The first three rounds of Formula One’s delayed season are now complete, and we have a short respite before the next trio of Grand Prix in Britain and Spain. One month ago, the fans, teams, and drivers had only pre-season testing to appease their F1 appetites, although the Ferrari and McLaren driver transfers provided a brief distraction. With nine days of running, over three weekends, at two different circuits, speculation and fan theories have now been replaced by facts. Here are some things we’ve learned from F1’s return in 2020.
DAS isn’t as crucial as many thought it would be
The fact that the two Mercedes cars are as far ahead as they are is more disappointing for us as fans than surprising. We had hoped Red Bull would be giving a championship challenge given their promising pace at Barcelona in testing. Back in February, one difference between the two frontrunners seemed to be the Dual Axis Steering invention from the world champions. Many thought that this could give them the edge over their energy drink opponents.
Red Bull protested the system before the first race, but the stewards deemed it legal. However, even if the decision went the other way, it seems unlikely that it would chink the Mercedes armor. Instead of being a constant boost for the cars, the DAS system looks to be a weapon to deploy sparingly when tire temperatures need to rise. A useful tool, but not a silver bullet for an instant win.
Racing Point are even quicker than they looked at testing
Racing Point copying the Mercedes W10 design from 2019 is a story that looks set to run throughout the season. Renault’s protest may change the fortunes of the pink Silverstone-based team, but at the time of writing, Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll look like they’ll be the drivers to pick up the pieces when the big boys at the front struggle.
The noises following winter testing from Racing Point were positive, yet they still must be surprised at how quick they are this year. Perez even looked set to snatch fourth place from Red Bull’s Alex Albon from pure speed at the Styrian Grand Prix if it weren’t for the two drivers colliding. The Mexican driver started that race from seventeenth place before powering through the field. We’d usually see this when Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen start a Grand Prix towards the back. That’s some illustrious company to be amongst.
Vettel was pushed out of Ferrari
It’s well known how cruel and dog eat dog the F1 world is, but the Tifosi were shocked to hear that Sebastian Vettel’s time ending at Ferrari was as big a surprise to the German champion as it was to them. When news broke that Carlos Sainz was to become a Ferrari driver in 2021, the consensus was that Vettel and Ferrari must’ve disagreed on the contract length or value. But Vettel announced in the season’s first round of press conferences that the Scuderia didn’t even offer him a renewal. The tough news for the four-time title winner has electrified the driver market, though, with Vettel being linked to almost every other team over the last month.
Williams moved two steps forwards, and one step back
An encouraging development this year is the slow crawl back to something resembling competitiveness from the Williams team. Thus far, they have avoided being the defacto last two qualifiers on Saturdays. George Russell extended the spotlight that shone on him following his Virtual Grand Prix victories into the real season by making Q2 in the wet Styrian qualifying session. One week later, he repeated the feat without rain assistance along with his rookie teammate Nicolas Latifi. The team still needs to figure out their race distance pace on Sundays, but with a significant upgrade scheduled for Silverstone, perhaps we could see Williams not be the last car to cross the line at an upcoming race.
Ferrari’s engine settlement with the FIA has really hurt them
Wherever you stand on the sporting ethics behind the FIA not disclosing data over Ferrari’s engine legality controversy last year, one thing is undisputable– the prancing horse is significantly down on power this year. Many suspected that Ferrari wouldn’t be fighting Mercedes and Red Bull in the early stages, yet the vastness in their performance gap has been jarring.
Not just at the manufacturer team but at the customers too. Haas and Alfa Romeo are simply nowhere near the midfield. With component development effectively being frozen for two years to save costs in this coronavirus-hit season, Leclerc’s podium at Austria could be the only highlight in what looks to be a very gloomy 2020 and 2021 for the Italians.
Empty grandstands make no difference to TV viewing.
As the season progresses, we may begin seeing fans attending races once more, but no fans in Austria or Hungary has made no difference to the on-screen spectacle. If anything, it’s made the races more coherent with the TV director not swapping to a row of fans cheering in the middle of an overtaking maneuver. Make no mistake, I wholly recommend that anyone attends a Grand Prix in person if ever given the opportunity. But for the millions of fans watching back at home, these three rounds have proven that keeping the cameras pointed solely at the cars provides ample entertainment.
Even with another Mercedes championship already looking certain, the season still has many tales to tell. Where will Vettel end up? Will Racing Point’s design be deemed illegal? Where exactly are Renault in the midfield battle? And can Valtteri Bottas re-find his first-round spirit again? As always, for every question that F1 has answered, even more get asked. Just because this weekend is a week off, don’t be surprised if some new stories emerge.
Originally published at https://www.fortloc.com.