Written by Josh Buck (@joshbuckf1)
Following the rapid spread of COVID-19, Formula One was forced to cancel the first race of the season back in March after a McLaren team member tested positive for the virus.
Since then, we have been treated to a Virtual Grand Prix to fill the sizeable void left by the postponement of the much anticipated F1 season.
Drivers have been streaming races on Twitch, providing an innovative and brilliant way for fans to interact with their favourite stars in a more intimate setting. However, whilst this provided a refreshing change, the wait is finally over for fans of Formula One.
128 days and ten race postponements later, and the F1 season is ready to finally get underway, with Austria playing host on the 5th July for the first of two races at the Red Bull Ring.
This year many fans are hoping that the likes of Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) will be able to take the challenge to the reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), who is looking to do what was thought to be impossible – equal the legendary Michael Schumacher for seven world titles, and in the process become one of the greatest ever Formula One drivers.
Many will be looking forward to the season opener to see if over the extended break, Ferrari have been able to close the gap not only in power but also on-track performance to their ever dominant rivals Mercedes. In contrast, Mercedes will be looking to break Ferrari’s record of six back to back drivers and constructor’s world titles with a possible seventh consecutive double having equalled the record last season.
It’s predicted to be a hectic race as drivers have been unable to feel the true force of an F1 car for over three months, meaning many will have to reacclimatise to the g-force experienced at eye-watering speeds that often exceed 100mph.
For the past two years Max Verstappen has stood on the top step of the podium in Austria, which may provide him with the confidence to take a commanding lead in the championship. If Verstappen were to go on and win the title it would make him the youngest ever World Champion at the age of just 22.
This season is being talked about as the start of the next generation of Formula One, with future World Champions going head to head in what could be similar machinery.
Ones to Watch
Charles Leclerc: Leclerc comes into this season off the back of an impressive first year racing for the Scuderia – beating four-time World Champion teammate Sebastian Vettel multiple times. If given a quick enough car that can challenge the Mercedes, Leclerc will be in a good position to fight for wins and podium positions on a regular basis, which will depend on the advantage Mercedes have coming into this season. It’s also been confirmed Ferrari won’t bring any upgrades to the first race of the season, unlike most of their opponents.
Max Verstappen: When Verstappen debuted in F1 in 2016 at the age of just 17, many thought the Dutchman was too young for this dangerous and unforgiving sport. However, he quickly showed fans and the media that he was good enough to be there with a win in his maiden year at the Spanish Grand Prix. After 31 podiums many believe he is a multiple World Champion in the making, and with the extended break and mixed up calendar this could be Verstappen’s best shot at a World Title.
Nicholas Latifi: Latifi is the only rookie on this year’s grid, which will mean he will be under instant pressure from the underperforming Williams team to aid the historic British team climb up the grid. Latifi is also teammates with Virtual GP Champion George Russell, who has shown what he is capable of will be an interesting battle throughout the year.
Valtteri Bottas: This year is being tipped as Bottas’ biggest year in Formula One yet – the Finn is tasked with the challenge of stopping and beating six times World Champion Lewis Hamilton who has only ever lost the Championship to two other drivers since the Brits debut in ’07. Using the same machinery, Bottas has the best shot at displacing Hamilton and clinching victory..