At the start of the year, spirits were not at their highest for many Formula One fans. The season opener that was set to be in Australia was cancelled due to COVID-19, and we still had to wait for another year before the much hyped new regulations could kick in.
However, when the Silver Arrows started struggling in pre-season testing due to the impact of the new floor regulations on downforce, many started salivating. There was much speculation about a close championship fight, and a closer field in general, and so far, it is safe to say that the season has surpassed expectations.
We are at a point where most fans can agree that there’s been enough drama to fill two Drive to Survive seasons, the same show that many purists chastised for fabricating fake drama. That’s how much we’ve been spoiled. So now that we are more or less two thirds into the season, what are the major eventualities to look out for?
Penalty and regulation wars
Throughout the season, we’ve seen the regulation battle play out on two fronts; race incidents and car development. The season opener in Bahrain was thrilling, in part due to the ambiguity around the enforcement of track limits that caught out the Redbulls, and continued to haunt them in Portimao.
Just as it cooled down, the flexing rear wings saga got amplified right after that in Barcelona, and teams had to adjust accordingly. There was a retaliation in the form of a front wing protest brewing, but it didn’t gain enough steam.
Meanwhile, in the background, a string of wheel-to-wheel incidents between the two drivers’ championship rivals were setting the stage for more epic clashes. Incidents such as the one in Imola and that in Barcelona culminated in a huge crash at Silverstone, or so we thought.
Former Formula One driver and 1991 Le Mans winner Bertrand Gachot said it would get worse before it got better, and boy was he right. The pair came together again in Monza, and both ended up retiring. There’s no doubt that both are giving it their best by now, with Hamilton no longer willing to back out like he used to and demanding respect, while Verstappen is set in his always aggressive forward stance.
Not only are their battles fueling heated contention over what’s fair racing, what’s safe and what’s entertaining, they are also triggering penalties that many on either side don’t agree with. The FIA has even had to re-emphasize the fact that consequences of incidents don’t affect the punishment, even though some (not me) feel that they should.
This is how captivating this battle is, and make no mistake, these penalties will continue and they will spur even more intense arguments down the road. Both the in-race time penalties and grid-drops could have a tremendous impact on the standings, so expect a frenzied war of words over them soon.
We already have the likes of Perez and Ocon expressing their reservations in regard to the most recent penalties handed to them. Michael Masi and the stewards will definitely earn their money for the remainder of the season.
Pandemic-triggered calendar changes
Yes. Formula One has been quite innovative and resilient, but these variants are not playing games. It is not too far-fetched to say that one or more events still to come could get cancelled due to COVID-19-related restrictions.
This creates a very nerve-wracking situation seeing as whoever is behind in the standings will be more likely to take greater risks since they are not sure how many chances they have left to catch up, therefore increasing the chances of more collisions.
If there’s one thing that’s been clear this season, it’s that McLaren and Ferrari could sneak in a win in certain conditions. We saw how Monaco favored the Scuderia and Monza favored Mercedes power, which extends to McLaren. Both teams have scored some podiums this year, and more recently, a race win and the only 1-2 of the season for McLaren.
Like I mentioned recently, there are still a lot of straights and medium- to high-speed corners left on the calendar so we could have one or more occasions where the podium outsiders make strategy trickier for the championship rivals.
Such instances will also bring the number two drivers more into the spotlight, just like they did at Monza. Bottas and Perez are both sure about their futures in Formula One now so it’s going to be interesting to see who maintains an edge over the other.
So wherever you are, whatever you have going on for the rest of the year, make sure you make some time for the race weekends, because we are witnessing one of the greatest seasons in Formula One history ever.
Aijuka Duncan Ngabirano is a motorsport junkie with a passion for storytelling through various media, and hodling crypto.