10 moments that decided the 2020 F1 championship fight - The Race
Formula 1

10 moments that decided the 2020 F1 championship fight

Nov 15 2020
By Scott Mitchell

Lewis Hamilton’s seventh Formula 1 title has been wrapped up in comprehensive fashion with three races remaining, an impressive achievement given the shorter-than-usual 2020 calendar.

More wins than any other driver and a commanding defeat of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas paint a picture of utter domination of a season in which Hamilton matched Michael Schumacher’s two greatest F1 records.

The path to Hamilton’s latest championship, his fourth in a row and sixth in seven years, has seemed straightforward at the business end of the season.

It makes it easy to forget the early elimination of two expected rivals, the opening-round setback that gave Bottas the early edges, and the series of unfortunate events for Hamilton’s rivals that swung the championship in his favour – couple, of course, with some moments of Hamilton magic.

One of the best of those came on the day he claimed the crown, as he turned what looked like a muted run to sealing it in Turkey into one of his most unexpected and impressive victories of recent years.

But while Istanbul was the cherry on top of the cake, in reality the cake was well and truly sorted long before then.

Here are 10 defining moments that decided the 2020 title and made the Turkish GP coronation possible. Be sure to leave your opinions on the turning points of the year in the comments at the foot of the page.

1. A KEY RIVAL REMOVED EARLY

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Austrian Grand Prix Race Day Spielberg, Austria

On the basis of the second half of 2019 – well, until the United States Grand Prix – Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel should have been title contenders this year.

But nobody could have predicted the size of the step back made with the SF1000 – mainly down to the sudden engine deficit the car had compared to 2019.

The impact of the FIA’s technical directives at the end of 2019 through to the start of 2020 badly impacted Ferrari, even though it claimed others were harmed as well.

Whether this performance hit was justified, and what it said of Ferrari’s 2019 form, is not the point here. It’s the consequence.

Pre-season testing revealed Ferrari was struggling. The delayed start to the championship meant we had to wait a few months to find out how much. But when F1 turned up in Austria in July, the answer was painfully clear. Leclerc and Vettel were immediately dismissed as title candidates.


2. HAMILTON’S AUSTRIAN RECOVERY

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Austrian Grand Prix 2020

Bottas drew first blood in the title fight but the significance of the opening round was as much Hamilton being off-key as it was Bottas striking early.

Hamilton had an unusually clumsy weekend at the Austrian Grand Prix, losing a lap in qualifying to a track limits offence and then picking up a small grid penalty for failing to slow for yellow flags on his fast lap.

He was shadowing Bottas late in the race when he clashed with Alex Albon trying to defend second place after a safety car restart and picked up a time penalty that, coupled with a phenomenal final few laps from Lando Norris, dropped Hamilton to fourth at the finish.

But one week later, a crushing pole position in the wet earned Hamilton pole position while Bottas was only fourth on the grid. Hamilton’s commanding victory as Bottas made his way back to second immediately undid half the damage of the previous week.

Meanwhile, Max Verstappen left Red Bull’s home races already a race win adrift of the championship lead after retiring from the opener when in easy podium contention, then finishing third a week later in an RB16 already looking no match for the W11.

After Styria


3. BOTTAS’S BOTCHED START

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Race Day Budapest, Hungary

Bottas’s time in the lead of the championship was limited to just two races as Hamilton stormed to victory in Hungary in comfortable fashion.

More significantly, symbolically as well as in points terms, was Bottas’s failure to follow his team-mate home.

Bottas was lucky to escape a jump-start penalty for moving before the lights went out, but that’s as fortunate as he got that Sunday afternoon.

He dropped down the order and spent half the race trying to get back into the podium places.

When he did, Verstappen was too far ahead for Bottas to regain second.

It was Red Bull’s defeat of a Mercedes in the season and came after a Herculean effort from the team to fix Verstappen’s broken car on the grid after he crashed on a reconnaissance lap.

After Hungary


4. A TALE OF TWO PUNCTURES

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Race Day Silverstone, England

Bottas was heading for a third consecutive defeat at the British GP but was at least limiting it to a seven-point loss. Then his front-left tyre failed just after he passed the pitlane entry.

That condemned Bottas to an entire lap with a puncture and with three laps left he limped into the pitlane and fell out of the points.

To add insult to injury, Hamilton suffered his own puncture soon after – but on the final lap, and later in the lap as well. Plus, Red Bull had just pitted Verstappen, who was now more than half a minute behind.

The championship leader made the most of his good fortune, effectively three-wheeling over the line just a few seconds clear of Verstappen – and suddenly bursting clear at the top of the standings.

Bottas, by contrast, suddenly had to look over his shoulder with Verstappen now just six points behind.

After Britain


5. VERSTAPPEN GETS IN THE WAY

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship 70th Anniversary Grand Prix Race Day Silverstone, England

Bottas looked like he was bouncing back in emphatic fashion by beating Hamilton to pole for F1’s second Silverstone race.

Unfortunately for Bottas he’d picked Mercedes’ weakest race of the season to be the outright faster of the two drivers.

As the W11 worked that weekend’s softer-compound tyres harder than the Red Bull, Bottas and Hamilton fell into the clutches of a storming Verstappen – who forced Bottas into an early pitstop and extended his own first stint comfortably to grab the lead shortly after rejoining from his stop.

But Bottas’s frustrations didn’t end with losing victory. His early pitstop turned out to be a strategic misstep, as Mercedes’ attempt to protect its race leader backfired.

Hamilton was able to make his tyres last longer and leapfrogged his team-mate, thus finding a way to extend his championship lead.

Bottas went the other way, falling behind Verstappen in the points.

And the end of the triple-header offered no respite, as another slow start in Spain meant he fell behind Verstappen on the opening lap.

Hamilton was in the zone out front and stretched his lead to an unusually big winning margin, while Bottas had no answer to Verstappen.

Bottas cut a miserable figure post-race. Instead of fighting Hamilton he wasn’t even his team-mate’s biggest challenger.

After Spain


6. BOTTAS BLOWS A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Race Day Monza, Italy

After losing to Hamilton in Belgium, Bottas had a huge chance to take a chunk out of the deficit in Italy.

A misjudgement during a safety car period meant Hamilton entered the pitlane when it was closed and he picked up a stop-go penalty. When he served it after a red flag and a full standing restart, he was well outside the points and a long way off the back of the pack.

But Bottas wasn’t in a position to take advantage. Yet another slow launch had dropped him behind the leading midfield runners at the original start.

And he made basically no progress thereafter, hindered by Mercedes’ higher-downforce set-up and the loss of the full suite of engine modes thanks to a new regulation in place from this race onwards.

Bottas took the full restart in seventh, and was only fifth at the flag. Hamilton was just two places behind, with fastest lap to his name, and his disaster amounted to a paltry three-point loss.

The only consolation for Bottas was he reclaimed second in the championship as Verstappen clocked a DNF due to an engine issue.

After Italy


7. HAMILTON WINS THE BATTLE OF THE RESTARTS

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Tuscan Grand Prix Race Day Mugello, Italy

Bottas had the upper-hand through Friday practice for the Tuscan Grand Prix, forcing Hamilton to employ a forensic analysis of his struggles. That led to a stellar Saturday turnaround that won Hamilton pole position by half a tenth.

But Hamilton got a slow start while Bottas aced it to lead into Turn 1. A multi-car crash at Turn 3 then wiped out Verstappen, who seemed set for retirement anyway after a Honda engine issue meant he was swamped off the line, and triggered a safety car.

Bottas handled the rolling restart with aplomb to keep Hamilton at bay despite the ultra-long run down to Turn 1.

But while his late launch was essential to holding the lead, the knock-on effect led to an enormous accident behind and caused a red flag.

Ironically that would prove Bottas’s undoing. It necessitated a full standing restart, which Hamilton nailed to sweep past Bottas on the outside of Turn 1.

There was incredibly one final chance for Bottas as another red flag late on meant another restart. But he got a poor launch, fell behind Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, and had to find a way back into second place, which is where he finished.

After Tuscan


8. VERSTAPPEN THE THIRD WHEEL

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Russian Grand Prix Race Day Sochi, Russia

Verstappen’s early heroics kept him on the periphery of the title fight, especially when he got ahead of Bottas in the points, but the reality was the Red Bull-Honda package was never quick enough.

And it turned out the RB16 also lacked the reliability to just chug along and keep picking up the pieces.

His mid-season momentum was curtailed by back-to-back engine problems at Monza and Mugello.

So he’d fallen well behind by the time he finally got the better of Hamilton again at the Russian Grand Prix, where Hamilton’s bid was wrecked by two controversial time penalties.

A three-point gain for finishing second behind Bottas at Sochi was of no real benefit for Max’s season. He’d been reduced to being a third wheel in the championship fight and an interloper on the podium.

After Russia


9. SCHUMACHER’S RECORD FALLS

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Portuguese Grand Prix Race Day Portimao, Portugal

An overzealous “f-you” after winning in Russia seemed like just the placebo Bottas needed to get some momentum into his ailing season.

He followed that up with a superb pole position lap at the Nurburgring for the Eifel Grand Prix and led early on after a feisty riposte when Hamilton briefly took the advantage.

However, Bottas made a small mistake at Turn 1 while coming under pressure from Hamilton, locked up, lost the lead, flat-spotted a tyre and had to pit.

With the race evolving into a two-stop strategy Bottas was adamant he still had a chance to fight back and win, but he never came close to finding out as a rare Mercedes engine problem forced him to retire.

Hamilton surged on to victory, matching Schumacher’s win record in the process, while Verstappen took a chunk back out of Bottas in the fight for second in the points.

Even with his title hopes wafer-thin, a stubborn Bottas did his best to make Hamilton’s run to the title too easy.

Hamilton took pole for F1’s first visit to Algarve but medium tyres on a cold, low-grip track and with rain in the air made for a challenging opening lap.

Bottas initially fell to third behind Verstappen but forced his way back to second with an aggressive move, then passed Hamilton later in the lap to lead.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Portuguese Grand Prix Race Day Portimao, Portugal

McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr then overtook both Mercedes for a brief spell at the front before Bottas took control again, but Hamilton soon began to fight back.

He’d kept his cool during the early setback and closed in on Bottas through the opening stint, then passed him with ease before bolting clear to the biggest winning margin F1 had seen in years.

It was a fitting way to eclipse Schumacher on 92 victories, move Hamilton three race wins clear of Bottas, and put him on the brink of title number seven.

After Portugal


10. ROGUE FERRARI PART ROBS BOTTAS

Whatsapp Image 2020 11 01 At 14.35.55

Bottas’s perseverance looked like it might finally be rewarded with a third win of the season on F1’s return to Imola, where he eclipsed Hamilton on the final runs in qualifying then led early on.

But Bottas picked up a bizarre, hefty performance problem on lap two when he struck Sebastian Vettel’s broken front wing endplate, which got wedged in the Mercedes’ bargeboards.

That hurt Bottas’s pace to the tune of several tenths and when he pit early to cover Verstappen, who had jumped Hamilton at the start, the released Hamilton started to lap much faster.

Hamilton extended his stint by a long way, and was poised to rejoin ahead of the squabbling Bottas and Verstappen even before a perfectly-timed virtual safety car guaranteed him track position after his pitstop.

Like at Silverstone with the pair of punctures, Hamilton was on the right side of good fortune again – but he’d put himself in position to benefit from that stroke of luck.

Bottas was set to finish on the final step of the podium after finally being passed by Verstappen but inherited second when the Red Bull suffered a puncture and spun into retirement.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

It robbed Verstappen of any realistic hopes of stealing second in the championship in the process, but more significantly Bottas dropping more points to Hamilton put Hamilton in position to wrap up the championship.

And he did so at the first attempt, moving into an unassailable points lead on F1’s return to Turkey to clinch the title with three races to spare – doing it the hard way by coming back from a weekend of grip struggles to take one of his least likely victories.

That Bottas had one of his worst weekends of 2020 – spinning six times and finishing a lapped 14th – was telling but also irrelevant. Hamilton was destined for this one no matter what Bottas did.

Afterturkey

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Tuscan Grand Prix Race Day Mugello, Italy

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