The 2020 Austrian Grand Prix heralded a welcome return to Formula 1 after a delayed start to the season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced the world into lockdown.
Ten Grand Prix (Australia, Bahrain, China, Vietnam, Netherlands, Spain, Monaco, Azerbaijan, Canada and France) have been either postponed or cancelled outright as countries attempt to curb the spread of a virus that has already claimed millions of lives worldwide.
When F1 returned it did so in a tightly controlled bubble. Each visitor to the Austrian Grand Prix paddock was required to take multiple swab tests prior to being giving access to F1’s inner sanctum, and of the thousands of F1 personnel was subject to strict guidelines as to where they can go and who they can mix with.
And of course, there were no spectators, which gave the Red Bull Ring an eerily empty feel.
Away from the track it has been a tumultuous time for the Williams F1 team. A lack of competitiveness over a prolonged period of time, no racing and the last minute withdrawal of title sponsor ROKiT has hit their finances hard, and the Williams family has made the decision to put the team up for sale, just as the safe haven of a budget cap appears on the horizon.
And so – sadly – the 2020 Grand Prix season could be the last for Williams as a family owned constructor.
Despite this, the team arrived at the track for the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix with a renewed optimism, following a much improved showing in pre-season testing in Barcelona. However, come Saturday, it was clear that Williams still had work to do if it was to plant itself in F1’s midfield (as is the hope), with a somewhat disappointing 17th and 20th in qualifying for George Russell and F1 debutant Nicholas Latifi respectively.
More struggles were to follow come the race, cooling and fuel pressure issues cemented the two Williams cars to the back of the field, before George’s retirement (mechanical) on lap 49.
Nicholas was able to complete the race distance on his F1 debut, crossing the line in 11th position, one place away from a points finish, glad to be in the car and learning as he goes.
“Today was all about learning for me. We struggled early on in the race with some cooling issues so I couldn’t push as hard as I wanted to. It was about managing a bunch of things, but that is part of Formula One, it can happen.
We got caught out by the first safety car, by staying out an extra lap. Most of the race was unfortunately done by myself, so it was nice that the safety car came out at the end so I could experience running close to the other cars. I am frustrated that I was so close to getting a point, but it is a learning experience and I will come back stronger next weekend.” he told williams.com
Next up is the 2020 Styrian GP – the second of two races at the Red Bull Ring. Hopefully Williams can build on the progress made this weekend and gain further strides back towards the front of the grid.