Formula 1’s delayed 2020 campaign finally got underway this weekend and it provided a first glimpse of how the pecking order stacks up this year.
Usually the initial analysis is done after a hurtle around Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit, a venue which can be an outlier, even if the qualifying hour does provide some clues.
But this year it is different: Austria’s Red Bull Ring is hosting the season-opener for the first time in history at a venue which effectively marked the mid-point of 2019.
Only two teams have changed one of its drivers while the regulations have remained stable but the order was markedly different compared to last season for some.
The biggest eye-opener was the pace of Ferrari and its customer teams.
Of the four teams to lose lap time compared to the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix, three of them had cars fitted with Ferrari power units – and the gaps were not small.
Lap Time Gain/Loss compared to 2019
Ferrari claimed pole position in 2019 courtesy of Leclerc but this year the youngster was only seventh while Sebastian Vettel failed to make it out of Q2, qualifying 11th.
The SF1000 was only the fifth-fastest car and Leclerc’s time was over nine-tenths down on his pole-winning effort from 12 months ago.
A raft of updates are set to be introduced for Hungary after a realisation post-testing that its SF1000 had weaknesses, while it expects its race pace to be stronger, but this was a chastening experience.
Customer teams Haas and Alfa Romeo also lost out handsomely, at six-tenths to over a second respectively!
Both teams had cars in Q3 at the 2019 event with Haas best-of-the-rest via a stunning lap from Kevin Magnussen.
But in 2020 Magnussen fell at the first hurdle, Romain Grosjean was slowest in Q2, while Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen were 18th and 19th respectively.
Haas went from fourth-best to eighth while Alfa Romeo slumped from sixth to last.
At the other end of the spectrum Racing Point and Williams both made sizeable gains.
Racing Point captured much of the attention pre-season when its RP20 debuted and demonstrated striking similarities to Mercedes’ title-winning W10.
Racing Point’s senior management confirmed that they had copied as much of the design as possible – as is legal under the regulations – and the car was substantially quicker than in 2019.
After a double Q1 exit in 2019 Sergio Perez was fifth, with Lance Stroll ninth, as the RP20 lapped the Red Bull Ring nine-tenths faster than its predecessor.
Williams also made sizeable gains though considering its low benchmark from 2019 this was to be fully expected. It is nonetheless encouraging that George Russell was able to join the lower midfield group.
Mercedes made year-on-year gains by a few tenths at a venue where it struggled somewhat 12 months ago, when it had to compromise its performance due to the extreme temperatures.
Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton both dipped into the 1:02s to set new track records, a tenth up on Leclerc’s effort from 2019.
Renault, McLaren and AlphaTauri all made similar time gains while Red Bull fractionally lost out year-on-year though is now in possession of the second-fastest package courtesy of Max Verstappen.
A gain of almost half a second was particularly eye-catching for Renault given its historic struggles at the Red Bull Ring, where it is without a single point since 2016.