Formula One: the 20 best moments of 2020 | Top Gear
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Best of 2020

Formula One: the 20 best moments of 2020

The 2020 Formula 1 season was incredible. TG looks back at the best bits

  • Cast your mind back to March 2020, and you’ll remember that there was rather a lot going on in the world. A deadly virus was sweeping the globe, lockdowns, social distancing and masks became part of everyday life… it was all a bit grim.

    A footnote in all of this was the cancellation of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, abandoned as fans were queuing at the gates of the track ahead of the first practice session in Melbourne.

    More races quickly followed suit, and for a time it looked as though there’d be no F1 at all for the whole of 2020. The teams agreed to shut down their factories and that, it seemed, was that.

    Not so. F1 knuckled down and - after ploughing its know-how into some life-saving breathing aids for coronavirus patients - the teams worked out how they could carry on racing while limiting the risk of transmission as the sport travelled from country to country. A new, makeshift calendar was drawn up and the season was salvaged. Albeit without fans, for the most part.

    But what a season it turned out to be. F1 2020 was packed with drama and brilliant racing, and gave us all a welcome distraction from the harsh effects of You-Know-What-19.

    Here, we look back at the top 20 moments of the Formula One season. Got a favourite that sticks out in your mind? Keyboard warriors, assemble below.

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  • Lando’s podium chase in Austria

    The season finally got underway at the Red Bull Ring in July, and we were treated to the kind of spectacle that usually only happens when it pours with rain. Vettel had a spin (what else is new?); Raikkonen's front-right wheel fell off; Albon was denied a podium again thanks to another tangle with Hamilton. It was gripping stuff.

    But by far the best action came from Lando Norris in the final three laps of the race. The young McLaren driver bullied his way past the Racing Point of Sergio Perez on lap 69, before hunting down Lewis Hamilton, who’d been handed a five-second penalty for causing the collision with Albon.

    Lando turned his engine up to 11, and set the fastest lap of the race on his way to overhauling the reigning champ for third place after penalties had been applied. Though he’d finished second on the road, Hamilton also lost out to Charles Leclerc, who’d somehow managed to keep up in his unfancied Ferrari. “YEAH BOY!” screamed Lando after he’d crossed the line. We reckon he was happy with his first F1 podium.

  • Hamilton won a race on three wheels

    The British Grand Prix was an eventful affair, with the race dominated by a number of tyre failures throughout the field. Daniil Kvyat, Carlos Sainz and Valtteri Bottas all suffered punctures, as the Pirelli rubber struggled to cope with the intense forces that are part and parcel of the Silverstone circuit.

    While there’d been plenty of overtaking action in the middle of the pack, things had been going swimmingly for Lewis Hamilton, who’d led from pole. However, his front left gave way in the dying moments of the race, forcing him to nurse his way around the final half a lap on only three wheels.

    Crucially, Max Verstappen - who had inherited second after Bottas’s puncture - had made an extra pit stop in order to go for the bonus point that comes with setting the fastest lap, and this gave Lewis just enough of a gap to take the chequered flag and cling on for the win.

    Picture: LAT Images

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  • Hulkenberg’s cameos

    Nico Hulkenberg - who famously holds the unwanted record for the most appearances in F1 without a podium finish - departed the sport at the end of 2019 after Renault decided to replace him with Esteban Ocon. While still in the frame for a full-time return in the future, it looked like opportunities to score that maiden top-three finish had completely dried up.

    Fate had other ideas. Racing Point’s Sergio Perez tested positive for Covid-19 on the eve of the British Grand Prix, ruling him out of two races and sparking a mad scramble for a replacement driver. With barely 24 hours notice Hulkenberg answered the call, sending fans into a frenzy at the prospect of him breaking that 177-race duck.

    His first appearance didn’t go well, qualifying 13th before a reliability issue prevented him from lining up on the grid. But his second outing a week later was much better, qualifying ahead of everyone bar Mercedes in a car he’d barely driven. He ran well in the race too, although a late issue forced him to make an extra pit stop which dropped him behind teammate Lance Stroll.

    If you thought that was all a bit last minute, think again. The Hulk was having coffee with a friend on the morning of qualifying for the Eifel GP when Racing Point rang again, asking if he could step in for Lance Stroll, who’d also gone down with Covid-19. Nico made the mad dash up the autobahn from Cologne to the Nurburgring, jumping into the car without a single practice session to dial himself in. As a result he qualified last, but an outstanding drive in the race saw him climb from 20th to 8th.

    The wait for a podium goes on, but surely we haven’t seen the last of this supremely skilled driver?

  • Verstappen’s 70th Anniversary GP win

    The second race at Silverstone of 2020 was branded as the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, to commemorate 70 years of Formula 1 and mark its first championship race, also held at Silverstone way back when in 1950. Giuseppe Farina won that day in an Alfa Romeo, although there was to be no repeat this time as Alfa aren’t the force they once were.

    There was also time to reflect on the passing of Sir Stirling Moss, who died in April at the age of 90. Moss was widely regarded as the greatest driver never to win the F1 world championship, although his heroics behind the wheel remain the stuff of legend.

    Luckily, we were treated to an epic race befitting of the great man. Max Verstappen came oh-so close to stealing the British Grand Prix from under Lewis Hamilton’s nose the week before, but this time he dominated from the second row of the grid. Key to his pace was the tyre pressure changes introduced by Pirelli to combat the spectacular failures we’d seen the week before: suddenly, Max’s Red Bull could handle the rubber better, and he hustled his way past pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas on his way to his first win of the season.

  • Pierre Gasly won at Monza

    And it still doesn’t quite compute. The Italian Grand Prix got off to a dramatic start when Valtteri Bottas tumbled down the order on the opening lap, with the McLarens of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris leaping up to second and third. That was unusual enough, but it was nothing compared to what happened next.

    Kevin Magnussen coasted to a halt on lap 18, forcing officials to send out the safety car so marshals could clear the stricken Haas safely. Race leader Lewis Hamilton responded by diving into the pits, but neither he nor his crew realised that the pit lane had in fact been closed moments earlier to protect the marshalls on track. A 10-second stop-go penalty followed, blowing the race wide open.

    It was Gasly who emerged from the chaos at the front, inheriting the lead on lap 29 and never looking back on his way to the chequered flag. The Alpha Tauri driver - who was demoted from Red Bull half way through 2019 - proved his mettle by fending off intense pressure from Sainz in the closing stages, becoming the first Frenchman to win a Grand Prix since Olivier Panis at Monaco in 1996. Such was the scale of his achievement, the President of France rang to offer his congratulations after the race, but Gasly missed the call and had to ring him back later that evening. Sacre bleu!

  • Ferrari hits 1,000 F1 races at Mugello

    The mixed-up calendar gave F1 a chance to mark a significant milestone for its most famous team. Ferrari had racked up 991 entries heading into 2020, and some clever planning ensured that their 1,000th world championship grand prix could take place in their own backyard at Mugello, never before a host of an F1 race.

    The event was a great success, with the old-school circuit providing an old-school spectacle of relentless high-speed corners and punishing gravel traps, all set against the backdrop of the Tuscan hills. Simply, simply lovely, as Max Verstappen might say.

    As good as the race was for us, it wasn’t so good for Ferrari. Their cars - donning a special livery for the occasion - could only manage 8th and 10th, despite Charles Leclerc’s best efforts in qualifying. Too bad.

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  • Albon finally got his first podium

    Virtually every single F1 fan had been willing Alex Albon to get his first podium ever since his promotion to Red Bull in 2019, and the Thai driver looked set to do just that at the Brazilian GP later than year, only for Lewis Hamilton to spin him out of contention a lap and a half from the end. Alex was in prime position once more at the 2020 season-opener in Austria, but again a collision with Hamilton saw the dream snatched away.

    After an underwhelming run of races in which he didn’t look comfortable in the tricky Red Bull, Albon finally pounced at Mugello, pulling off a pair of outstanding moves to overtake Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo on a charge up to third place.

  • Hamilton found his voice on anti-racism

    When the season got underway in the summer the Black Lives Matter movement was at its peak, sparked by the death of American George Floyd at the hands of cops in Minnesota. The response around the world struck a chord with Lewis - F1’s only black driver in 70 years - whose own struggles with racism on the karting scene as a youngster are well known.

    Hamilton was critical of his competitors for not being more vocal about the issue on social media, and Mercedes responded by replacing their famous silver livery with a black paint job at the 11th hour in support of their main man. F1 also made room for an anti-racism demonstration ahead of every grand prix, in which most drivers chose to ‘take the knee’ throughout the season.

    But Lewis saw that he could do even more, taking to the podium at the Tuscan Grand Prix wearing a T-shirt condemning the death of Breonna Taylor, another victim of police brutality in the US. He also set up the Hamilton Commission, which will bring together experts to work out how to make motorsport a more diverse place.

    Whatever your views on Hamilton as a driver, he clearly recognises that there are more important things in life than racing.

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  • Two teams announced they’d become much cooler next year

    Former SEAT boss Luca de Meo became CEO of Renault in July, and immediately began reshaping a company that’s in desperate need of a shake up. And one of his first moves was to announce that the F1 team would be rebranded for 2021, with the Renault name making way for that of Alpine.

    De Meo’s bright idea is to turn Alpine into a “mini Ferrari”, using F1 to promote the brand and help turn the tide of poor sales that has put the future of the sensational A110 into doubt. If it saves that car from the scrapheap, TG is fully on board.

    This comes after it was revealed earlier in the year that Racing Point would be rebranded as Aston Martin for 2021 following investment from Lawrence Stroll. The billionaire - father of Lance Stroll - joined Aston as executive chairman as part of the deal, and his plan to get the British brand back onto a firm financial footing is centred around Aston’s involvement in F1.

    Big picture aside, seeing Aston and Alpine line up along with Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, McLaren and Mercedes is going to be pretty sweet indeed.

  • Leclerc crushed quali in Portimao

    Charles Leclerc has had his work cut out this year, with Ferrari’s SF1000 suffering from a lack of power and handling characteristics that even four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel couldn’t get on top of. It’s little wonder that the team finished sixth in the championship.

    In spite of everything, the Monegasque driver still produced a number of incredible performances, somehow finishing on the podium twice in a car that definitely didn’t deserve to be there. Chief among these drives was a sensational quali lap in Portimao that was virtually perfect, kissing every apex and carrying unbelievable speed around the undulating circuit.

    The lap put him fourth on the grid - just four tenths behind pole sitter Lewis Hamilton - and a whole 11 places higher than his teammate. Go look it up on YouTube and thank us later.

  • Kimi’s overtaking spree

    If it was Leclerc who starred in qualifying in Portugal, then it was Kimi Raikkonen who stood out most of all in the race. Briefly, anyway. Starting P16 on the grid, the 41-year-old took advantage of the fact that everyone was struggling to get their tyres up to temperature, executing an opening lap to rival the famous fifth-to-first that Ayrton Senna pulled off at Donington in 1993.

    Briefly dropping a position off the line, Kimi soon began carving his way through the field, diving inside and outside of rivals to climb a remarkable 11 places in just 15 corners. Not bad for a man who’s almost twice the age of some of F1’s rookies.

    Despite the start, Raikkonen’s race pace dwindled and he eventually crossed the line in 11th, just missing out on points. F1 already gives a bonus point for setting the fastest lap, how about for the most entertaining lap too?

  • Hamilton overhauls Schumacher

    There was a time when Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 grand prix wins looked impossible to break, but season after season of Mercedes dominance and sheer, relentless brilliance from Lewis Hamilton put the Briton on the brink this year.

    He missed his first chance to match the record at the Russian Grand Prix, but made no mistake two weeks later with an accomplished drive to victory 91 at the Eifel GP at the Nurburgring. There was a touching moment afterwards too as Schumacher’s son Mick - who’s set to race for Haas in 2021 - presented Lewis with one of his father’s helmets to recognise the achievement. We’re not crying, you’re crying.

    Hamilton went one better at the next race in Portugal, trouncing his teammate by nearly half a minute (a rare margin in a dry race these days) on his way to win 92. Further victories at Imola, Turkey and Bahrain brought that tally up to 95, and he says he’s far from finished. Gulp.

  • Ricciardo gets podium, wins tattoo bet

    After Lewis Hamilton had taken the chequered flag at the Nurburgring, all eyes turned to Daniel Ricciardo, who hasn’t featured at the front much in the two years since his switch from Red Bull to Renault. At the start of the season the Aussie made a bet with team principal Cyril Abiteboul that he would finish on the podium this year, with the wager being a tattoo of his choosing.

    Danny Ric had come agonisingly close three times already with fourth place finishes at Silverstone, Spa and Mugello, but that elusive podium finally arrived in Germany to the, er, delight of his boss.

    According to Ricciardo, Abiteboul gets to choose the size and placement of the tattoo, but he has the only say over the design itself. It’s got to be a honey badger, right?

  • The award for the best overtake goes to…

    F1 tends to get a bad wrap when it comes to overtaking, with purists claiming that DRS is too artificial and that the tyres can’t be pushed hard enough. Plenty of the drivers agree.

    But when you put 20 of the world’s best racers on the same track, they’re going to put on a show. And 2020 was no exception, with countless jaw dropping moves over the course of the 17-race calendar. We haven’t bothered to rank them here because, honestly, we don’t need the aggro. But our nominees are:

    Perez on Sainz, Styrian GP: the Mexican swept by on the outside of Turn 6 where few others could make such a move stick.

    Albon on Perez, Tuscan GP: a sneaky dive on the exit of Turn 3, setting up his maiden podium finish.

    Perez on Ocon, Portugese GP: wheel to wheel for almost half a lap, Perez eventually got his nose in front of the Renault on his charge from the back of the field.

    Leclerc on Magnussen, Emilia Romagna GP: a bold move on the outside of the Turn 6 hairpin, something barely anyone else bothered to try, let alone pull off.

    Kvyat on Leclerc, Emilia Romagna GP: on fresh rubber, Kvyat gambled everything into Turn 9 and somehow kept the Alpha Tauri on the road, earning his best finish of the year.

    Russell on Bottas, Sakhir GP: again it was tyres that made the difference here, but to run your new teammate right to the limit on your debut and with a potential win at stake is as ballsy as it gets.

    Which was best? We’ll leave that entirely up to you.

  • Stroll on pole in Turkey

    Lance Stroll often gets it in the neck for being F1’s foremost ‘pay driver’, i.e. someone whose presence on the grid can be explained by the size of their wallet rather than the depths of their driving talent. The impression isn’t helped by the fact that Racing Point is part-owned by, er, Stroll’s dad, and when someone had to make way for Sebastian Vettel for 2021, it was F1’s surprise podium expert Sergio Perez who got the chop. Hmm.

    But sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due, and Lance earned a bucket load of it when he stuck his ‘Pink Mercedes’ on pole at the treacherously wet Turkish Grand Prix. In horrendous conditions and on a track that was already low on grip in the dry, Stroll held his nerve with a stupendous lap in Q3 that was nearly five seconds faster than Lewis Hamilton could manage. Yowzer.

    Stroll impressed again in the race, leading for 32 of the 58 laps before hitting trouble with a fresh set of intermediate tyres. He eventually finished ninth.

  • Lewis’ won title #7 with a wet weather masterclass

    As Stroll’s hopes faded in Turkey, Lewis Hamilton worked his magic once again to claim a stunning victory and secure his seventh world championship crown. Mercedes were actually having a terrible weekend until about half-way through the race, with the unique conditions making it almost impossible for them to get the tyres up to temperature. At one point it looked like Lewis’s Merc would be stuck behind Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari all afternoon.

    How they left Turkey with the win, only Hamilton’s genius can explain. Lewis pitted after only eight laps to swap his wet tyres for intermediates, but somehow he survived the next 50 without stopping again. By the time he parked up after the race, you could see his tyres were in such bad shape that they’d basically become slicks. And he won anyway. In the wet. By over 30 seconds. Having lapped his teammate. Who spun half a dozen times.

    The victory saw him draw level with Michael Schumacher’s tally of seven world titles: how many more can he win?

  • George Russell almost won (twice) on his Mercedes debut

    With both the drivers and constructors championships sewn up, it looked like the season was destined to fizzle out quietly. But there were more fireworks to come as it was announced that Lewis Hamilton had tested positive for Covid-19 the day after winning the Bahrain Grand Prix.

    Who would fill in for the seven-time champ? Step up George Russell, the Mercedes young driver who - despite not scoring a single point in almost two years with Williams - is regarded as future world champion material by those in the know.

    His performance at the Sakhir GP emphatically showed us why. Everything was against him: not only had he never driven the Merc before but he could barely squeeze into the seat, having to wear boots a size too small just to operate the pedals. And yet he still managed to put the car on the front row of the grid (just 0.026s off pole), before wrestling the lead off Valtteri Bottas down into Turn 1 on race day and leaving the Finn in his dust.

    At one point he had an eight-second lead, but it wasn’t meant to be. A mix-up in the pits forced him to stop again a lap later, dropping him to fifth behind the safety car with 24 laps to go. He still had the pace to win but after dispatching three of the four cars up ahead, a puncture took him out of the running. “I’m absolutely gutted,” he said afterwards. Us too George, us too.

  • Sergio Perez got his first win at the 190th attempt

    The silver lining of Russell’s misfortune was that it gave us a different surprise winner, and who could begrudge Sergio Perez his first ever F1 win in what could yet prove to be his penultimate race?

    The Mexican has had quite the year, missing two races after contracting Covid-19 and later discovering that - even though he had a contract for 2021 - the team he helped rescue from financial Armageddon in 2018 was dumping him in favour of Sebastian Vettel. Ouch.

    Despite the turmoil Perez had been a class act on track, scoring the vast majority of Racing Point’s points and grabbing two podiums in three races heading into the Sakhir GP. It didn’t look like he’d be repeating the trick after lap 1 though, with Charles Leclerc punting him into stone dead last after a mistake in Turn 4.

    “A lot can happen in this race,” said Perez’s engineer on the team radio, and boy was he right. Sergio drove like a man possessed as he picked off rivals one by one, climbing back up to third before Mercedes shot themselves in the foot, decided that wasn’t enough and shot themselves in the other foot for good measure. Perez cruised home 10 seconds clear of Esteban Ocon in second, setting a new record for the longest wait for an F1 win.

  • Seb’s emotional Ferrari farewell

    Sebastian Vettel departs Ferrari having, in his own words, “failed” in his quest to bring the world title back to Maranello. Even though he didn’t achieve his main target, his six-year stint was a memorable one.

    He doesn’t always show it but Seb is a big softie at heart, and after crossing the line in his final outing for the team in Abu Dhabi, he paid tribute to the team with a sing-song over the radio. Not only had he gone to the trouble of adapting the lyrics of a popular Italian song, he’d even written them down on a piece of paper tucked into his glove before the race. Aww.

    To cap it all off, he gave teammate Charles Leclerc his helmet as a parting gift. A handwritten message on the lid read: “To Charles, you are the most talented driver I came across in 15 years of F1. Don’t waste it. But be sure whatever you do to be happy and smile. Thanks for everything!” What a man.

  • Romain Grosjean survived a horror crash

    The Bahrain Grand Prix got off to a horrifying start as Romain Grosjean tagged Daniil Kvyat on the opening lap, spinning the Frenchman into a metal barrier at 137mph. The force of the crash was so huge that it tore the Haas completely in half, instantly erupting into a huge fireball. The race was immediately red flagged.

    To everyone’s immense relief Grosjean managed to wriggle free from the wreckage, with his fire retardant race suit and quick thinking from the marshals giving him just enough time to escape the blaze. Romain was trapped in the inferno for almost 30 seconds, but somehow only suffered minor burns to his hands and ankle. And all this was after the halo had taken the brunt of an impact that almost certainly would’ve been fatal had it not been there. Scary stuff.

    Grosjean’s account of the accident after his release from hospital was extraordinary. The Frenchman said there was a moment when he accepted that he was going to die, and that he only managed to fight his way out of the cockpit after thinking of his kids back at home.

    The whole episode was a timely reminder of what every single driver - whatever their skill level - is putting on the line when they get behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car. And thanks to the sport’s continuous push for better safety, Romain can walk away with the rest of his life ahead of him. Best news all year.

    Picture: LAT Images

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