He qualified in pole position 15 times and won 13 races in the revamped season once Supercars was able to get going once again following the COVID-19 pause after the opening event in Adelaide. He leaves these shores to compete next year in the US Indycar Series.
Oscar Piastri. The teenager from Melbourne has his sights set on stepping into the shoes of Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo, Australia’s two most recent Formula One heroes, and he is certainly going about things the right way. Piastri won the FIA Formula 3 title in 2020, taking the championship in a nail-biting finale, sealing the honours in the final race of the season.
Joan Mir. Spanish riders have a tremendous record in MotoGP, with Alex Criville, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez all having won world titles in the past two decades. Add to that list the Mallorcan Joan Mir, 23, who this year took advantage of Marquez’s absence through injury to take his maiden crown in only his second campaign in the premier class.
It was also Suzuki’s first top-level title in 20 years.
Australian Grand Prix Corporation. For the first time since it was run in Adelaide as part of the Formula One world championship in 1985 the big-name teams and drivers of the F1 circus did not race in this country.
They arrived, amidst muted fanfare and much trepidation, in early March as news of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic began to become more widely understood. Teams and drivers prepared as normal for Friday practice, Saturday qualifying and Sunday’s race but all their plans, and that of the Victorian State Government and the GP Corporation, were thrown into chaos once one of the Maclaren team staff had tested positive for COVID-19.
Maclaren withdrew, and not long after organisers decided that the risk was too great and they cancelled the event on the Friday morning of race weekend, leaving frustrated fans and the GP Corp disappointed that the crowning event of their year had been axed hours before it had been due to start.
Ferrari. It was a season to forget for the Scuderia, Formula One’s most fabled team, who struggled to get warm when the racing eventually got going. The famous red cars did not win a race and neither of their drivers – Frenchman Charles Leclerc and former world champion Sebastian Vettel – managed to score a pole position either.
Leclerc only managed two podium finishes – in Austria and Great Britain – while Vettel’s solitary appearance in the post race celebrations came when he finished third in Turkey. Carlos Sainz is joining the team next season, replacing Vettel, who is off to Aston Martin in 2021, where he will replace Sergio Perez.
Marc Marquez. The undisputed king on two wheels – until this season when he smashed his right arm in the opening round at Jerez in his native Spain. Marquez won his first championship in MotoGP in 2013, when he was just 20. He then proceeded to win six of the next seven titles for Honda, a run broken by that accident.
Tough as teak, Marquez had an operation immediately afterwards to have metalwork inserted to fix the bone and he tried to return days for the next race. But the plate broke and he needed a second operation. That did not work either, and early in December he had to have surgery a third time in Madrid. This will need up to six months to recover, so the chances of him being a meaningful contender in 2021 are slim as well.
Rarely any shortage of controversy in motor racing, where big-money budgets and huge egos invariably stoke allegations of what might be politely described as pushing the edge of the performance envelope. Lewis Hamilton was front and centre as he drove F1 to confront racism not just in his sport but in a wider societal context, winning plaudits along the way for some confronting statements and messages.
On the track it was Racing Point that was at the centre of most controversy, the team being fined Racing $US473,000 ($623,000), and stripped of 15 points in the constructors’ championship after complaints from rivals that it was essentially a copy of the 2019 title-winning Mercedes. The German company provides Racing Point with a chassis and engines.
MAN OF THE YEAR
Lewis Hamilton. Hard to go round the Briton who won yet another world championship – his seventh – to equal the legendary Michael Schumacher’s total. He also brought his tally of GP triumphs to 95, surpassing Schumacher’s 91, and if he remains interested and as focused as ever it is hard to not see him adding to his tally. But it is arguably his off-track statements that now make him as much of a newsmaker as his performance in the car.
Hamilton has become a vegan and when he was in Australia earlier this year spoke eloquently about climate change and the ravages of the bushfires and their effect on the animal world. He has also been a staunch supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and has used his high profile to galvanise debate within F1 and the sporting world around issues of racism.
VIRAL MOMENTS OF THE YEAR
Romain Grosjean’s crash in Bahrain. Horrific, violent, dangerous, fiery, frantic and, ultimately, miraculous as the Frenchman slammed into the safety barriers on lap one of the grand prix causing his car to burst into flames. Somehow he extricated himself from the inferno and escaped not just with his life but without life changing injuries.
Austrian MotoGP. This produced one of the most horrific crashes in recent memory as two bikes flew across the track when Johann Zarco’s Ducati collided with Franco Morbidelli’s Yamaha. The bikes flew in the air and it was only by some miraculous fortune that they did not strike the oncoming Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales.
Jamie Whincup’s uncharacteristic blunder. Whincap went wide on lap 31 of the 161-lap Bathurst 1000 as he looked to overtake, lost traction and hit the wall. The serial Supercar champion was teamed up with Craig Lowndes when Whincup made a rare error. ”This place, you’ve got to have respect for it,” said Lowndes as he looked on. ”If it doesn’t, it bites you. We’ve all made mistakes here. It is a shame, the car was working extremely well.”
*Negotiations over the staging of the Australian Grand Prix will go to the wire before F1 bosses and drivers agree to whatever quarantine restrictions the Victorian Government imposes.
*Lewis Hamilton goes on to top the century of grand prix wins and sets hitherto undreamt of statistical records while Daniel Ricciardo will hit the ground running in his home country in his first season with McLaren.
*MotoGP will return to Australia after this year’s Covid cancellation and, with a vaccine by then readily available, prove a huge spring attraction at Phillip Island as Marc Marquez continues his late season charge towards the title.
Michael Lynch is The Age’s chief soccer reporter and also reports on motor sport and horseracing