And so the curtain came down on yet another Formula One season.
When racing was shutdown in Australia and paddocks were packed up as Covid-19 ravaged the globe, nobody quite knew how a F1 season would be possible.
In the end they made it 17 races strong and, to much less of a surprise, Mercedes’ dominance continued as Lewis Hamilton made history with his record-equaling seventh world title.
Formula One lowered the curtain on the 2020 season after the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
But it was not just about Hamilton, Mercedes and Covid-19.
This was a season that will be remembered for the rain in Turkey, the race win in Monza of Pierre Gasly, the horror fireball that Romain Grosjean escaped from, the driver split over taking the knee and Daniel Ricciardo’s famous tattoo bet before he left Renault.
Sportsmail picks out 10 things learned from another season on track…
1. Lewis Hamilton is STILL in a league of his own
Yes, he’s in the car everybody wants but Hamilton once again proved why he is on his way to becoming motorsport’s greatest of all time. To some, he’s already the GOAT. To others, he needs to surpass Michael Schumacher, not just equal him.
That really feels a matter of time.
Hamilton has no legitimate title threat and managed to finish third in Abu Dhabi despite complaining of having issues with his lungs as he still battles against Covid-19.
The fact that he’s a leading contender for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award comes as no surprise.
He won 11 of the 17 races, missing the podium just twice all season – first in Austria because of a post-race penalty (he crossed the line second) and then in Italy where he ended up down in seventh, again due to another penalty.
The only man who can stop him is himself and with 23 races provisionally set for 2021, the 35 year-old is odds on for title No 8.
Lewis Hamilton surpassed Michael Schumacher’s win record on his way to another F1 title
2. Enough is enough… give Verstappen a competitive car
It’s the title fight fans want but know, as things stand, they can’t have.
This is as frustrating for Verstappen as it is for them; him toiling away in a car that is simply not good enough over the course of an entire season to win a world championship.
Going up against Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas currently feels like the Dutchman is taking a knife to a gunfight.
Losing Honda as their engine supplier does hinder Red Bull, no matter how much they try to save face publicly, and Mercedes have shown no appetite for abdicating the thrown with Hamilton still in a league of his own.
‘The whole season, being behind and getting closer, it’s a bit frustrating,’ Verstappen said of Mercedes after victory in Abu Dhabi. ‘We’ve been working so hard really the whole season to try and close that gap to Mercedes.
‘Of course they have a different strategy with how they develop the car but for us it was all about understanding the car, to make it better for next year. To do that today, to be first, I was very happy for the whole team.’
Verstappen has the talent, the raw speed and the drive to do whatever it takes… now all he needs is the machinery to match his ambition.
Max Verstappen shows he has the pace but now he needs machinery to match his ambition
Verstappen produced fireworks in Abu Dhabi as he turned pole position into a race victory
3. Mercedes dominance is NOT entertaining
That’s the bottom line.
Of course seeing Hamilton match Schumacher’s record is special. Of course some of the performances should be marvelled at for what they are – greatness.
But, ultimately, dominance of this kind is not good for anyone other than Mercedes. It certainly isn’t good to keep fans engaged.
The fact Verstappen’s pole position in Abu Dhabi was the only non-Mercedes of the 2020 season says it all.
Verstappen is sick of it for obvious reason but it is partly why fans feel more comfortable skipping watching a race because the outcome feels so inevitable.
Gone are the title battles of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, even Nico Rosberg when he got one over Hamilton before retiring.
Those races felt must-see. There was jeopardy, a greater risk of defeat but a victory that would taste sweeter. Ten of the 17 races ended with both Mercedes men doused in champagne on the podium. It’s great for them, but far from great for the rest of us.
Mercedes’ dominance over the rest of the pack is not entertaining for fans of the sport
Hamilton (left) and Bottas (right) finished on the podium together 10 times from 17 races
4. F1 deserves credit for keeping show on the road
There were hiccups, which was to be expected, but to complete an F1 season spanning multiple countries and territories, organisers deserve a huge amount of credit.
There are lots of moving parts that are needed to keep the F1 circus going and yet organisers successfully managed to create a bio-secure bubble that kept drivers, team staff and media safe from Italy to Portugal to Turkey to Abu Dhabi.
Many team meetings were done via videoconferencing service Zoom while social distancing was enforced in the paddock and in hotels with teams and drivers under strict instructions depending on each country they were in.
Testing was regular and yet of 17 races, with everyone tested who was going on site, a total of 78 positive tests had been returned. That figure included three drivers – Hamilton, Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll.
Hamilton’s positive Covid-19 test sent shockwaves through the sport but managing to avoid cancelling races due to outbreaks and totalling up 17 races in the end, F1 heads into 2021 with real credit in the bank for how they navigated a very difficult pandemic.
Reaching 17 races and keeping drivers, teams and media safe was very impressive for F1
5. George Russell left with a ‘headache’ of his own
No doubt he will still be thinking about it. The Sakhir Grand Prix, no Hamilton, on course for a first ever race win, in a car that he can actually excel in. And then, disaster.
Hamilton’s recovery from Covid-19 meant that he didn’t get another shot at glory in Abu Dhabi and a return to Williams saw a return to a Q1 exit in qualifying.
Back with a bang, then.
But win or no win, Russell showed his class and even talked up giving Mercedes a ‘headache’ over whether he should be replacing Bottas next season. Consider those flames, fanned.
Bottas, unsurprisingly, didn’t take kindly to the remark and while Russell climbed down by saying ‘it was just a throwaway remark’, it was clear what he really thought.
And so news that Toto Wolff has categorically confirmed Bottas is going nowhere represents a real motivation blow for Russell. His time will come, he showed that out in Bahrain, but that won’t come in 2021.
George Russell was hoping his performance in the Sakhir GP would push Mercedes to act
6. Ferrari are a basket case
Where to start with what was nothing short of a horror show? The Prancing Horse limped out the gates and barely reached the first hurdle.
Ferrari’s dismal season was hard to watch for any F1 fan who knows the value of having the Italians fighting hard for championships.
In short: this was their worst season in 40 years.
It came as a shock to some, this writer included, but as the dust settled in Abu Dhabi, voices at Ferrari began to reveal that they had braced for such a drop-off ever since watching the car in winter testing in Barcelona.
‘In Barcelona, we quickly realised that we had serious concerns about some aspects of the performance of the car,’ sporting director Laurent Mekies said. ‘We knew it was going to be very difficult. We didn’t know yet at that time how long it was going to be for us to understand that fully and even less to fix it.’
Sebastian Vettel was woeful, Charles Leclerc only marginally better on occasion and it is a season – which saw them finish sixth in the constructors’ championship – they will be glad to see the back of.
Ferrari endured their worst season in 40 years and will be glad to see the back of 2020
7. Pierre Gasly’s redemption is perfect tonic to his critics
When Pierre Gasly was shown the door by Red Bull it was widely felt his chance of worrying the top order in F1 was over.
Red Bull had concluded even before the 2019 season was over that Gasly was simply not good enough to be the sidekick to Verstappen. It was tough for the young Frenchman to take but he took his bumps and went to AlphaTauri.
Being out of the spotlight a touch has worked wonders for Gasly’s self-esteem and has allowed him to find his natural rhythm in the car again.
It was painfully obvious watching F1’s Drive to Survive Netflix series of last season that Gasly’s lack of speed was down to a lack of belief. He’s not lacking that these days.
A stunning victory at Monza, his first ever race win in Formula One, showed he has bags of talent and at 24 he still has a lot to work on. He has shown glimpses of what he truly can do, the challenge now is, can he earn a second shot at a contending team?
Pierre Gasly showed glimpses of his potential again as he got his mojo back with AlphaTauri
8. Growing the calendar causes quantity over quality
In a congested season like this one, organisers deserve an immense amount of credit for delivering the amount of races they did – in the end we got 17.
But, that being said, the decision to increase the calendar to 23 races next season seems unnecessary. Talk of 24 in future just seems absurd.
More races = more fans = more money = more sponsorship opportunities, but less can often be more in a sport that can, at times, become far too predictable for its own good.
There were 21 races in the 2019 season and that felt like the belt buckle was close to bursting. Adding on even more feels greedy and a priority shift to quantity over quality.
Saudi Arabia will be among the new races on the provisional schedule while teams will return to Australia and Monaco, two locations that were unable to host races in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Turkey was the star of the shake-up this year largely thanks to the rain and all the moaning from drivers. But when is enough, enough?
Turkey caught the eye as a contender for race of the season but more races is not the answer
9. Driver split over taking the knee left a cloud over the season
This was an issue that the sport never managed to get a grip on: some drivers taking the knee and others standing tall behind them.
It was supposed to be a public show against racism and discrimination, something Hamilton is keen to tackle as the only black driver competing in the sport right now.
The Premier League has seen all players and officials take the knee and other sports have successfully managed to organise a united front – but not F1.
It has looked as awkward on television as it has on the track and portrayed the message of a sport divided, despite all drivers wearing ‘End Racism’ t-shirts.
Fourteen have continued to take the knee but six elected not to do so and there were incidents throughout the season where drivers arrived late or they had not put on the t-shirt or television pictures simply did not show those who did drop to one knee.
The Hungarian Grand Prix was one example as drivers scurried in position, took a knee while others arrived and then quickly stood for the national anthems, meaning the gesture against racism and discrimination only lasted for a few moments.
When other sports managed to get it so right, Formula One never quite did.
The split over drivers taking a knee was an embarrassing episode for the sport when football, cricket, basketball and others managed to organise a unified message for competitors
10. Not giving a seat to Sergio Perez is a HUGE mistake
Losing Sergio Perez from the 2021 grid would represent a real error in judgement – but it remains a very possible situation given the lack of available seats.
Perez bowed out in Abu Dhabi with a DNF and it seems cruel to think his F1 career – for the time being at least – could go out on such a whimper given the euphoria of winning the Sakhir Grand Prix the weekend prior.
There is talk of a switch to Red Bull, pushing current No 2 Alex Albon down to the role as the reserve driver, something the team are yet to confirm. With the season over this could well escalate quickly in the coming week.
Perez is well liked in the paddock and Racing Point’s engineers were in floods of tears as he walked out for the last time following events in Abu Dhabi.
Lawrence Stroll owns the team and so keeping on his son, Lance, came as no surprise. But if the sport allows Perez to slip between the cracks it’s a decision it will be left to rue.
Sergio Perez showed all of his quality as he won the Sakhir Grand Prix for Racing Point