We’ve never needed Formula 1 more than we did this year.
After months of depressing inactivity and nothing but bad news, the mid-summer return of grand prix racing four months after the cancellation of the Australian GP gave us a welcome distraction from the trials of real life. Huge efforts were made to string together an emergency schedule of races, eventually totalling an impressive 17, almost entirely based in Europe and mostly run to empty grandstands. The odd circumstances opened the door for circuits that never previously had any hope of hosting a grand prix – and offered a return to some old favourites.
Without access to watch trackside, we relied more than ever on TV broadcasters to take us to the heart of the action. Former F1 driver Karun Chandhok is among the finest, the Sky pundit among the privileged few to tread the paddocks in 2020. Autocar caught up with him ahead of the concluding Abu Dhabi GP to review a season that should be remembered as a triumph.
What has it been like covering this ‘Covid season’ from the inside?
“It has been a complicated year. First of all, there were the big unknowns of if and when it would start and how many races there would be. My expectation was that we would have 12, maximum. That we had 17 is a massive credit to F1. Going back to Turkey, Imola and the Nürburgring and heading to new places like Portimão and Mugello created new storylines. F1 deserves a lot of credit. It’s one thing getting football up and running, but here you’ve got 3000 people travelling in from across the world and the rules on testing and protocol are so complicated – and yet there have been so few positive tests.”
The new and returning races were refreshing. Which worked best?
“Turkey was by far the best race of the year. The slippery new asphalt and the [wet] weather obviously helped, but it was the best I’ve seen for a long time. It was how racing should be. Halfway through, you had no idea who was going to win it. Mugello was a good race, if a bit chaotic, and Portimão was fun to watch. The cars now are a bit too quick for Imola. Qualifying was great, but it’s rubbish for racing because you can’t overtake. But I enjoyed the two-day format they used there. With 23 races coming up in 2021, a two-day weekend would work for those races where nobody shows up on Friday. I like the fact we went to different venues and tried different formats. Our viewing figures are reflective of how interested people have been. Sky’s figures for Turkey were the third-highest of all races since 2012.”
Despite Mercedes-AMG building perhaps the best of its run of great cars, Lewis Hamilton still had to work for most of his wins, didn’t he?
2020 Winners and losers
Lewis Hamilton: Obviously. He was peerless on his way to a record-equalling seventh title while passing Michael Schumacher for grand prix wins, too.
Pierre Gasly: He has found redemption after being dropped by Red Bull mid-season in 2019. His Monza win was just the best bit of a strong season.
Sergio Perez: He has shown his quality both in and out of the cockpit, despite losing his Racing Point drive for 2021 even though he had a contract in place.
Valtteri Bottas: Hamilton’s team-mate looked depressed at times this year (again). He’s as fast as his team-mate but only rarely when it counts on Sundays.
Max Verstappen: He was mostly brilliant, but will Red Bull ever give him a car to fight Hamilton for titles, as his talent deserves?
Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen: Haas duo look to have reached the end of the F1 road. But perhaps Grosjean should be counted as a winner simply for surviving his Bahrain crash.