No one knew that a positive test for COVID-19 by a McLaren team crew member on March 13 and the subsequent cancellation of the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix would become barely a footnote in one of the most significant and unforgettable seasons in F1 history.
A pandemic that would limit the series to just 17 races—its fewest races since 2009—failed to limit the series of headlines and records that fans and the media will be talking about for a long time. The 2020 Formula 1 season will go down as one of Lewis Hamilton’s best and Sebastian Vettel’s worst. It will be remembered for a great escape on a crazy night in Bahrain. It will also be remembered as a year that included races held with no fans in the stands and few media in the press room.
Here’s a look at the headlines that we’ll still be talking about years from now.
Never has the Formula 1 schedule been turned upside down as much as it was in 2020.
In the season of COVID, the series was forced to cancel 12 races, add several venues that were not even on original schedule, and race back-to-back weekends at three venues just to get to 17 races.
The season was originally schedule for 22 races.
Axed from the schedule, mainly due to travel restrictions within host countries, were races in Australia, Vietnam, China, the Netherlands, Monaco, Azerbaijan, France, Singapore, Japan, the United States, Mexico and Brazil.
Meanwhile, England, Austria and Bahrain were awarded back-to-back race weekends in an effort to keep travel down but the race count up.
The series made other unplanned stops in Portugal, in Germany at the Nurburgring, in Turkey at Istanbul Park, as well and Imola and Mugello in Italy.
No one pulled off a bigger escape in 2020 than Haas F1 Team driver Romain Grosjean.
Grosjean, in what turned out to be his final Formula 1 race, careened into a steel guardrail in turn 3 of the first lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix on Nov. 29. The impact split Grosjean’s car in half and created a fireball that the driver miraculously emerged from less than 30 seconds after impact.
“It is something that will mark my life forever,” Grosjean said. “I have a lot of people who have shown me love. and it has touched me a lot, and at times I get a bit teary-eyed. I don’t know if the word ‘miracle’ exists or if it can be used, but in any case I would say it wasn’t my time.”
Grosjean, who does not have a ride for 2021, suffered burns to both hands and missed the final two races of the season.
For the first time since 2011, Formula 1 did not race in the United States.
COVID-19 travel restrictions in the Americas, in fact, kept F1 from all four of its scheduled races on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, including races originally slated for Canada, Mexico City, Brazil and Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
“It’s a big loss for us, but it’s also a big loss for the state,” COTA circuit boss Bobby Epstein said. “We sold out last year, we would’ve expected to sell out this year, and next year we’ll hopefully go and make room for even bigger capacity.”
The Mexican GP promoter said he was forced to make the decision to cancel for the the safety of the fans.
“We remain committed to ensuring the safest experience for all attendees,” Federico Gonzalez Compean, the managing director of the Mexican GP, said. “For this reason, we’ve collectively decided to postpone the date of our race. We are confident that this decision will allow us to continue to offer our fans the best and safest live sports experience in the world. We will continue to work in order to welcome all of you in 2021.”
All four venues are back on the schedule for 2021, with the U.S. Grand Prix set for Oct. 24, 2021 at COTA.
Lewis Hamilton put Michael Schumacher in his rear view mirror at the F1 Portuguese Grand Prix in Portugal on October 25.
Hamilton took the lead for good from teammate Valtteri Bottas on lap 20 of the 66-lap race. Hamilton went on to win by a comfortable 25.5 seconds over Bottas. Max Verstappen was third, 34.5 seconds back. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was the only other driver to even finish on the lead lap, and he was 1 minute, 5 seconds behind.
The win was the 92nd of Hamilton’s career, and it topped Schumacher’s all-time series record for wins that Hamilton tied two races prior at the Nurburgring.
Schumacher’s 91st and final win came on Oct. 1, 2006 at Shanghai, China. Schumacher went on to start 60 more races in his F1 career without adding to his victory total.
Hamilton, meanwhile, won his next three times out after his record win in Portugal and heads into 2021 with 95 victories.
No one is taking the record for Hamilton anytime soon. Next on the list among active drivers is Sebastian Vettel with 53 wins.
It took 189 tries before Sergio Perez finally won a Formula 1 race.
Perez, 30, won the Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain on Dec. 6 after botched pit stops by Mercedes created the opening Perez needed. The win was part of a dream season for the Racing Point driver, who finished fourth in the Formula 1 Drivers’ Standings. Perez’s previous best season finish was seventh
Even though his season ended with a blown engine and last-place finish in Abu Dhabi, Perez made a big enough impression with the folks at Red Bull Racing to land one of the sport’s top rides in 2021. Perez will replace Alex Albon alongside Max Verstappen next year.
“Alex is a valued member of the Team and we thought long and hard about this decision,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “Having taken our time to evaluate all the relevant data and performances, we have decided that Sergio is the right driver to partner Max for 2021 and look forward to welcoming him to Red Bull Racing.
“Alex remains an important part of our team as test and reserve driver with a key focus on 2022 development, and we would like to thank him for his hard work and contribution.”
Make room on the top step of the all-time championship podium for Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton’s triumph in the F1 Turkish Grand Prix on Nov. 15 clinched his seventh F1 championship, tying the mark set by the great Michael Schumacher.
Schumacher won his seventh title in 2004. Both Schumacher and Hamilton won their seventh titles at age 35.
“I dreamed of this when we were young, when we were watching the Grands Prix,” Hamilton said. “And this is way, way beyond our dreams. I think it’s so important for kids out there to hopefully see this and don’t listen to anybody who tells you you can’t achieve something. Dream the impossible. You’ve got to work for it, you’ve got to chase it, and you’ve got to never give up and never doubt yourself.”
The win in Turkey was Hamilton’s fourth consecutive win of 2020 and 10th in the first 14 races of the season. This one came from the sixth starting position on a day where Istanbul Park at times, thanks to wet conditions and a resurfaced track, resembled more a skating rink than a Formula 1 racing circuit. Early in the race, Hamilton trailed pole sitter and then race leader and first-time pole sitter Lance Stroll by as much as 24.6 seconds.
Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel shocked many in the Formula 1 paddock on May 12 when he announced that he would be leaving Ferrari after the 2020 season.
Vettel, who joined Ferrari in 2015 after winning four consecutive championships at Red Bull from 2010 through 2013, was never able to add to his championship total at Ferrari. He finished second in the championship, including second in both 2017 and 2018, and won 14 races.
His 2020 campaign was the low point of his F1 career, as he managed just one podium finish (third at Istanbul) and finished 13th in the F1 Drivers’ Championship standings.
Vettel is replacing Sergio Perez at Racing Point, which has been rebranded as Aston Martin Racing for 2021. Carlos Sainz replaces Vettel at Ferrari.
“My relationship with Scuderia Ferrari will finish at the end of 2020,” said Vettel in May. “In order to get the best possible results in this sport, it’s vital for all parties to work in perfect harmony. The team and I have realized that there is no longer a common desire to stay together beyond the end of this season.
“Financial matters have played no part in this joint decision. That’s not the way I think when it comes to making certain choices, and it never will be.”
A star was born on Dec. 6, as George Russell nearly won the Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain.
Russell, just 22 years old, spent all but one race at hapless Williams in 2020, but when he was called upon to replace an ill Lewis Hamilton (COVID-19) at Mercedes, Russell filled Hamilton’s shoes admirably. He led 59 of 87 laps and looked to be on his way to the victory before a botched pit stop (the usually spot-on Mercedes crew put the wrong tires on his car) and a subsequent puncture cost Russell a chance at the victory.
Still, Russell, who came into the race scoreless in the standings, showed that be belonged on the big stage. He finished ninth and scored the fastest lap of the race for the first three points of his promising F1 career.
“It was heart-breaking for George after a monumental drive in his first race with Mercedes, and he should have won,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said. “It didn’t work out today, but I’m sure this isn’t going to be his last attempt to win a race.”
One week after a positive COVID-19 test result in the Formula 1 paddock in May resulted in the cancellation of the F1 Australian Grand Prix, series officials announced the much-anticipated 2021 regulations for the sport were being pushed back to 2022.
The FIA in a press release said, “Due to the currently volatile financial situation this has created, it has been agreed that teams will use their 2020 chassis for 2021, with the potential freezing of further components to be discussed in due course.
“The introduction and implementation of the financial regulations will go ahead as planned in 2021, and discussions remain ongoing between the FIA, Formula 1 and all teams regarding further ways to make significant cost savings.”
What this means is that Mercedes will again be the team to beat in 2021, as no team is expected to be able to make up the technical gap at least until new regulations are in place. This move also keeps the door wide open for seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton to eclipse Michael Schumacher’s all-time series championships record next year.
Mercedes is also a favorite in 2021, thanks to the regulations freeze, to add to its record seven consecutive F1 Constructors’ Championships.
The sport has been looking for its next star, and it may have found it in Mick Schumacher.
Schumacher, 21, on Dec. 2 was named to drive alongside fellow rookie Nikita Mazepin on the Haas F1 Team in 2021. Schumacher, son of seven-time F1 champion and racing legend Michael Schumacher, won the Formula 2 championship this season.
Schumacher is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy and is expected to be on the fast track for a ride with Ferrari.
“I firmly believe he’s earned the opportunity to graduate into Formula 1 based on his performances,” Haas F1 Team principal Guenther Steiner said. “We have an opportunity ahead of us, as a team, to evaluate and nurture a new driver given our familiarity with our race package heading into 2021.
“We are putting in place our building blocks for the continued long-term growth of the team and I look forward to Mick’s contributions both on and off the track in that process.”
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