Racing Point, McLaren and Renault are at logger-heads for best of the rest but the Ferrari situation could help their case in the shortened 2020 F1 season.
In the F1 paddock, the teams’ various motorhomes are placed in order of their previous year’s championship position. At the far end sits Williams – the team that was last in the 2019 standings, and at the near end, Mercedes and Ferrari can be found.
However, as the 2020 F1 season gets underway, it has become clear that the positioning of these motorhomes and hospitality areas is not representative of the pace of the teams. It’s rare that there is a totally accurate representation given the natural grid shuffling that occurs over an off-season.
But it is even rarer that the changing of the guard is so drastic as has been the case in this season, in which the biggest change of all has been Ferrari’s position in the pecking order. Seemingly behind multiple mid-field outfits, they are tentatively ranked fifth fastest after the first race.
Despite the Italian giant’s enormous resources, one team that looks set to give them a run for their money is Racing Point, who turned up to the 2020 F1 season opener with what is an undeniably quick car.
Admittedly, the race did not go the way of the team, but their sole finishing car still crossed the line ahead of Sebastian Vettel in Austria, and this gives Sergio Perez immense pleasure after two tougher years for the team with which he owes his allegiance.
“I think it was great, great to see the team fighting up there, being in the mix with the Ferraris, with the McLarens,” said Perez to media including Racefans.net, Motorsport Network and other permanent pass holders. “I think we’re definitely enjoying a good pace. We were competitive in qualifying, we were competitive in the race.
“I think we were very unlucky in the race, first with in the end, we got wrong the strategy, so therefore we lost a potential podium. And then with Lance retiring the car, we lost some very valuable points in the championship. I do expect that it’s going to be a very close challenge between us and McLaren.
“I think it will be very interesting to go to a different circuit, Hungary coming next, that will give something very interesting. It’s early days still. The margin is extremely tight. Half a tenth changes your life completely in that mix. McLaren maximised the first weekend more than we did. Hopefully this weekend we can turn it around,” summed up Perez, who finished sixth having been beaten out by both McLaren drivers, albeit with some handicaps.
This result exemplifies not only the pace of the McLaren, but also the competitiveness between the two closely-matched F1 outfits, of whom Perez says there is no clear front-runner. “I think it’s extremely close,” he said. We matched them in qualifying, they were ahead in qualifying. I overtook them in the race, but it’s very, very close, then they overtook us back.
“It’s very much even and will be down to the drivers for now,” Perez added on his expectations for the upcoming F1 race at Hungary, in which he is expecting similar performance to that of Austria, as well as the areas where he feels his RP20 could use work, and the team atmosphere.
The teammate of Perez at Racing Point – Lance Stroll – was equally happy with the team’s standing as of now, even though he was disappointed to have been unable to cash in on a potential points score due to a mechanical DNF and greater mechanical issues.
“It’s great to see where we stand,” said Stroll. “We were really competitive all weekend, from the first practice, and all the way throughout qualifying. It was a great way to kick off the season. I think it’s all because of the hard work that everyone has done over the winter, and to put this package together is really great.
“That’s how we wanted to kick off the season, and we’ve definitely taken a good step forward from last year. Those are all positives, and then yeah, it’s just a shame about the race. I retired on lap 20, but we were already battling issues from lap five onwards. That was frustrating. And then of course Checo had a good possibility to finish on the podium, and with the strategy, it just slipped away from him.
“We didn’t really capitalise on how competitive we were, but it’s still early days, and we’ve just got to bounce back,” said Stroll, who was on the same page of Perez with regards to the pace of Racing Point relative to its rivals. “I think it’s so tight between us and McLaren and Ferrari, that it really depends on the lap, and ultimately I don’t think it’s really possible to say at this stage who is quicker and who is in front because it’s so tight.
“Then in the race, of course it was disappointing not to get the maximum out of it. We missed out on a lot of points with Sergio’s strategy and my retirement. That’s a frustrating part, but it’s still early days. This weekend we want to take another step forward and try and improve our package, and start even further up the grid, and definitely grab some more points,” summed up Stroll.
As was previously mentioned, McLaren are likely the biggest competition for Ferrari and Racing Point, and have their eyes set on beating the former of the two this year – a challenge they made inroads on in Austria last week, but will still be tackling ‘one F1 race at a time’ in the words of the team’s driver, Lando Norris.
The Brit believes that they won’t be fighting for podiums regularly, and that Ferrari will have the better car over the course of the season. “I think it was a very good start,” said Norris. “I don’t think we can put that into question. I think we can only be taking it one race at a time still – the midfield is very close. Ferrari still have a lot of strengths, which they’ve not been able to show as much.
“So I think they’ll come back into play a lot in future races. But we’ve just given ourselves a very good platform to go off of and to see further improvements. But I still believe Ferrari have a better car than what we do as a whole package – throughout the whole season. I don’t think we’re probably going to be consistently fighting for podiums.
“So I think we still need to focus on ourselves, do the best we can, and if we end up in positions like having podiums or P4 or P5 then I think it’s a job well done for us. But I don’t think we have the package as a whole to say we’re going to be fighting the top three very often,” said Norris, who also spoke on the car’s behavior with higher fuel loads, as did his teammate Carlos Sainz.
Sainz was also hesitant to evaluate the performance of the MCL35 that has thus far only driven in anger at one track, and one too that is particularly strong for McLaren. “I think we first need to go to a few tracks to evaluate our performance,” started the Spaniard.
“I feel like Austria in the last couple of years has been a very good track for us. Last year we already performed very strongly here and other tracks might expose a bit more weakness of our package. But overall I think it’s been a very strong start – something to be proud of after such a tough period of time and we just need to keep pushing.
“I just think it’s too early to evaluate. I know we were all waiting for the first race of the year to see where we all are – but I think we still need a few more races to see how other different tracks – like max-downforce in Hungary – changes the pecking order.”
Also in the fight is Renault, whose Daniel Ricciardo weighed in on the ‘tight’ fight, as he pegged his F1 team to be within one tenth of their rivals at the sharp end of the midfield. “I think it’s close,” started the Australian, who also later covered some areas in which his team may need to improve as his teammate discussed his race.
“The whole field certainly seems a bit closer this year, at least if we remove the front row for now, from second row back, it is tight. I was happy with the car really from the get go on the Friday. Lap one was solid and then we built from there. I did get a bit unlucky in qualifying, otherwise I think we were a top seven, safe to say a top eight car in qualy.
“I think we’re there, at least where we want to be. We’re certainly in that fight. The race was a bit cut short for me. Even though I did only a small amount of laps, there were still some things which I learned from the race that we can be better at. For now, a little bit more for the race trim car we can find, but qualy-spec car, I think we’re there.
“Hard to say what position we are, but that midfield, I want to say we’re right at the front of it, within a tenth,” summed up the Ricciardo. Looking at the car performances in different fuel loads, all of their F1 drivers didn’t want to give too much away.
Perez said the driver could make the difference in such situations as he feels Racing Point needs to improve in low-speed and high-speed corners, whereas high-speed is solid. As for Ricciardo, he stressed on managing the car in high fuel load where they are losing too much of tyre which degrades the lap times. Norris, on the other hand, stated that McLaren is working on balancing the gap between low to high, where they are better on the former.
None of the above F1 teams, though, will have as easy a time of things in their fight against Ferrari in the coming races, as the team are bringing major upgrades. Notably, these will not improve straight-line performance, but rather the aerodynamics of the car. They have a new front wing along with a floor this weekend alongside some aero parts with more to come in Hungary.
Charles Leclerc discussed the coming evolution to the SF1000, saying that he hopes they are a step in the right direction in the development of a poor-performing car. “I think it will be important that this updates are working the proper way and we make a step from that,” he said. “This will show that we’ve been working in the right direction, if not then it will be a bad sign. But I am confident that these updates will bring some performance into the car. But how much is still to be told on track, but let’s see.
His teammate Vettel added that the significance of these upgrades is not yet known as a cloud of uncertainty looms. “It’s still early in the season,” he said. Obviously we don’t know how long the season will be, but for sure it will be a good indication for us to see if it’s the right direction for us or not. I think you always have certain expectations, but the best answer is the stopwatch when you get on track. Obviously one is what we feel and the other one is the times we are clocking. So we are excited about it and obviously interesting to see in direct comparison to last weekend where we will end up.”
Here’s Charles Leclerc on his Monaco travel
Here’s information on Ferrari upgrades for Styrian GP
Here’s Charles Leclerc on Austrian GP podium
Here’s Lando Norris on fighting for F1 podium
The story was edited by Darshan Chokhani
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