For the first time in living memory Formula 1 is about to embark on a sequence of new or returning grands prix that will present a novel challenge for the paddock.
Prior to the Covid-19 coronavirus Formula 1 would have been gearing up for its traditional jaunt to paddock-favourite Suzuka, in Japan, ahead of the American leg in the United States, Mexico and Brazil.
But instead the championship is set to visit the Nurburgring, take a maiden trip to Portimao, experience a condensed weekend at Imola and return to Istanbul Park.
The Nurburgring, which will run under the Eifel Grand Prix name courtesy of Hockenheim having dibs on the German Grand Prix tag, has never been run so late in the year.
The region can be susceptible to atypical weather even in the summer months and thus the paddock is braced for conditions more reminiscent of winter testing for its early-mid October slot.
“It’s called German Siberia for a reason,” Sebastian Vettel, victorious at the last Nurburgring race in 2013, said earlier this year. “We can expect anything. We can expect if we are lucky 20 degrees, but it could also be close to zero, so it will be a challenge nevertheless.”
His team boss at that event, Christian Horner, joked that “I’ve been there in May and opened the curtains and seen snow and had a race cancelled there in the past. Anything can happen. It could be a beautiful autumnal weekend and the sun could shine every day but we go there prepared for everything and take your winter jacket because I think you’re going to need it.”
The current long-range forecast indicates that rain showers – predicting exactly when and how intense is impossible at this stage – could strike the weekend’s action while temperatures are likely to peak at just 11 or 12c.
Of those who tackled the last Nurburgring race in 2013 only seven are still on the grid though that includes the top three that day – Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean – as well as the driver who led them away from pole: Lewis Hamilton.
Back on that day the nascent Hamilton/Mercedes combination was still one round away from taking the first of 69 wins and counting. Its head of trackside engineering, Andrew Shovlin, worked with the team back in 2013 but doubts much information gleaned seven years ago will be of benefit.
“Not a lot really to be honest,” he said on whether prior knowledge will be useful. “Especially if a track has been resurfaced, the tyres are so different to when we were there before, the cars are very different, the power units are different, there isn’t a lot you can take from it. Maybe the drivers are a bit further along the journey if they’ve driven it in the past but from our point of view the information is quite out of date by now.”
Shovlin also believes getting up to speed at the Nurburgring – along with other new or returning 2020 venues – has been complicated by the breadth of unexpected tracks and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We’ve kind of got a bit of a backlog of new circuits this year, normally you deal with one or two,” he said of a calendar that has six new or returning layouts.
“The additional work you do with those [new venue], ideally you’d get the drivers there to drive the simulator but that’s getting harder with the restrictions on Covid as the exemptions only apply to the race weekend, you’re not exempt because you’re in F1, so it is difficult to keep on top of these tracks.
“How you run the car is the same wherever you go, it’s more elements [such as] understanding where the tyres are going to be, ordinarily we’d have drivers in for the sim to practice, and also just the weather, it could obviously be a wide window and that might make it interesting. It’s a good circuit, it’ll be nice to go back.”
It will also be a historic weekend for Formula 1 – one way or another.
Hamilton has a second opportunity to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 victories and could do so on the same weekend that Schumacher’s son, Mick, makes his grand prix event debut on home soil. Schumacher is due to replace Antonio Giovinazzi for FP1 at Alfa Romeo while fellow Ferrari protégé and Formula 2 title rival Callum Ilott will climb into Romain Grosjean’s car at Haas, as both drivers chase a 2021 seat.