this season. Russell, a Mercedes junior driver and F2 Champion, seems destined to take Hamilton’s seat at Mercedes once his fellow Brit retires and with his race-craft improving every race, he will be hoping to start to score points to continue to reaffirm his talent to all in the paddock.
This season hasn’t been without controversy though, namely the Racing Point, dubbed ‘the Pink Mercedes’ by many within Formula 1. The car is modelled on Mercedes 2019 car and the ingenuity of design by the Racing Point team has seen them secure six top 6 finishes. Lance Stroll sits 5th in the Drivers Championship, with Sergio Perez 8th despite missing two events after testing positive for Covid-19. Renault and Ferrari have both submitted protests over the legality of the Racing Point car, which bears a striking resemblance to the 2019 Mercedes. After an FIA investigation, the car was found to have brake ducts directly copied from the 2019 Mercedes, resulting in a fine of €400,000 and a deduction of 15 world championship points. Racing Point intend to appeal the decision, with Ferrari and Renault also announcing their intention to appeal, feeling the punishment is not strong enough. Despite the points deduction, Racing Point still sit 3rd in the Constructors Championship.
Although the races haven’t all been spectacular, the recent Spanish Grand Prix seemingly more of a procession than a race, the midfield battle has been as intense as ever, with several events such as the opening round in Austria providing the sort of on-track entertainment Formula 1 fans have been wanting for years.
One thing does remain certain though, that Lewis Hamilton is seemingly on collision course with a record-equalling 7th drivers title. Whatever people’s views on Hamilton, few can deny his talent behind the wheel of a car. Formula 1 now takes a break for a week, before returning at the Belgium Grand Prix in Spa.