June 29th, 2020

(Re)start your engines

Every season start is painted as the harbinger of change: the new cars, on which hopes and expectations are pinned by teams and fans alike; new venues to explore; new weekend formats with which to experiment. But what happens when the season start is, actually, a restart?

The 2020 season will always be remembered as one in which the world of Formula One – and, of course, the world at large – got turned on its head. In the light of the Covid-19 outbreak and the suffering it brought, sport, no matter how loved, took a secondary role: but as the planet starts re-emerging from its widespread lockdowns, we are ready to once again focus on what we love doing. Racing cars.

In recent times, the longest we’d go between seasons were the frantic three-ish months between the final post-test pack-up in the Abu Dhabi heat and the first laps in (chillier) Barcelona: three months of car development, feverish parts-building and media work, three months in which hardly a breath was taken. Once things got going in Melbourne, summer shutdown would be the only break, two weeks in which the factories would close and the F1 community would collectively relocate to places with names starting with “Playa del” and the only pit that mattered was a barbecue one.

And yet, seven months on from the last race in 2019 and nearly four since the paddock last congregated in Melbourne, we are ready to race again. Which leads to the original question – what will happen once the cars line up in Austria?

This season, we will be confronted with unique circumstances, on and off the track. With restrictions put in place to guarantee the safety of all competitors and staff, consecutive races in the same venue (devoid of fans), and a clearer view of what the future, in the shape of the rules for 2021, 2022 and beyond, looks like, Formula One is back in a new guise. We will make our first, tentative steps in the new paddock, build our cars while wearing PPE and observing distancing rules, then race in this new race weekend format.

What will the pecking order look like? It is hard to tell now. The midfield will be close, as always. A tenth here and there may result in the two races in Austria looking completely different one from the other. Teams will assess the developments they managed to squeeze in during the little time at the factory since Melbourne. The early-season jitters could bring some surprises. All in all, it will be a classic season opener, full of “what if” and “if only” moments, unpredictability and excitement. It will be different, but it will be what we have been looking for.

What will not change is the determination to do well, the commitment of the team and the desire to go back out there, feeling the track underneath us and hearing the roar of the engines.