The much-delayed 2020 Formula One season finally gets underway at this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 9.10am ET).
This weekend’s race is the first of two back-to-back events at the Red Bull Ring, the second of which will be named the Styrian Grand Prix, and one of the eight currently confirmed races of a 2020 season that was initially scheduled to get underway in Australia in March.
Eight is the number of Grand Prix that the regulations stipulate must be run in order for the season to be considered an official championship, but it remains to be seen if further races, particularly those originally pencilled in for later in the year, will be added to the calendar in time. As it is, we have a truncated and hectic schedule of eight races in 12 weeks.
The altered circumstances could provide as good an opportunity as any for another team or driver to end Mercedes’ run of six consecutive constructers’ and drivers’ championships. They are a supremely well-organized outfit, as well equipped as any to adapt to the new normality, but they could be beaten if another team is able to steal an early march on them.
Red Bull have enjoyed success at their home race in each of the last two seasons thanks to Max Verstappen. Both the team and driver would establish themselves as championship contenders if they were able to repeat the trick this weekend, particularly if they could do so again the following weekend. Pre-season testing suggested that Mercedes have the overall pace advantage, but it cannot necessarily be taken as given that will be the case in Austria.
Verstappen’s victory in 2018 had much to do with mishaps for both Mercedes drivers, but last year Red Bull seemed genuinely to have the better package on race day. Both Mercedes cars struggled with cooling issues as Verstappen claimed the first victory for a Honda-powered car since 2006 with a late and controversial overtake of Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari.
Ferrari were off the ultimate pace in testing, and it is therefore Mercedes and Red Bull who are most likely to compete for victory on Sunday. While Mercedes and particularly reigning three-time drivers’ champion Lewis Hamilton should never be discounted, Verstappen looks a solid bet to top the podium.
The general consensus seems to be that Racing Point will begin the season as the best of the rest. Their car has much in common with last year’s championship winning Mercedes and the team are ramping up investment ahead of next year’s rebrand as Aston Martin.
Racing Point struggled at last year’s Austrian Grand Prix but had always run well under their previous name of Force India, securing double points finishes in four of the five previous years, and sixth place finishes in 2014, 2015 and 2018.
Sergio Perez claimed the first of those top-six berths. Last season, he was a far more consistent points finisher than his teammate Lance Stroll, ending the year with 52 points to Stroll’s 21. If any of the big three teams have problems this weekend, he will most probably be on hand to do so again.
Haas endured a difficult 2019 season. After three years of consistent improvement following their debut in 2016, they fell back down to earth, finishing ninth out of 10 in the constructors’ standings with a lower points total than they mustered in their first season in the sport. They suffered nine retirements, two more than any other team.
Seven of those were on Romain Grosjean’s car. Very quick on his day, and often particularly so in Austria, he somewhat surprisingly retained his place in the team despite a series of erratic performances in an admittedly underperforming car.
Haas seemed to be struggling in pre-season testing. By some accounts, they had the slowest car on the grid and reliability issues contributed to them completing fewer laps than any other team over the course of the two testing weeks. Couple that with a combustible driver, and Grosjean as the first retirement is worth a little outside bet. So this preview’s Austrian Grand Prix predictions and picks in a bid to beat the premier USA offshore sportsbooks are as follows: