It was the season that looked like it wouldn’t happen – but it did, and there is plenty to talk about in closing it out. Let’s get to it.
The most exciting boring season in recent memory
If you were to go back a year ago and see that 2020 would end the same way every season has for the last seven years – in a Mercedes double championship – you would no doubt join me and many others in rolling your eyes and going, “Oh great, that again”. However, it has to be said that of all the ‘boring’ seasons we’ve had since 2014 this might have been the most exciting.
Yes, Lewis Hamilton won 11 races and romped to his seventh championship. Yes, Mercedes won 12 of the 17 races to win yet another title as well. But outside of that cliché result there were some decent races, surprise results and a fairly entertaining season overall that looked like it would never happen.
There were 13 different drivers from seven different teams who experienced the podium in 2020. We had two first-time winners, a first-time pole sitter, numerous random results and more exciting races than anyone could’ve expected. Even though the result of the season was inevitable, it has to be said it was an enjoyable year.
Did that come down to the random circuits that were in play this year? The long delay for us to finally have a season? The constant travel and back-to-back races we had? Or was there something else in play that you can simply attribute to the weird year that was 2020?
Whatever the case, if we are going to be stuck in this proverbial Mercedes dominance for the rest of eternity, it would be nice to have as much entertainment like this go along with it each season.
A well-handled year by F1
At the beginning of 2020 we were set for a record-breaking 22 races, including two at brand-new circuits, and the final year of the current regulations ahead of a big overhaul in 2021. Then of course a certain pandemic happened. The world was left in shock by the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix hours before the first cars were set to take to the track in anger. It looked as though any hope of there being a season at all was completely gone. The year looked lost.
Fast-forward to today and we sit here marvelling at an entertaining season that has finished and a year filled with many positives. Of all the sports affected by COVID, F1 perhaps bounced back the best, still hosting a (mostly) full season with only a couple of setbacks and a product that satisfied pretty much everyone involved.
Plaudits must be given to everyone in the F1 world for making it happen and having what at the end of the day felt like a regular season. In pretty much every history book there will be some form of asterisks next to whoever won the championship in 2020 based on how things were changed to fit the climate we all faced across the year. F1 will remain one of those few sports that basically ran as normal and can be looked back on as though it were a normal year.
Circuit distribution needs to happen more
The only real difference across the year was the circuits we raced at. Of the original 22 races, 13 were cancelled, which sounds like it should be a massive problem. However, in their place ran six new grands prix at five different tracks. Had you heard at the beginning of the year we’d be racing at some of them, you’d be wondering who was smoking what.
Three of these circuits came in three countries not previously set to host a race, including Turkey and Portugal, which had gone significant time without seeing F1 action. While we all bemoaned the loss of most of our favourite tracks and races throughout 2020, they were certainly replaced by some incredible new additions that really should find a place onto the calendar again.
While it simply isn’t feasible in the expensive world of F1 to see a constant rotation of circuits each year, it would be fascinating to go into each year with a certain number of slots left open to allow a ‘moveable’ calendar. Imagine if you locked in, say, 15 races each year and then had up to ten slots that could be decided by a lottery system. That would create excitement on many levels and force teams to try to be prepared for anything.
Again, realistically this will never happen. Contracts are signed years in advance. The logistics of staging a grand prix are up there with some of the most demanding in world sport. To have only months’ notice to host a race just isn’t possible, especially when fans are allowed back in full.
However, if there were any chance of allowing something like this or changing the calendar slightly each year, then I’m sure we’d all be for it. It certainly worked out this year, that’s for sure.
Ricciardo raises his stock
Putting on the biased glasses as an out and proud Aussie, it’s easy to sit here and praise a certain Daniel Ricciardo for his constant strong performances each week. However, somehow in 2020 he rose a couple of pegs once more and continued to show that he is easily one of the best drivers on the grid. In fact you would be hard-pressed to find someone who would not consider him among the top three or four in the sport.
It was a massive shock when he announced in 2018 that he was leaving Red Bull Racing for Renault. In the long run it’s a risk that ultimately didn’t turn out as he wanted it to. But his ability to pull every inch of performance out of the car was on full display in 2020, a fact that netted him two podiums and fifth place in the championship.
He was the only driver to score in each of the final 11 races – Hamilton scored in each race he entered in 2020 but of course missed one race due to a positive COVID-19 test – and had only one retirement all year, back in the opening race in Austria. Only a resurgent Sergio Perez prevented him from taking fourth in the championship, a place he missed by only six points.
Moving to McLaren in 2021 has been touted as a risk, but with the Woking team getting Mercedes engines next year and coming off a third place in the championship hopes are high for Dan to continue his strong form in a stronger team.
I’m sure I speak on behalf of every Aussie F1 fan when I say it’s only a matter of time before his supreme talents translate into race wins once again.
Stroll shows his worth
My final slot in my five talking points is always reserved for Lance Stroll and his fellow Canadian Nicholas Latifi, and this isn’t changing for this wrap-up of the year.
I will just quickly say that Latifi endured a season that was most probably expected of him. A couple of 11 place finishes (three to be precise) were a great showing by the rookie, and there are some positive signs that 2021 should be a vast improvement for him and the struggling Williams team.
For Stroll, 2020 was by far his breakthrough year. Two podiums, two fourth-place finishes, that famous Turkey pole and equal tenth place in the championship. An absolutely stellar year by the Canadian, who still never gets his due credit for his abilities.
A constant criticism that faced him was that he was trounced by the resurgent Sergio Perez. But Stroll more closely matched his Red Bull Racing-bound teammate than people seem to realise.
After his first podium at Monza, Stroll was fourth in the championship and had scored in every race except for the first, in which he retired with a technical failure. He also at that stage had nearly double the points of Perez. From there he suffered three retirements that weren’t his fault, a positive COVID-19 test that caused him to miss a race, a scrappy race at Mugello, a lost win in Turkey due to damage and a poor team decision, and an off-pace Racing Point at the final round in Abu Dhabi. Clearly bad luck and misfortune were the story of his second half of the year in what would’ve been even better than his second podium in Sakhir had a few things gone his way.
Stroll will never be a world champion. He might not ever be a race winner. But he has definitely got the skill and talent to be a strong midfield driver who capable of anything on any given day. He is arguably the best starter on the grid, and he is also maybe the most underrated qualifier in changeable conditions on the grid. His pole this year in Turkey only solidified that as one of the best laps of 2020.
There is also the fact that outside of the Mercedes drivers and Max Verstappen he led the most laps across the season. Not a mean feat in itself.
Stroll’s 2021 season will be fascinating as he goes up against Sebastian Vettel in the rebadged Aston Martin team. I definitely expect Vettel to be incredibly refreshed and raring to go in a new environment in the same way he was in his first Ferrari season in 2015. It will be the biggest challenge of Stroll’s career, and I am definitely optimistic that he will continue to show the form that he is capable of and hopefully get the overdue credit he deserves as an F1 driver.
All that is left now is to count down the days until the 2021 season opens in (hopefully) Melbourne! With only three teams next year retaining the same line-up of drivers, there will be plenty to focus on heading into the new season.
For the last time in 2020 I have only one thing to say: bring it on!
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here