A year of upheaval, social change and above all, tragedy as Covid-19 decimated the planet, costing millions of lives and bringing hardship to many.
But the show must somehow go on, and like all cultural institutions, live sport did take place once lockdown was lifted, albeit without large swathes of fans or the usual pomp that adds to the spectacle of what makes sport so great. This added a general eerieness to some sports such as football and rugby that were played for over six months in a backdrop of empty seats, virtual fan screens and masked-up coaches.
Formula 1 was no exception to this new way of life; out went avant-garde hospitality units, Vips over-the-top podium ceremonies and in came driver cabins, fist-bumping, social distancing and for a short period, the rather humorous podium robots.
Lewis Hamilton dominated the headlines on and off the track as he wrapped up a seventh drivers championship after a dominating season in the all-conquering Mercedes W11 breaking Michael Schumacher’s remaining records in the process. However, Hamilton also made the sport think about their social conduct as he led the we race as one movement, with 13 of his 20 drivers taking the knee as a protest against racial discrimination before races.
Hamilton’s domination meant that the championship fight was a damp squib as Valtteri Bottas could only manage two race wins all season, whilst Max Verstappen’s championship hopes ended at the first race in Austria with a DNF. However, he would later take two victories in what turned out to be a frustrating campaign for the Dutchman.
Two drivers, however, managed to break their ducks in 2020. Pierre Gasly did the unthinkable and won the Italian Grand Prix for Alpha Tauri over a year on from being demoted back to the Faenza-based outfit following a miserable stint at Red Bull, whilst Sergio Perez went from last to first on the Bahrain outer layout to end his 190-race win drought effectively sealing a seat at Red Bull Racing for the following year.
The 2020 calendar was far from normal either, with Austria and Silverstone taking on two races that year whilst Bahrain ran a second race on its ultra-fast outer layout, giving fans lap times of under a minute. After years of waiting, Mugello and Portimao finally got their Formula 1 birth, whilst the Nurburgring, Imola and Istanbul Park welcomed the sport back with socially distanced arms. In a showing of remarkable diligence, Formula 1 managed to get 17 races completed in just over five months, keeping the fans entertained.
But bizarrely, despite having some circuits holding two races, Formula 1 made minimal changes to the weekend format. The only change came at Imola when the advent of the two-day format saw Saturday feature Practice and Qualifying before the usual race on Sunday.
The format, which was also trialled at the Nurburgring weekend after heavy fog caused Practice to be cancelled, was an interesting idea on paper but was quickly spat out by track owners and race promoters who were understandably not keen on missing a day of profit parking the idea of a two-day format.
But what else could Formula 1 have done differently in 2020 to spice up the doubleheaders?
Here’s why three ideas currently trialled or being considered by Formula 1 should have been brought forward to a season like no other.
- Test Sprint races at the Austrian and British doubleheaders
A year after the pandemic season, Formula 1 trialled Sprint races at three Grand Prix weekends with mixed results.
One of the biggest gripes about the Sprint was that it took something away from the spectacle of Qualifying, and with the 2021 cars being dreadful to overtake with, some have argued that the Sprints have so far failed to live up to the hype.
However, in this writer's opinion, the Sprints would have been better perceived if they had been run at both the Styrian and 70th Anniversary Grand Prix weekends giving both weekends a unique feel rather than a feeling of deja vu.
Whether the Sprints would have worked or flopped at these two particular circuits will remain an unanswered question. Still, it’s fair to say that it would have been wiser to trial the Sprint out at a doubleheader rather than a standalone Grand Prix weekend.
- Non-championship race featuring young and reserve drivers
The recent saga surrounding Spa Francorchamps’s future on the Formula 1 calendar has been a talking point since the first indications that the iconic Belgium circuit could be waving goodbye to the sport at the end of this year’s race.
Rumours have emerged that Spa has been given an ultimatum either take a rotating slot on the calendar or host a non-championship race involving young drivers. The idea of a non-championship race in the current cost cap era of Formula 1 sounds slightly bizarre considering that most teams have barely enough spare parts to run a two-car team at every race weekend but what if it had been trialled in 2020 when the cost cap wasn't in place?
Better yet, why not let the 20 full-time drivers compete with the ten extra entries that would feature either a young or reserve driver to make it an all-star race which would see the likes of Fernando Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg and Stoffel Vandoorne back on the Formula 1 grid whilst Nyck De Vries, Yuki Tsunoda, Callum Ilott and Mick Schumacher would get an earlier than an expected debut.
The circuit for this ‘all-star’ race would have to comply with covid regulations in place at the time, meaning that the series couldn’t visit the likes of Paul Ricard or Jerez, opening the door for Hockenheim or Estoril to get a late invitation to host a Grand Prix in mid-October when some fans were allowed into sporting events.
Throw in some more changes to the format, i.e. one-shot Qualifying or an extra session such as a Sunday warm-up or an acclimatisation session for the third drivers, and you have the potential to create something innovative that had a slice of nostalgia thrown in.
- Reverse grids
When Hamilton, Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel were asked for their thoughts on a reverse grid race by MotorLAT’s David Coath at the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix, all three drivers said they were against the idea due to the fact their efforts in Qualifying would be for nought.
But with 2020 being the year of experimentation, reverse grids could have been on the menu for at least one race and what better way to trial a universally unloved idea than at a universally unloved circuit? Step forward the Sochi Autodrome which would be this writer’s choice to host a reversed grid race that would see Kimi Raikkonen and Nicholas Latifi on the front row of the grid whilst Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen would be in uncharted territory on the back row and with plenty of work to do.
The idea would have probably not worked if you factor in that 2020’s cars were still rather broad, and with the Sochi Autodrome being an overtake-unfriendly circuit, the idea would likely become a one-and-done.