We’ve never needed Formula 1 more than we did this year.
After months of depressing inactivity and nothing but bad news, the mid-summer return of grand prix racing four months after the cancellation of the Australian GP gave us a welcome distraction from the trials of real life. Huge efforts were made to string together an emergency schedule of races, eventually totalling an impressive 17, almost entirely based in Europe and mostly run to empty grandstands. The odd circumstances opened the door for circuits that never previously had any hope of hosting a grand prix – and offered a return to some old favourites.
Without access to watch trackside, we relied more than ever on TV broadcasters to take us to the heart of the action. Former F1 driver Karun Chandhok is among the finest, the Sky pundit among the privileged few to tread the paddocks in 2020. Autocar caught up with him ahead of the concluding Abu Dhabi GP to review a season that should be remembered as a triumph.
What has it been like covering this ‘Covid season’ from the inside?
“It has been a complicated year. First of all, there were the big unknowns of if and when it would start and how many races there would be. My expectation was that we would have 12, maximum. That we had 17 is a massive credit to F1. Going back to Turkey, Imola and the Nürburgring and heading to new places like Portimão and Mugello created new storylines. F1 deserves a lot of credit. It’s one thing getting football up and running, but here you’ve got 3000 people travelling in from across the world and the rules on testing and protocol are so complicated – and yet there have been so few positive tests.”
The new and returning races were refreshing. Which worked best?
“Turkey was by far the best race of the year. The slippery new asphalt and the [wet] weather obviously helped, but it was the best I’ve seen for a long time. It was how racing should be. Halfway through, you had no idea who was going to win it. Mugello was a good race, if a bit chaotic, and Portimão was fun to watch. The cars now are a bit too quick for Imola. Qualifying was great, but it’s rubbish for racing because you can’t overtake. But I enjoyed the two-day format they used there. With 23 races coming up in 2021, a two-day weekend would work for those races where nobody shows up on Friday. I like the fact we went to different venues and tried different formats. Our viewing figures are reflective of how interested people have been. Sky’s figures for Turkey were the third-highest of all races since 2012.”