Formula 1 has announced the opening eight races of the 2020 calendar will take place over nine weeks beginning the first weekend of July, following the shutdown of the sport due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
The sport was put on hiatus on the day of the first two practice sessions of the Australian Grand Prix back in March when a McLaren team member contracted the deadly virus causing the event to be cancelled.
Since then, three more races were cancelled (Dutch, French and Monaco Grands Prix) with the other six all postponed as F1 attempted to reschedule them into a more condensed version of the original calendar.
Resumption of the world championship has been made even trickier with a number of countries insisting on a two-week quarantine period upon entry.
However, after the UK agreed to grant teams and drivers an exemption from that quarantine period, F1 has managed to finalise its return, and has now revealed the first eight races.
The Austrian Grand Prix, which was due to be the next race on the original calendar, will go ahead on 3-5 July as originally planned before a second Austrian Grand Prix the following weekend.
Next is Hungary before another double header at Silverstone – the latter of which will celebrate 70 years of Formula 1.
Barcelona, Spa and Monza make up the first eight races, all of which are slated to go ahead over the space of nine weeks, with just the one week break between the seventh race in Belgium and the eighth in Italy.
Formula 1 is still finalising the rest of the season with the expectation that there will be between 15 and 18 races in total before the season wraps up in December.
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No decision has been made yet on what the racing will actually look like yet however, with a proposal to introduce reverse-grid races now unlikely to go through, with Mercedes rejecting the idea as Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Sky Sports that Toto Wolff believes it “would interfere with Lewis Hamilton’s championship campaign”.
Red Bull plunged Formula One into a technical argument on the opening day of the belated season on Friday when they lodged an official protest of Mercedes’ dual-axis steering (DAS) system after opening practice at the Austrian Grand Prix.
Just hours after seeing Mercedes duo of six-time champion Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas top the times with a resounding one-two in their newly-painted ‘black arrows’ cars, it was confirmed that Red Bull had made a formal protest against them.
Team chief Christian Horner had said earlier Friday that he intended to ask for guidance from the race officials about the legality of the system.
However, he had been warned by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff that taking it further would endanger the success of the sport’s first weekend back.
Mercedes had introduced the system, which allows the drivers to adjust the toe angle of the car from their cockpit positions, in pre-season testing when it sparked an intrigued debate in the paddock.
The sport’s ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA) confirmed that a formal protest was lodged by Red Bull against both Mercedes cars used in practice at the Red Bull Ring.
The Mercedes and Red Bull teams were requested to meet the race stewards on Friday evening at 1810GMT.
The stewards ruling cited two breaches of the regulations, one relating to the cars’ suspension systems.
The protest follows an FIA decision to ban DAS for the 2021 season. Mercedes believe the system is legal and have said they discussed it in detail with the FIA before the season and pre-season testing.
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Speaking earlier Friday, Horner said: “Obviously, we’re keen to get clarity on that system using the mechanisms that are available and getting it addressed quickly early in the weekend.
“We have a difference of opinion on it. Its primary performance isn’t to steer the car, obviously, so, yes, of course there is a technical position — Mercedes will think one thing, our engineers will think something else.
“In situations like this, the best thing is to address it via a protest.”
He added that if the system was allowed, his Red Bull team would consider adding the idea to their cars.
“It’s a clever system, an ingenious system, but these rules are complex. It’s just about understanding what part of the regulations it fits.”
A decision on the protest is expected before Saturday’s third practice session which is due to start at 1000 GMT.
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Lewis Hamilton laid down an emphatic marker on Formula 1 2020’s opening weekend by topping both Friday sessions at the Austrian GP, while Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo settled in quickly for fifth place in practice two, while teammate Esteban Ocon managed just 11th.
Hamilton enjoyed a perfect start to his seventh F1 title quest by following up his P1 fastest time with a big advantage in the afternoon in Spielberg, two-tenths of a second ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas and more than half a second clear of the nearest non-Mercedes car.
Sergio Perez was third for a Racing Point team who have also started fast, although well adrift of the 1:04.304 posted by Hamilton on the same soft tyre.
Although F1 looks a lot different in Austria to what we saw in the sport’s last Grand Prix more than half a year ago – with no fans in attendance and strict coronavirus protocols – Hamilton and Mercedes have hit the ground running as if they have never been away.
“It’s great to be back, it’s been a long time coming,” said Hamilton.
“It’s definitely looking good out there but you can never take too much from practice. A couple of other guys might be down a fuel mode. We’ll take it with a pinch of salt.”
Red Bull were hoping to be Mercedes’ rivals in-chief this weekend but Max Verstappen and Alex Albon were only eighth and 13th in a session which was littered with RB16 spins.
“Where we are in the timesheet doesn’t look like where we are in reality,” team boss Christian Horner, who has hinted at an official protest of Mercedes ‘DAS’ system, insisted to Sky F1.
While Verstappen added: “Lap times don’t really say anything because I broke my wing in the first lap. Of course there are things we can do better but it was a good day.”
Instead, it was Racing Point who took over as the Silver Arrows’ closest challengers, with Perez leading an extremely tight midfield pack – just ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari, and Renault’s Ricciardo.
Supercars will return to Sydney Motorsport Park on July 18-19 and this time the drivers will race in front of fans under lights following a coronavirus-forced shake-up to the schedule.
The fourth round of the Supercars Champions will be at Eastern Creek, with the Winton SuperSprint postponed due to COVID-19 travel protocols in Queensland restricting the return of teams from Victoria after competing in the southern state.
It will be the second consecutive round at the western Sydney circuit after last weekend’s successful return to racing. In a boon for the Championship, fans will be welcomed back for the round with limitations on each day’s attendance to be announced in the coming days.
On top of the return of crowds, the Sydney SuperSprint — initially planned for the end of the season — will feature night time racing.
Saturday will see a night race, with two day races to follow on the Sunday.
A return to Winton this year is not off the cards, with the event only postponed at this stage.