F1 reloaded:
five good reasons not to miss it

At long last, Formula 1 is getting going again. And here are five good reasons to take your place on the sofa at home – or with friends – to watch the world’s best cars return to the track on Friday 5 July, with the first race just two days later. The countdown is officially on…

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1. The start lights go green for the first time in more than seven months, since the last grand prix of 2019 (in Abu Dhabi). You have to go all the way back to the winter between 1950 and 1951 to find a similarly long pause from one season to the next: between the very first two championships in the sport’s history, in fact. Back then, Formula 1 consisted of between six and eight races every year, which took place almost exclusively in Europe, so it was normal for there to be a long gap between seasons. However absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder, so there’s sure to be an exciting build-up to the first two races in Austria at the start of July.

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2. That very short world championship of 70 years ago, which really took place over just one summer, was completely different to what we see now. The ‘grand prix circus’ as we know it didn’t exist: there was a core base of fans, a handful of drivers who were so brave as to be heroic, and finally a small group of manufacturers that used racing as a research and development tool to go faster, master the laws of physics, and see who was the best. At the time, everyone was just emerging from the Second World War, and the emphasis was firmly on moving on and making progress. Today, leaving Covid aside, we usually have seasons that go on for 21 to 22 races. The gap between Abu Dhabi 2019 and Austria 2020 was entirely unexpected and could easily alter the human and technical dynamics to which we have become accustomed. Modern Formula 1 is a non-stop development cycle that spreads across several seasons: teams not only have to plan for the current season, but also for the next one and maybe for the one after that as well. The usual rhythm has now well and truly disappeared, and even the brand new regulations have been delayed until 2022 from the original plan of 2021. As part of that, we won’t see the new Pirelli 18-inch F1 tyres in competition until 2022 either. Getting to grips with this realigned pattern of working – the ‘new normal’, if you like – won’t be easy for anyone and could be fascinating.

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3. All the teams have undergone many long weeks of lockdown. The factories have been closed, the engines switched off, and people have been cooped up at home in quarantine. As for the drivers, they have had to rely only on simulators to stay up to speed and maintain their feeling for cars and racing. But does this mean that the engineers have switched their brains off too? You can bet that they haven’t. Their computers at work may have been out of bounds, and there’s been nothing happening in the wind tunnels or production departments. But a designer thinks in exactly the same way as a musician or an author: ideas flow and crystallise in their brains during every waking moment. Those thoughts about coefficients or airflows could soon result in a new wing or an ingenious technical solution for the engine or gearbox. In other words, the cars that we see in Austria and the races immediately afterwards may not be in exactly the same configuration as those that we saw at the test in Spain at the end of February. Many things could have changed, even quite radically. It’s another brand new reset.

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4. Austria will host two races seven days apart. There will also be two consecutive races at Silverstone at the start of August. Maybe there will be two races in Bahrain at the beginning of December too, if more grands prix are still needed to hit the minimum of 16 to 18 that the FIA and Formula 1 are keen to host, in order to guarantee a meaningful world championship this year. This sort of thing has never been seen in 70 years of Formula 1. Grand Prix weekends are normally run according to a very set timetable: four hours of free practice between Friday and Saturday morning and then qualifying on Saturday afternoon before the race on Sunday, without being able to adjust the car in between due to the parc fermé regulations. Now, things will be a little different, with the races coming thick and fast. The smallest intuition, or even a piece of  interesting data that emerges from one race to the next, could turn out to be vital one week later. Because of that, or different weather conditions, each of the two races held at the same circuits might be very different indeed. At Silverstone, for example, Pirelli will nominate different tyres for races four and five of this year’s championship. During the first weekend (2 August) the hardest range of tyres will be available: C1, C2 and C3 ¬– from hardest to softest. The following weekend, the nomination will be one step softer: C2, C3 and C4. Silverstone is one of the three toughest circuits on tyres thanks to its fast corners and high downforce loads. As a result, we normally see quite a conservative tyre choice there: C1 C2, and C3. But Silverstone in August with the C4 as the softest tyre available (the same as Spielberg and Hungary, where lateral loads and stresses on tyres are much less) will be quite a challenge.

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5. Finally, the drivers. Everyone from Lewis Hamilton downwards can’t wait to get back behind the wheel and blow off the steam that has been building up since that fateful Friday 13 March, when Covid stopped them from taking to the track for the first time in Melbourne. Each one of them will be looking to capitalise on everything they’ve learned to keep themselves fit, motivated, and concentrated throughout the three months of enforced stoppage time. The drivers are now all experts when it comes to public relations, social media and marketing; some have even excelled themselves in the world of online gaming.  But their DNA is all about real racing: the thrills you can only find flat-out on a circuit. So here we are, right now. All that power is just about to get unleashed. It's going to be fun.

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