The new season of Formula One was meant to return at the weekend with Lewis Hamilton on the verge of true F1 greatness. His recent run of World Championships means he sits on six, one behind Michael Schumacher’s record of seven. Many claim that Formula One is not exciting anymore, as Mercedes and Hamilton seemingly win everything going. But that is the nature of Formula One. The driver is not actually that important. People tend to focus on the drivers as being the most important reason why teams win championships. But they’re the least important. The mechanics and engineers and designers who start work on next season’s car halfway through the current season put hours and hours and hours of work in to make the car as light as possible, to create as much downforce as possible, while making it as drag-efficient as possible.
The driver then comes along and does some driving around at a track to see if what the technical people have come up with is any good. They come in towards the end of the process and give their thoughts. The car is also constantly being improved throughout the season, with weight-saving programmes throughout the year, engines upgrades etc, etc. I’ve touched on this in other pieces but it is true that the top drivers will look to jump straight into the fastest car on the grid to keep on winning. The combination of a top driver and a very quick car will usually mean a championship or two heading their way.
But Lewis Hamilton will now have the ultimate Formula One records in his sights. And with a major regulations shakeup due next year and questions over Mercedes’ continued participation in the sport, many are wondering whether we could see the end of their domination of the sport. One team dominating the sport for a period of time is not an unusual sight. Williams were dominant in the early to mid-90s, Ferrari in the early 2000s and now Mercedes are repeating the trick after the introduction of the hybrid engines in 2014.
The question for many fans now is can the Silver Arrows maintain their advantage over the rest of the field to give Hamilton the platform to go on and claim that mythical seventh title? Not only does he have the seventh title in sight, he also has the records for number of wins and podium finishes in his sights as well. He needs eight more wins and five more podium finishes to overtake the great German. The testing period has shown Mercedes to have the pre-season advantage, but that would only be demonstrated when the cars are driven for the first time in anger during qualifying.
That won’t be this weekend however. Due to the continuing spread of COVID-19, the Australian Grand Prix is just one of many sporting events to be cancelled, after a McLaren team member tested positive for coronavirus. The race organisers seemed like they would press ahead with the event, even announcing it would go ahead without spectators. Most of the teams made clear however, that they were not prepared to race under the circumstances. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had already flown home by the time it was announced that the event had been cancelled. We’ve seen the effect of the outbreak on global sport, particularly in European football.
Many matches have been held behind closed doors, including several Europa League and Champions League fixtures. All professional football in England has been suspended until the 3rd April after the news overnight that both Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi had tested positive for the virus, with players from clubs up and down the leagues announcing that players and staff were going into self-isolation. The Australian GP wasthe second race to be cancelled over coronavirus concerns and puts into question the rest of the season, when or even if it will start. That is even more uncertain after the announcement today that both the Bahrain and inaugral Vietnam Grand Prixs were to be postponed.
The start of the season had also been mired in political controversy. After the news emerged a couple of weeks ago that the FIA and Ferrari had reached a confidential settlement regarding their engine for the 2019 season, all teams not running Ferrari engines released a statement basically questioning the ruling and the confidential settlement reached. Why was it confidential? Had Ferrari’s engine been legal at all times during the 2019 season? If not, why wouldn’t they face sanctions for it? Now, the FIA has stated that they had suspicions that Ferrari’s engine was not always legal during 2019 but were not able to prove it. There has long been rumours of a special relationship between the FIA and the Prancing Horse. Have we seen more evidence of it in 2020? The teams objecting to the settlement set a deadline that is fast approaching for the FIA to respond to their concerns and if they fail to adequetely, that will hang over the rest of the season. That atmosphere was ratcheted up by Red Bull Racing’s announcement that they would be challenging the rear brake ducts on the Mercedes cars. Add to that the fact that the Racing Point team’s cars looked like last year’s Mercedes painted pink and the opening of the season has been shrouded in controversy.
At a time like this, in the situation that the world finds itself in, any sporting championship loses any significance it might have. Resources need to be diverted elsewhere to bring the situation under control. The season across all sport is likely to be suspended for a time, but when the season does kick off, Hamilton will look to take that historic and record equalling seventh title. If he does, his critics will not be able to say anything against his on-track abilities. He will have achieved something that only one man has done in the sport before. Whether you try and deride his lifestyle would have no effect on him; he would be Lewis Hamilton, seven times Formula One World Champion.