Hamil­ton eyes Schumi’s record as F1 steps into a new world

Sea­son-opener will be run at Spiel­berg on Sunday be­hind closed doors, with­out fans, spon­sors’ agents and guests

Gulf Times - Gulf Times Sport - - FRONT PAGE -

Seven months after they last com­peted in earnest, the For­mula One cir­cus will push a post-lock­down re­set but­ton to open the 2020 sea­son in Aus­tria on Sunday.

The event at Spiel­berg is be­ing held on its orig­i­nal cal­en­dar date, but is not the once-an­tic­i­pated 11th round of the cham­pi­onship, but the first — a sea­son-opener de­layed by the global coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

More than three months after the Aus­tralian Grand Prix was aban­doned on the eve of open­ing prac­tice in Mel­bourne, the race in the Styr­ian Alps will be run be­hind closed doors, with­out fans, spon­sors’ agents and guests and only a hand­ful of re­porters re­stricted to the me­dia cen­tre.

The usual high-rise mo­tor homes will be re­placed by tents and awnings while the teams, cut to 80 mem­bers and all in pro­tec­tive gear, will op­er­ate in sani­tised “bubbles within bubbles” in a pad­dock bereft of hu­man contact and the usual swell of ru­mour and spec­u­la­tion.

For all in­volved, who are tested four days be­fore the event and five days later, it will be an un­prece­dented and unique ex­pe­ri­ence.

Yet, de­spite all the change and the sur­real at­mos­phere it is ex­pected that the ac­tion, when it be­gins, will de­liver the same likely story.

Lewis Hamil­ton, pow­ered by the all-con­quer­ing Mercedes, goes in search of a sev­enth driv­ers’ ti­tle to equal the record of Michael Schu­macher.

“It has been un­bear­able — I have missed the racing and the com­pe­ti­tion so much, so it will be great to be back,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.

Even dur­ing lock­down, driv­ers moves for next year took place, Fer­rari an­nounc­ing the re­lease of four-time cham­pion Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, to be suc­ceeded by Car­los Sainz of McLaren and Daniel Ric­cia­rdo sign­ing to leave Re­nault and be the Spa­niard’s replacemen­t at the cash-starved out­fit so badly hit by the pan­demic.

ON THE MOVE

Those 2021 moves will not af­fect this year’s line-ups, but may af­fect re­la­tion­ships be­tween de­part­ing driv­ers and teams anx­ious not to al­low unique op­er­a­tional and per­for­mance in­tel­li­gence to leave with them.

If any­where, this is likely to have most ef­fect at Fer­rari as the Ital­ian team strives to avoid open con­flict be­tween ris­ing star

Charles Le­clerc and Vet­tel, who is a free agent and a po­ten­tial tar­get for not only Re­nault, but also Mercedes.

The pair, who were in­tense ri­vals last year, tested in Italy last week ahead of the open­ing “dou­ble-header” with two suc­ces­sive races at Aus­tria’s Red Bull Ring cir­cuit be­fore a third race in Hun­gary.

“I have no ex­pe­ri­ence of head­ing back to the same track and hav­ing a sec­ond race, but I’ve been around for a while,” said Vet­tel.

“I guess the level of per­fec­tion will be higher the sec­ond week­end — the level of er­rors will be even smaller.

“It will be a chance to re­view strat­egy just seven days af­ter­wards so that’s a first and let’s see how we tackle that chal­lenge.”

ORANGE AID

The open­ing three races form just part of an in­ten­sive spell of eight Euro­pean races in 10 weeks, which may be­come nine in 11 if a round at Mugello, in Italy, is added.

Vet­tel added that he “can’t imag­ine what it will be like to race with­out any fans,” es­pe­cially at the sweep­ing cir­cuit where Max Ver­stap­pen was roared to vic­tory by a huge orange wave of Dutch sup­port­ers last year.

Ver­stap­pen and Red Bull are ex­pected to chal­lenge Mercedes, with Fer­rari and Racing Point, newly dubbed “the pink Mercedes” team after copy­ing the cham­pi­ons’ cars, in close pur­suit in the open­ing events where it will be in­trigu­ing to see if Hamil­ton’s fo­cus has been af­fected by his ac­tive and vo­cal sup­port for the cur­rent anti-racism protests.

(AFP)

In this June 30, 2019, pic­ture, Fer­rari’s Mone­gasque driver Charles Le­clerc leads at the start of the Aus­trian Grand Prix in Spiel­berg.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamil­ton.

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