Finally, after months of waiting, Formula One is back this weekend in Austria for the first of a double header round the Red Bull Ring. So here's is a round-up of what's been going in the past few weeks and what is to be expected of the first race of 2020.
2nd June 2020
Despite there being no action on track, there's certainly been a lot of news off it.
Finance troubles for Williams and McLaren
Legendary British teams, Williams and McLaren, have experience financial trouble over the duration of lockdown.
There was talks of selling the iconic team that dominated the 90's as the board announced a 13 million loss from 2019 and the split from title sponsor Rokit. Williams have finished 10th and last in the Constructor's Championship for the past two years which had a negative impact on the commercial revenues they receive from sport but also a decline in sponsorship due to the delayed start to the F1 season. Following the split with Rokit, Williams have had to update their livery which now mainly features white and a two tone blue. They have given greater coverage to existing sponsors, Sofina, Acronis and Lavazza on the car and driver overalls but are still on the look-out for new sponsors whilst also continuing their review of the strategic investment options available to the team.
McLaren have also been hit hard by the global pandemic. The British team have been assessing a number of options available to them to secure the required funding to solidify their long-term future in the sport. The McLaren Group announced around 1,200 employees redundant across their technology, automotive and racing businesses. However, the team has agreed a £150m loan arrangement with the National Bank of Bahrain.
Russell takes top honours in Esports championship
Thank goodness for racing games and mostly-reliable internet connections! The Virtual Grand Prix series, F1 Esports, achieved huge success during the lockdown period. It was created to enable fans to continue watching Formula 1 races virtually with the drivers playing the Official F1 2019 game made by Codemasters. Throughout the series, half of the F1 grid took part along with driver from other racing series such as Formula E and F2 along with professional footballers and music chart toppers.
Drivers were able to use their Twitch accounts to engage with fans on a more personal level with Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Lando Norris and Alex Albon connecting regularly. Taking his fourth win in a row, Russell won overall despite never trying his hand at sim racing. This was a great way of engaging fans with drivers and led to many funny moments throughout the lockdown period.
The F1 cost-cap revealed
The biggest news over lockdown was the long waited announcement that in 2021, there will be a cost-cap. The aim of the cost cap is to deliver a more competitive championship, promote a level playing field and ensure the long-term financial stability and sustainability of teams on the grid. COVID-19 has also contributed to F1's stakeholders in making further changes to the Financial Regulations.
The cap is a device created to limit the amount of money a Formula 1 team can spend during a calendar year. For 2021, the cap will be set at $145m. That will reduce to $140m in 2022 and $135m from 2023 onwards. There was also big changes on F1's aero rules. A radical new sliding scale for aerodynamic testing based on a team’s success on track. The team that are winning in F1, will receive less time in their Wind Tunnel while the team that finishes last, will receive more time to research and develop.
This is all to close the gap in Formula One with the big teams, Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull and the rest of the field.
The changes due to COVID-19
Due to the Coronavirus restrictions, there will no fans present at Austria or at any of the fore-coming races. The teams are limited in personnel as their will be no hospitality, tests will be carried out regularly and teams will work in their own bubbles to reduce the risk of infection. The podium ceremony and the interviews will take place but differently as they previously once was.
Previewing the Austrian GP
The first ever Austrian GP round the Red Bull Ring took place in 1997 and ran until 2003 after it was dropped from the calendar. It returned in 2014 to the delight of fans and drivers.
In it's return, the track has been dominated by Mercedes and Red Bull with Max Verstappen winning the last two in 2018 and in 2019. There has been many key moments since 2014; Kimi Raikkonen's lucky escape after a Fernando Alonso's McLaren crashed on top of the "Iceman", the last-lap collision between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in 2016 and Verstappen's late move on Charles Leclerc to take Honda's first win in the sport since 2006.
The drivers race around the 10 corner circuit 71 times with a length of 4.318km. There are two DRS zones. It is one of the more shorter F1 circuits with Ferrari's Leclerc qualifying on Pole here last year with a 1:03:003.
This weekend is going to be very interesting in terms of the pecking-order. Mercedes and Red Bull are in the mix for Pole and the for win as Ferrari have ruled themselves out until the third scheduled race in Hungary. Racing Point will be strong and it will be very interesting to see if they are as close to the top three as we think. Behind, it's all to play for. McLaren, Renault, Alpha Tauri are running quite close together with Haas and Williams not far behind.
For Qualifying, I think it's going to be Valtteri Bottas for Mercedes with Verstappen and Hamilton close behind. But for the race, I am going to go with Verstappen to make it a hat-trick round the Red Bull Ring come Sunday. I feel this weekend is going to be quite hectic I'm taking my predictions with a pinch of salt.
Who do you think will grab Pole on Saturday? Who's in the best position to win come Sunday?