Formula One seem keen to get the 2020 championship up and running as soon as possible, with a double-header in Austria in early July now looking the likely starting point for a season that was originally scheduled to get underway in March.
The current plan is for two back-to-back races at the Red Bull Ring. The first will be on its initial date of 5th July and the second, a week later on the 12th. Both would be run without spectators and the final sign off from the local government is expected shortly.
If everything works out, a similar double header at Silverstone could then follow if arrangements can be made with the British government for an exception to be made to their quarantine period for arrivals from outside the country.
Much is still unknown about the shape the truncated 2020 Formula One season would then take. Reports suggest the plan is to run between 15 and 18 races. The Monaco and French Grand Prix have already definitively been cancelled, but there are eight events potentially awaiting rescheduling in addition to the 10 that followed Austria and Great Britain on the original calendar.
The organizational challenges are immense. The NASCAR series has resumed in the United States, but that is a single-country operation. Formula One is an international championship that transports huge numbers of staff across the globe. Even without spectators, satisfying the differing regulations in various countries in terms of travel requirements and quarantine periods will be no easy task.
The on-track action may have been paralyzed, but there has been plenty of activity on the driver market. Sebastian Vettel will leave Ferrari at the end of 2020, with Carlos Sainz joining from McLaren to take his place for 2021. Daniel Ricciardo will move from Renault to McLaren to replace Sainz, leaving a gap open at Renault that is yet to be filled. Vettel and Fernando Alonso have both been linked.
Presuming things do get underway as planned and we get a season of at least 10 or more races, it would still take a brave punter to back anyone but Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes to respectively take the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. The team have taken a clean sweep of both honors in each of the last six seasons, while Hamilton has won each of the last three and five of the last six on the drivers’ side.
Mercedes are a well-financed and well-run operation, and also seemed to have the quickest car in pre-season testing. If any team is capable of overcoming the challenges presented by the condensed schedule and exterior circumstances, it is them.
There is, though, potential for anomalies elsewhere on the grid. With limited in-season development, teams who showed good pace in pre-season testing may find themselves with opportunities to achieve some surprise results.
The Racing Point team are chief among the candidates to do so. Their design is heavily based upon Mercedes’ championship-winning 2019 entry and they looked the class of the midfield in test running. The consensus was that others would probably catch up to them as the season advanced, but the current situation is likely to extend their advantage period.
Sergio Perez is always on hand to grab podium opportunities when they arise. Since joining the team, formerly known as Force India, in 2014, he has achieved five podium finishes while his teammates have taken none. If run, Belgium, Italy, Russia and Abu Dhabi all look potential venues for a Racing Point and Perez upset.
Ferrari might find themselves on the back foot, with Red Bull ready to tuck in behind Mercedes as the second-fastest team. Max Verstappen has been victorious for Red Bull at their home race in Austria in each of the last two seasons and he and the team would look to the double-header there as an excellent opportunity to start the season strongly.
McLaren could sneak a podium or two. Renault might have issues given their inconsistent running in testing and the year could well be a write-off for Haas given their struggles for pace in the pre-season running.
There are lots of possibilities and plenty that is difficult to predict until we first see the cars out on track in competitive action.