LONDON: Formula One starts its season in Austria this week, nearly four months later than planned due to the Covid-19 pandemic and against a very different backdrop even if Lewis Hamilton’s targets remain the same.
The six times world champion can equal Ferrari great Michael Schumacher’s record seven while his Mercedes team are bidding for an unprecedented seventh successive drivers’ and constructors’ title double.
The Briton, who has used his profile to campaign for greater diversity in the sport and against racism, is raring to compete but aware he faces new and unexpected challenges.
“We are preparing the best way we can for what is going to be the most difficult season that Formula One and all of us have experienced,” the 35-year-old said in a Mercedes video.
Since the traditional Australian opener was cancelled in March, Formula One has agreed changes to help teams hard hit by Covid-19.
Driver moves for next year have been announced already, including the departure of Hamilton’s old rival Sebastian Vettel from Ferrari at the end of this year.
This year’s only rookie, Canadian Nicholas Latifi, could find his Williams team are under new ownership before his first campaign is over.
Car liveries unveiled with fanfare in February have changed again to keep up with the changing times.
There is also lingering uncertainty about how many grands prix the season will hold with seven cancelled so far and more likely to follow.
Eight rounds, all in Europe and without spectators for the first time, feature on a provisional calendar but the sport still hopes to muster 15-18 races, even if that means several circuits hosting two each.
Sunday will be the first time Austria has hosted a season-opener, at Spielberg’s scenic Red Bull Ring, and the following weekend will see another milestone when the circuit becomes the first to host two F1 championship races in the same season.
That could be good news for Dutch crowd-pleaser Max Verstappen, who has brought a home victory for Red Bull for the past two years.