Lewis Hamilton led home a Mercedes 1-2 at Sunday’s Grand Prix of Steiermark to complete a dominant weekend for Mercedes.
All the preseason chatter and speculation has at last come to an end, with the lights going out on a new season of the Supercars Championship at the traditional Adelaide 500 street race.
Many of the headlines in the build-up were dominated by the impending retirement of the Holden brand in Australia, though on track it was the drivers and cars that stole the show.
From a vintage performance from one of the greatest of all time to perhaps being flattered by an old favourite team, here are the first talking points of 2020 from the Adelaide 500.
Red Bull re-sign both drivers
Heading into the weekend there was speculation over whether we’d be getting a retirement announcement from seven-time champion Jamie Whincup, having said that details of his future would be revealed on Saturday.
With some indication that this may be the case, giving his recent discussion about life after racing Supercars, the 37-year-old has confirmed that he’ll be racing for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team until the end of 2021.
In a joint statement from the team on Friday night, Whincup’s one-year extension was announced along with a fresh multi-year deal for teammate and 2016 champion Shane van Gisbergen. This ends any speculation about Triple Eight’s driver line-up beyond the end of 2020 as the team prepares for the impending departure of Holden.
All seven of Whincup’s championships have come for the Roland Dane-owned team, winning his first two titles in 2008 and 2009 driving a Ford Falcon before the team switched to Holden and he added another five, including four in a row between 2011 and 2014.
Red Bull have started 2020 strongly and Van Gisbergen is an early favourite for the championship, though with veteran Whincup still up to his winning ways, both drivers are a chance for delivering Holden one last championship before the marque’s retirement.
Pit stop errors see twists for race win
Old foes Van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin locked out the front row of the grid for Race 2, resuming their old rivalry. McLaughlin got the better start from second and led his compatriot in the opening stint of the race.
It wasn’t until the first pit stop that the Shell V-Power crew were caught napping during McLaughlin’s servicing, having failed to respond to the Red Bull car behind. Van Gisbergen was released before McLaughlin and thus stole track position from the reigning champion.
With it thought that McLaughlin’s chances were shot as Van Gisbergen extended his lead at the front, the second round of stops saw a bizarre change of fortunes. The No. 17 car was brought in a lap before the No. 97 to undercut the Red Bull, though it was during the latter’s pit-stop that another drama unfolded.
Not enough fuel was put into Van Gisbergen’s Commodore, which meant he wasn’t going to be able to make it home without another fill-up, thus making McLaughlin the effective race leader.
Ten laps from the end of the race Van Gisbergen was pitted to meet his fuel requirements, though that was when the rest of his race unravelled, with a suspension issue forcing the Kiwi out of the race.
McLaughlin achieved a comfortable ten-second victory to take back-to-back Sunday wins in Adelaide and also leave the first event as the championship leader.
Vintage Whincup proves why he’s racing on
After confirming that he’d be racing for another season beyond 2020, Whincup proved on Saturday why he is still one of the best on the grid. An emphatic pole position despite coming into the top-ten shootout as eighth fastest was successfully converted into victory in Race 1.
Whincup got the holeshot from the front of the grid for a flawless start to the 78-lap race. There was early pressure from David Reynolds in the Erebus Commodore in second, though was able to keep the former Bathurst 1000 winner at bay heading into the opening pit stop.
Reigning champion Scott McLaughlin benefited from an early pit stop to emerge as a threat to Whincup’s lead, though having to take on more fuel in the second stop allowed the Red Bull Holden to take back the lead and win by five seconds.
This was career win 119 for the seven-time Supercars champion, who continues the strong run of form from the conclusion of the 2019 season despite all the technical upheavals for 2020, including a switch to control shock absorbers and reduced aero.
Did Adelaide just flatter Walkinshaw Andretti United?
One of the biggest changes in the off-season was Chaz Mostert’s departure from his long-time home of Tickford and making the move to Walkinshaw Andretti United, which endured a difficult season in 2019.
Though with an all-new driver pairing of reigning Super2 champion Bryce Fullwood and Mostert along with his long-time engineer Adam DeBorre, the Adelaide 500 was a strong showing for the beleaguered Holden team.
Mostert was fast from the outset, setting the ultimate practice record during the third session on Friday before qualifying fourth in the first shootout for the first race of 2020. During the race the 2014 Bathurst 1000 winner found himself finishing seventh after losing out to former teammate Will Davison in the Milwaukee Mustang.
A heated exchange with Davison ensued after the first round of pit stops before Cameron Waters in the Monster Energy Mustang looked to resume his rivalry with former teammate Mostert. The pair have history as teammates, most recently their infamous run-in at Bathurst last year.
Mostert was again quick in the second shootout ahead of Race 2, and the team put together a solid strategy during the race by taking extra fuel on the first stop so that he was able to jump several cars.
With third place in the bag it wasn’t until the heartbreak for Van Gisbergen that Mostert was able to secure WAU’s first podium since Bathurst last year, which unfortunately was the team’s only in 2019.
Adelaide has typically been a strong circuit for WAU despite their struggles in the past two seasons. But have they been flattered by their results or has there been a genuine shift in performance through the arrival of Mostert and DeBorre? While it could be concluded it may be a bit of both, results in the next few events will tell a better story.
The year ahead
Adelaide always throws up a gruelling opening event and ultimately is a great taste for what’s to come in the season ahead.
The rivalry between Ford and Holden looks set to dominate – with DJR Team Penske and Triple Eight to be at the fore – between the likes of McLaughlin, Van Gisbergen and even Whincup chasing an eighth title.
Mostert has already shown that he will be taking his new team forward, while the likes of Tickford and Erebus have shown they have the pace to be contenders for race wins on any given weekend – but only if teammates don’t run into each other like David Reynolds and Anton De Pasquale did in Race 2!
The intrateam battle at Tickford between Waters and Davison all weekend did entertain, though Lee Holdsworth and new recruit Jack Le Brocq have shown that they’ll be in the mix also.
Round 1 was tough on the rookies too, with Jack Smith having been involved in several incidents across the weekend and Fullwood in the WAU Commodore also becoming unstuck during Race 2. It’s always discussed how big the transition it is from the feeder Super2 series to Supercars and this first weekend may be testament to that.
Others to watch as well this season will be Kelly Racing in their new Mustangs, who consistently put in top-ten lap times, though for Rick Kelly in Race 2 there was trouble with Macauley Jones in the pit lane. The same goes for Team 18, who with Mark Winterbottom were top-ten contenders all weekend, though Scott Pye’s first outing for the team was laden with incidents.
Here’s to another exciting season of Supercars. The Adelaide 500 was a great opening stanza to the new decade. Bring on the next event in Melbourne on the Australian Grand Prix undercard.