Two Races Down - What Have We Learned?

As I write this, I am sitting with a coffee watching the first practice session for this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix. We are two races down now, and we are starting to see who is ahead of the game, who is showing promise, who needs to work harder, and, of course, who is really struggling and needs to sort their issues out as soon as possible. I thought I would go over what we have learned so far this season and also what is still to learn.


Who is ahead?


Unsurprisingly, Mercedes are the class of the field yet again, as they have been since the current V6 Hybrid era started back in 2014.


After two races, the Austrian GP and the Styrian GP, they have won both, with Valtteri Bottas winning the first from pole position and Lewis Hamilton winning the second, also from pole position. It comes as no shock that Mercedes are still ahead of everyone else and they have turned heads with an innovative new system called DAS (Dual Axis Steering). Basically, when the drivers are heading down a straight, they can pull the steering wheel slightly towards them. This pulls the front wheels inwards and reduces tyre wear and drag and also gives the tyres a more even heat distribution. Other teams have questioned the legality of the system, but Mercedes are safe to use it for 2020.


Bottas and Hamilton look like they will be mostly fighting each other again this year, although Red Bull aren’t too far behind, with Max Verstappen qualifying second in both of the first two races.


Red Bull clearly have the second quickest car, especially in the hands of Verstappen. He finished 3rd in the second race after retiring for the season opener the week before. Red Bull always build cars that can handle high downforce circuits well, so it’ll be interesting to see how they get on in Hungary this weekend.


They might not be quick enough to fight for titles just yet, but they will be right behind the Mercedes cars, and if they make a mistake or have a poor race, then Red Bull will be right there to pick up the pieces. It’s definitely a big possibility that Verstappen and maybe Alex Albon could get a race win or two this year. For the sake of the sport, I really hope they do. What Mercedes have been able to do is fantastic, but it’s so much better to see multiple teams and drivers fighting for the race wins.


What is happening behind Mercedes?


Behind the leaders, there is a close fight for positions. Racing Point looks to have the third fastest car right now, but they are currently under scrutiny and in the middle of a protest.


Renault have protested the legality of their car, saying that it is a carbon copy of last years dominant Mercedes car. It remains to be seen what the FIA think of the protest and whether they deem the Racing Point a Mercedes in disguise, but for now, it’s the pink cars who are third fastest.


They will be disappointed not to have finished on the podium yet. McLaren currently occupies third in the constructors championship, thanks to Lando Norris’ podium in the first race and fifth-place finish in the second.


It’s the highest McLaren have been for a long time, and although it’s unlikely they will

keep that position throughout the season, it’s nice to see the fallen giants working their way back up the field and fighting hard again. Norris and Carlos Sainz make a great pairing for the team and you can see they have a good relationship off the track. On it, of course, friendship is forgotten, which is good in McLaren’s case, as they are pushing each other harder with every race.


Renault seem to have a good car, but they have suffered retirements in both races so far, so there looks like there is work to be done on reliability. Young driver Esteban Ocon has made a popular return to the sport and he will be looking to cement his place on the grid. Daniel Ricciardo will be hoping to get some good results for the French team before he departs for McLaren at the end of the season. So far, they have good pace, but the midfield battle is so tight, it’ll come down to the drivers to ring every second out of that car to get as high up as

possible.


Alpha Tauri (formerly Toro Rosso) have had a somewhat quiet start to the season. Daniil Kyat and Pierre Gasly have a good car to work with it seems, and they have both scored points after two races to put the team in seventh in the constructors championship. They have been fighting with the likes of Renault and also, Alfa Romeo, who will be disappointed with their start to the season.

They retained both Antonio Giovinazzi and 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen from

last year, but this year has failed to impress so far, having scored just 2 points,

courtesy of Giovinazzi. They finished last season strongly, with Raikkonen 4th and

Gionvinazzi 5th in the penultimate race in Brazil, so they will be looking to move

back up the grid and take the fight to the likes of McLaren, Renault and maybe

Racing Point.


What’s going on at the back?


Haas will also be disappointed. They are one of only two teams yet to score so far, the other being Williams. They have an experienced driver pairing in Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, but the car has been unreliable and slower than last years so far. They have lost a car in the first qualifying session in both races and had a double retirement at the first race due to identical brake problems. Both cars finished the second race, but off the pace and out of the points, mainly fighting with the Williams cars.


Considering they haven’t scored points since Germany 2019, Williams will be feeling positive after the first races. Nicholas Latifi finished his debut race in 11th, one place outside of the points. Sure, only 11 cars actually finished, but he kept his head down and put in consistent laps to stay out of trouble and bring his car home.


Unfortunately, Russell retired with mechanical gremlins. The second race showed promise; Russell got his Williams into the second part of qualifying, which was the first time a Williams had got into Q2 since Brazil 2018.


The race didn’t go to plan as he lost control of the car whilst fighting with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen and ended up running through the gravel. He ended up at the back of the pack and eventually finished ahead of just his teammate. Nonetheless, the signs are there that Williams are making progress and will be able to fight with the teams around them soon. Haas will be the first team they think of, but hopefully

they’ll be able to fight with other midfield teams before too long.


Who needs to improve?


Well, it’s obvious. Ferrari. The only team I haven’t yet mentioned, and there is a reason.


They have been awful this year.


Charles LeClerc scored a fortuitous podium at the first race, while Sebastian Vettel finished only 10th. The second race was a disaster, with LeClerc running into the back of his team mate and taking them both out on the first lap. He held his hands up and took all the blame (which was obvious anyway), but that did little to calm the tensions around the team and the disappointment of the team and their fans all over the world.

They have started the two races in 10th and 11th and it’s obvious to see the car is well off the pace of Red Bull and Mercedes and even Racing Point.


The Italian giants find themselves in 5th in the constructors championship with 19 points, while rivals Mercedes lead the way on 80. The Ferrari is slow, has a lot of drag and a lot less power than the teams around them.

There is always a lot of scrutiny on Ferrari and they will be hoping that the upgrades they’re bringing to Hungary work well enough to boost them up the field. I wouldn’t be surprised if they fail to win a race this year and have their first winless season since 2016.


Carlos Sainz is moving from McLaren to Ferrari at the end of the year to replace Sebastian Vettel, and I can’t help wondering if he might be starting to regret that decision. F1 needs Ferrari and I really hope they can get their act together and fight at the front again, but the short term isn’t looking to promising for Formula One’s most successful team.


Final thoughts?


It’s an intriguing season. Two more races have recently been added, in Russia and also a first race at Mugello, for what will be the Tuscan Grand Prix. We still don’t know how many races we will have in total, so the teams need to make as much progress as they can in a short space of time to remain competitive. The fight is mainly between the two Mercedes drivers but Red Bull isn’t far behind.


The most intriguing battle, as it has been for the past few seasons, is the midfield battle. Plenty of teams vying for track position and fighting for points... I love it! I’m so happy to have Formula One back, and as I have stated before, I applaud everyone involved for bringing it back and keeping it safe and enabling the teams to get out on track and race in anger. The fans are sorely missed as they add so much atmosphere to a race. The Italian Grand Prix without fans will be strange and sad, as there is always a sea of red as thousands of Ferrari fans descend on Monza to show their support for their heroes. But I’m sure they would rather have a race with no fans, than no race at all.


I know I certainly would!


If you’re watching, then I hope you enjoy the season and I’ll make sure to write bits and pieces to keep you updated and hopefully, entertained!


Steve Thomson

F1 Fan