Senna , Schumacher , Vettel , Hamilton .
These are names we are all familiar with.
Legends of Formula 1, a sport dating back to the 1950s. I was one of the many who used to think it was just cars going round in circles and never actually took interest in the sport. Cut to the summer of 2020, a time we were all bored out of our heads and more ready than ever to try something new (also known as excuses to get out of JEE prep). My best friends who were also ardent Formula 1 fans had convinced me to watch what was going to be the first race of the 2020 season after a 4-month halt due to, surprise surprise, COVID. With every sport you watch you always start picking who you want to succeed most. I loved McLaren as a car manufacturer at the time and hence, they were the chosen ones.
The grid was set for Raceday at the Red Bull Ring in Austria and not for the last time in my life, it was Lights Out and Away we go at the Austrian Grand Prix. Being the first race I have ever watched I was still figuring out the rules and the basics as to how things worked which meant a majority of the race was a blur to me. Lewis Hamilton, coming off his 6th World Championship had received a time penalty for hitting a RedBull whilst on the inside line of a turn(not the last time that happened). Fast forward to the last lap of the race, a young driver in the Papaya Orange McLaren is gaining in on Lewis quicker than ever rapidly and reducing the gap. If he finished the race under 5 seconds behind Lewis, he would then jump Hamilton in the race standings to claim a career-first podium. And that is precisely what he proceeded to do and claimed the first podium finish of his career in the very first race of the season. That young driver was Lando Norris. I was quite impressed at the pace he showed. The following weekend at the same track in the Styrian Grand Prix, Norris put in yet another impressive race, making 3 overtakes in the final two laps to claim 5th position.
He was off to a flying start to the season and I, well my interest was piqued. It wasn’t simply cars going round and round in circles. It was 20 seasoned drivers and their machines, working in harmony, battling each other for positions, podiums and wins all backed by the mechanical and tactical crew, working throughout to maximise the results. It was exhilarating, it was amazing to watch. There was no limit to the number of times I’d rewatched the battles and the overtakes in the Styrian Grand Prix. My fascination and awe at how the drivers battled each other and made overtakes was limitless. As you may have guessed, Lando Norris became my favourite driver on the grid cuz those were really impressive drives.
As the season progressed, I began to understand more clearly the rules, the cars, and of course, the drivers. RedBull’s Max Verstappen was another driver who I was greatly impressed by due to the pace and skill he showed during races and the way he put up a fight to outright favourites Mercedes in what was an inferior RedBull car. Another enjoyable aspect for me was the tracks. The tracks were where all the magic happened, where all the drivers tested the limits of their cars and themselves. Not just the iconic tracks like Spa Francorchamps, Monza, Imola and Silverstone, but also the more recently introduced tracks like the Red Bull Ring, Istanbul Park and Yas Marina Circuit played host to the races and it was always a fun pastime for me to find out how they looked, what was the average lap time cars could post round them and how challenging they were to the drivers.
Monza was particularly memorable due to the shock win of Pierre Gasly, which as a McLaren fan I wasn’t particularly happy about given that Carlos Sainz was achingly close to getting past Gasly for the concluding laps of the race but simply couldn’t. Norris had yet another stellar race to finish P4 in a race with 2 red flags and neither of the leader teams having a weekend up to the mark. The Drivers Championship had been wrapped up in the Turkish Grand Prix with a Lewis Hamilton victory in wet conditions. The spotlight, though, was on one Sebastian Vettel who grabbed a podium amid a very torrid season for him and Ferrari. Bottas also grabbed the spotlight, but sadly not in the way he would’ve wanted by spinning out about 6 times(which was pretty hilarious) during the race and getting lapped by his teammate and race winner Lewis.
Lando meanwhile after a stellar start to the season and a consistent first few races, had things go downhill for him beginning from the Russian Grand Prix. That was a race I’ve despised ever since. The Sakhir Grand Prix in the Bahrain Outer Circuit grabbed major headlines particularly due to the fact that Lewis Hamilton had been diagnosed with COVID 19 and was to be replaced for the weekend by Mercedes academy driver, Williams driver and fan favourite George Russell. Russell had a strong qualifying and even led the race for a major portion of it until an untimely puncture and bad pitstops derailed his race altogether. Sergio Perez from Racing Point went on to claim the first race win of his career having dropped to the bottom of the grid after a first-lap mishap. Now that was a fairytale race.
The season concluded with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit as has become the nomenclature in recent years. Max Verstappen had taken pole and maintained his position during the race and won. For me, Abu Dhabi was a bit of a sad ending since it would be the last race for the McLaren duo Lando and Carlos, or Carlando as they were dearly called. Carlos was moving to Ferrari the following year bringing to an end one of the most entertaining and loving driver pairs the grid has ever seen. And with that, the 2020 season concluded. My first year of watching racing. It was exciting, it was thrilling and like with every sport it had its highs and its lows. Racing was now a part of me, and I was ready for more.