Formula One drivers have backed a plan to restart the coronavirus-stalled season by unfortunately racing without fans in Austria in July.
Formula One celebrates its platinum anniversary in 2020 and it looks like we will have a season befitting of such an occasion.
For the first time since 2004, we go into the new season knowing that there is the potential for there to be a new seven-time world champion come the end of it. 16 years ago, Michael Schumacher stood ready to fight that battle, just as Lewis Hamilton does this year.
Hamilton will not admit publicly that this is his main focus. This is a man who breaks the records first before reflecting on his achievements afterwards.
But surely in the back of his mind will be the chance he now has to equal perhaps the greatest driver in the sport. It has to be.
However, you can’t blame our defending world champion for not thinking of the record books. There’s still plenty of work to do before he gets there.
The hope this year is that we will have a closer season, one where Mercedes do not romp away with it over the first half of the season before the others eventually catch up in July. Pre-season testing did show us that Mercedes are ready for whatever Red Bull and Ferrari will throw at them.
Exhibit A: DAS. Double Axis Steering. The world champions still continue to innovate with genius ideas like this. This year, whenever they are on a straight, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton can pull the steering wheel back towards them to adjust the toe of their cars.
This will straighten the wheels and improve straight-line speed as the tyres experience less resistance, which will improve grip and tyre life too.
James Allison, the team’s technical director, will not tell us exactly how the system works, obviously, and the drivers appear to be pretty clueless of how and when they will use it. One thing’s for sure though – they wouldn’t have implemented the system if they didn’t think it would give them an advantage.
How much of an advantage will this be? Well, we’ll have to wait and see.
Another battle brews too. This is Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen’s last chance to become the youngest world champions in F1 history. Based on their performances seen over the second half of last season, you wouldn’t put it past either of the 22-year-old young guns to do so.
Leclerc proved himself on the main stage at Ferrari last year alongside his more experienced, teammate, four-time world champion, Sebastian Vettel. The greatest moment of the Monegasque’s season had to have been winning at Monza, becoming the first Ferrari driver since Fernando Alonso in 2010 to do so.
Meanwhile, Vettel was out of the points after yet another spin, this time at the Ascari Chicane. If the pressure wasn’t on for the German before, it definitely is now.
Ferrari must also deal with the power dynamic between the two. Seb still thinks he’s got it in him to do well – and no doubt he does – but, especially after the collision between Vettel and Leclerc in Brazil last November, both drivers should know that the team is going to have to choose who they are going to prioritise.
It will be intriguing to see how this situation will be handled over the course of the season.
Verstappen finished third in the championship last year, beating both Ferrari drivers. If Red Bull had two drivers of equal calibre throughout the entire season then perhaps it would have been Milton Keynes second and Maranello third, but the positions were reversed in the end.
Wins came for Verstappen at Austria, Germany and Brazil in 2019 and I think we’ll be seeing more of the same in 2020. He has been given the car to do so with Red Bull confident that they can challenge for the title this year with their now race-winning Honda power unit.
Red Bull appear to be the stronger of the challengers between themselves and the Scuderia. Ferrari come out of testing fearful of how dreadful their pace will be in Melbourne. Quite an intriguing thing to admit coming from a team who didn’t aim for performance runs in their testing programme.
Is it a double bluff? Or are they actually being honest? The Tifosi will be hoping that it’s not the latter.
As for the midfield, it’s too close to call. There were flashes of brilliance from all the teams, especially the ‘Pink Mercedes’ – or Racing Point as they’re formally known – but, if the so-called Class B battles from last season have taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.
While, of course, you could spend ages speculating who will place where in Melbourne, I think we’ll have to wait until the cars pound the streets of Albert Park before we complete our predictions.
At the end of the day, that’s the case for the whole grid. What happens in testing does not always translate to what happens when the cars are driven in anger for the first time in the first race of the season.
But the points presented in this article should start to whet your appetite for another season of great racing ahead.