July 05, 2020

Karun Chandhok's 2020 F1 preview: What will the intense season hold?

June 29, 2020

The 2020 F1 season finally kicks off this weekend in Austria!

I honestly didn't think that we would see racing until the middle of August so first off I need to congratulate and compliment Ross Brawn and his team at F1 for putting in place a huge amount of procedures and processes to make sure that everyone is safe to go racing and give the fans what they want again - LIVE sport.

The lockdown period has been one of introspection and reflection for a lot of us. Without the guilt of missing out on work we should be doing, it's been good to take stock of life, reflect on what's important and what's actually trivial and really appreciate certain key elements of our lives.

One thing is for certain, the entire F1 community - the people who work in it and the fans - now realise how much we love and miss our sport being on track. With eight races in 10 weeks coming up, it's going to be an intense period of action.

F1 teams back on track amid new rules

The form guide from testing is really all we have as an indication heading to Austria. However, a lot has changed since February.

Whilst the teams were all going through an unusually long period of being shutdown, the brilliant engineering brains inside those teams would still have their cogs turning.

I expect most of the big teams to arrive in Austria with cars that are pretty heavily revised from what we saw in pre-season testing. However, we know Ferrari are racing with the same package ahead of a planned overhaul for Budapest later in the month.

In a normal season by July, they would have all turned their attention to the new generation of cars that were meant to come next season. However, with the new cars being pushed back to 2022 and these cars now carrying over into 2021, any performance that they can find and add to the car will be beneficial for two seasons.

This whole scenario is complicated by the new rules whereby a token system has been introduced to limit the modifications a team can do to their cars between now and the end of 2021.

This is a smart way to control costs while the world recovers financially but it makes any changes the teams opt to bring to the car hugely critical as they need to guarantee an improvement in laptime, otherwise it's a bigger wasted opportunity than it would have been previously.

What Sebastian Vettel will turn up?

The drivers have all had a chance to re-charge their batteries and some of them have also been busy sorting out their futures beyond 2020.

We know that Vettel, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo are all vacating their seats at the end of the season and while for Carlos clearly the move from McLaren to Ferrari has been amicably handled, the other two guys have trickier situations.

Sebastian's relationship with Ferrari has clearly broken down and the team have backed Charles Leclerc as their man for the future.

I'll be fascinated to see which Sebastian Vettel shows up this season - the devastatingly fast quadruple world champion we saw in Russia or Singapore last year or an error-prone one who is counting down to getting out of the team.

I would love to see Sebastian have one last proper stab at a season that his talent deserves. He knows that the 18 months since Germany 2018 hasn't been the best Sebastian Vettel on track but the inherent speed is unquestionably still there as he showed towards the end of last season.

Daniel's departure from Renault went down like a lead balloon with the French team. He was the driver that they were counting on to lead them up to the sharp end of F1 in the long term but instead, he's going to do 18 months of work on track, bank a load of their money and move to one of their key rivals in the midfield.

Having said that, I have no doubt that the race team led by Alan Permane will make every effort to support him this year. They know that he's a vital part of their recovery back from a tough 2019 to at least get back to being fourth best again.

Can Red Bull challenge Mercedes?

Pre-season testing indicated to us that the Mercedes was once again the car to beat and it would be a brave bet to put money on anyone other than Lewis Hamilton for the championship. The reigning world champion has lost none of his hunger and the prospect of equalling Michael Schumacher's record of seven world titles seems very realistic.

I wouldn't count out Red Bull and Max Verstappen, however. The Dutchman was stellar last season, taking opportunistic wins and pole positions while effectively being a one-car-team at the sharp end. With the opening two races at the Red Bull Ring where Max has won twice already, the team will be looking to start the year on the front foot - something they haven't done in a couple of seasons now.

Most of the drivers have been out driving cars of some form to blow off the cobwebs and get prepared for the season. Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Racing Point, AlphaTauri and Renault all ran various F1 cars which would have been invaluable.

It doesn't matter how much time you spend in the simulator, there's nothing like driving a real car to wake the nerves up. All drivers at this level will be able to get up to speed quickly, but doing a day of testing in advance will help them on the first day of the season, especially on an unforgiving circuit like the Red Bull Ring is.

For us at Sky Sports F1, we've been making huge efforts to make sure that despite the limitations on the number of people allowed at the circuit and the way we can move equipment and people around, we're going to have a team of people at the track as well as back in London at a remote studio at every race giving the fans at home the level of in depth analysis they've been used to since 2012.

Bring on F1 2020!

The Formula 1 season begins on Friday on Sky Sports F1 with the Austrian GP. Sunday's race starts at 2.10pm. Find out more & subscribe to Sky F1.

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