F1 2020: Hamilton begins title defence as delayed season starts in Austria

Omnisport

Lewis Hamilton will begin the defence of his Formula One drivers' title four months later than initially planned as the 2020 campaign belatedly gets under way with the Austrian Grand Prix.

The season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne was cancelled in March while teams were at the circuit during raceweek just as the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdown measures started to take effect around the world.

A full season schedule is yet to be confirmed, but eight races in Europe are due to take place, with the first two due to be held in consecutive weekends at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg.

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The first of those events in Austria begins at 15:10 local time (14:10 BST) on Sunday, with Mercedes driver Hamilton now a six-time world champion and within one crown of tying Michael Schumacher for the all-time record of seven.

 

LAST TIME OUT

If the last race seems like it was so long ago, it is because it was. This is the first race for more than seven months, with the last event of the 2019 season having been the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December.

That grand prix was one of the least exciting of the campaign and saw Hamilton crown his title success with a dominant race victory, winning from pole position with Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc making up the remaining podium places.

Valtteri Bottas charged through from the back of the grid to finish fourth, ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Alex Albon.

 

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN AUSTRIA

While pre-season testing provides a guide, no one truly knows where each team stands with their cars until we have seen them in full competitive action.

That is true for any season, but the delayed start to the 2020 campaign - and the chance of drivers being a little rusty - will have fans hoping the early races are more unpredictable than ever.

Vettel has a point to prove in what will be his last season with Ferrari, though he may have a tough task after the team revealed they have had to make a major redesign to their car since testing, with those upgrades not available until Hungary.

His replacement Carlos Sainz and McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo will also be in the spotlight after their 2021 moves were announced during lockdown, while Lando Norris revealed drivers have discussed taking a knee to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Three in a row for Max? - After finishing first in both 2018 and 2019, Red Bull's Verstappen is looking to become the first driver to win three Austrian Grands Prix in a row. He would also equal the overall record for Austria victories, held by Alain Prost (a winner in 1983, 1985 and 1986).

Lewis looks to improve - Hamilton only has one win in Austria, which came in the 2016 season. Only in Australia (last win in 2015) has the British driver endured a longer winless run than in Austria of races that were in the 2019 schedule.

Vettel nears landmark – The German needs a podium finish to reach 3,000 points in F1, a milestone only achieved by Hamilton (3,431).

Good omen for Ferrari - The first grand prix of the previous two decades were both won by Ferrari in 2000 (Schumacher) and in 2010 (Fernando Alonso).

History to be made - This will be the first F1 season to start with a race in Europe since the 1966 championship began in Monaco, while the Red Bull Ring will become the first-ever circuit to host back-to-back grands prix.

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