Motorsport review 2020: Sébastien Ogier to Ash Sutton
A global pandemic couldn't get in the way of these drivers achieving motorsport glory
No one could have foreseen the struggles motorsport had to endure during 2020. But, despite coronavirus proving to be a huge challenge, we were treated to plenty of racing and some truly memorable motorsport moments.
From Lewis Hamilton’s record-equalling seventh Formula One world title, to Elfyn Evans coming agonisingly close to World Rally Championship victory, there was enough drama to keep fans on the edge of their seats throughout the year. We also saw the end of DTM in its current form, bowing out with the same wheel-to-wheel action that has helped garner such a passionate fanbase. Here’s to an unforgettable year of motorsport.
Scroll down for our full rundown of what happened in the major series over the last 12 months...
Hamilton equals Schumacher title record in a stellar season
The 2020 F1 season got off to an unedifying start at the Australian Grand Prix in March, when the event was cancelled at the last minute just before Friday free practice was due to begin, after testing picked up cases of coronavirus among several McLaren team members.
As the pandemic and its consequent restrictions spread around the world, the original plans for a 22-race calendar disintegrated. F1 had to work hard to nail down a revised and mostly European-based schedule, held behind closed doors with strict isolation and testing procedures in place.
The eventual season-opener at Austria’s Red Bull Ring in early July saw Valtteri Bottas win and Hamilton get off to a rocky start, picking up a penalty in qualifying and another after the race due to contact with Red Bull’s Alex Albon.
But the Briton reasserted himself when F1 raced again at the same circuit the following weekend, and there was almost no looking back from that point on. There were straightforward wins – such as those in Hungary, Spain, Belgium, Portugal and the Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello – but also moments of inspired genius under adversity, including dealing with a delaminating tyre on the final lap of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, as well as managing worn intermediate tyres to perfection to win from sixth on the grid at the Turkish Grand Prix.
At the same time, Hamilton stepped up his activities outside the cockpit, announcing his own team in the new Extreme E electric off-road series, leading drivers’ anti-racism protests after the death of George Floyd and setting up a foundation aiming to increase diversity in motorsport.
On track, and with one round still to run at the time of writing, he holds nearly every meaningful record in F1, equalling Michael Schumacher’s seven world titles and exceeding the German’s totals for race wins and poles.
It wasn’t entirely the Hamilton show in 2020, however: Max Verstappen did manage to win the second Silverstone race, and there was a popular debut win for AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, who’d been demoted from Red Bull just the previous year, after a chaotic Italian Grand Prix in Monza.
And towards the end of the year, safety was the real winner when Romain Grosjean escaped with only minor injuries from a horrifying, fiery crash in Bahrain.
DS’ Da Costa triumphs in high-pressure Berlin finale
With its strategy of holding races on temporary street circuits in the middle of large cities, Formula E looked set to be hardest hit by the pandemic restrictions. Four rounds (Saudi Arabia, Chile, Mexico and Morocco) had happened before Covid hit, but bosses had to come up with a unique solution to wrap up the 2019-20 season.
It involved the entire Formula E paddock decamping to the disused Tempelhof airfield near Berlin for two weeks in August, where three pairs of races were held on three different track layouts. As is the norm in Formula E, there were several different winners across the season; eventual champion Antonio Felix da Costa (DS Techeetah) didn’t even top the podium until round five in Morocco. Wins in the first two Berlin rounds laid the foundation for his triumph, however; he finished up 71 points clear of second-placed Stoffel Vandoorne.
Conway, Kobayashi and Lopez win title, but Le Mans curse remains
The World Endurance Championship’s 2019-20 season began all the way back in September 2019 at Silverstone, and ended up lasting over a year due to Covid.
The series’ Le Mans centrepiece was rescheduled and held without fans in September. The #8 Toyota of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima was again victorious, but over the course of the eight-round season the sister #7 car of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez scored enough to claim their first driver’s title.
Third title for VW’s Kristoffersson as Covid surge cuts season short
As with every other motorsport, World RX pushed back the start of its season when Covid hit early in 2020. Yet it ended up being caught by the second wave later in the year, too, cancelling the last three rounds in Portugal, Belgium and Germany.
Eight rounds at four venues did go ahead, though, and VW driver Johan Kristoffersson won four of them to seal the third title of his career, to add to his 2017 and 2018 triumphs. World RX’s future in 2021 is uncertain, however, with promoter IMG having pulled out.
Rast takes third title as curtain falls on DTM’s touring-car era
Coming into the 2020 season, the writing was on the wall for the DTM in its current form, with the thoroughly uncompetitive, privately run R-Motorsport Aston Martin entry having spluttered to a halt at the end of 2019 and Audi announcing that this would be its final year.
Covid then delivered another blow to the championship, which is having to reinvent itself as a customer GT series for 2021 to stay alive. In the meantime, however, there was a spirited battle for the title between Audi men Rene Rast, Nico Mueller and Robin Frijns that went down to the final round at Hockenheim. BMW was rarely on the pace all year, with little point making major investment to regain its former competitiveness. Long-term, series boss Gerhard Berger has pinned his hopes on an electric-powered silhouette-bodied rebirth for the German championship.
Masterful Dixon sees off the young chargers
Like Formula 1, IndyCar almost managed to get its championship under way before Covid hit, but had to cancel the season-opening St Petersburg Grand Prix in Florida just days before it was due to happen in March as the pandemic situation escalated.
Starting in June, the series was able to hold a 14-round schedule visiting most of the original planned venues, and then Florida ended up being the season closer in late October. There, New Zealander Scott Dixon secured his sixth IndyCar drivers’ title, cementing his status as a legend of the sport. A trio of wins in the first three races, plus another at St Louis in August, were the bedrock of his campaign, but the year also saw the emergence of new talent in the form of Colton Herta, and a second Indy 500 win for ex-F1 veteran Takuma Sato.
World Rally Championship
Toyota’s Ogier takes world title number seven
Welshman Elfyn Evans headed into the season-ending Monza Rally in Italy leading the World Rally Championship (WRC) points standings, but a fairytale first title for the 31-year-old was not to be, as he slid off the road in snowy conditions on the second of the event’s three days. Instead, it was his Toyota team-mate Sebastien Ogier who emerged triumphant, sealing his seventh series title in eight years.
Evans and Ogier ended the season on two wins apiece, but Ogier’s consistency to score podiums in Monaco, Estonia and Sardinia was key to keeping him in the hunt. His first win of the season was at Rally Mexico in March, after which the championship went on hiatus due to Covid, only resuming with Rally Estonia in September.
Planned rallies in Chile, Argentina, Portugal, Kenya, Finland, New Zealand, Germany, the UK, Japan and Belgium all had to be scrapped due to the pandemic, so the final schedule was made up of just seven rounds.
World Touring Cars
Champ Yann Ehrlacher heralds the arrival of a new generation
World Touring Cars’ late-season rounds in Asia fell victim to travel restrictions, so the series was instead decided over just 16 races at six venues, all in Europe.
A typically frantic season saw no fewer than 10 different drivers top the podium in the course of those contests, but it was Lynk & Co works driver Yann Ehrlacher (nephew and team-mate of touring-car great Yvan Muller) who proved to be the most consistent, finishing 39 points ahead of his uncle in the standings, with Alfa Romeo man Jean-Karl Vernay third.
British Touring Cars
Ash Sutton goes to Infiniti and beyond to take second crown
For a championship that prides itself on fan interaction and atmosphere, enforced closed-doors running was a particularly bitter pill to swallow for the British Touring Car Championship.
But the series regulars were able to deliver a vintage year of door-to-door racing on track nonetheless, with no fewer than five drivers going into the Brands Hatch finale mathematically capable of winning. Ash Sutton eventually triumphed in the Laser Tools Infiniti Q50, becoming a two-time BTCC champion in the process.
Check out the rest of our 2020 round-up below...