From ‘Pink Mercedes’ to Mazepin’s Folly: The Most Controversial Moments From the 2020 F1 Season

Published 12/31/2020, 12:20 AM EST
Formula One F1 – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – December 13, 2020 Racing Point’s Lance Stroll in action during the race Pool via REUTERS/Giuseppe Cacace

Another season of F1, another year full of controversies and drama. However, this time it had the added flavor of a global pandemic and political unrest.


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The voice of the paddock has never had such an impact before. So, we look at the moments that were spicy, debated, or in the news for the wrong reasons –

  • The COVID debacle at the Australian GP


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The 2020 season got off to the worst possible start. When COVID caused most of the sporting events around the world to get canceled, the season-opener in Melbourne was going ahead as scheduled. This irked most teams and drivers, some of whom were already on the flight back home before the official cancellation.

Formula One F1 – Turkish Grand Prix – Istanbul Park, Istanbul, Turkey – McLaren team members pose after the race Pool via REUTERS/Clive Mason

And the FIA was only pressured into suspending the season when a McLaren Team member caught the virus. Hence, they withdrew their participation from the race and other teams followed suit.

  • The ‘Pink Mercedes’ Copying Saga

Racing Point, or rather ‘Tracing Point’ as critics started calling them, arrived at the pre-season testing in Barcelona with a car that had a striking resemblance to Mercedes‘ 2019 title-winning W10. And the allegations of copying from other teams put a cloud on their competitive machinery.

Subsequent actions by other F1 teams and the FIA

What followed was a protest that Renault was leading along with McLaren and Ferrari against their fellow mid-field runner. Racing Point got docked 15 points and fined 400,000 euros for its actions.

Although it is not uncommon for customer teams to ‘buy’ a few elements from the heavyweights, they took it too far. So, in a bid to combat such occurrences in the future, the FIA is banning the use of 3-D cameras on cars from next season.

  • Ban on wearing T-shirts at F1 Podium ceremonies after Hamilton’s actions

Re-iterating on a previous point, the drivers took an initiative this season to create awareness for social issues. Diversity, inclusion, and equality for all were at the forefront of their minds.

And leading the charge was none other than Lewis Hamilton. The Briton has never been afraid to speak his mind. However, it landed him in hot water with the FIA when he wore a specific shirt at the podium celebrations in Mugello.

This led to the FIA stipulating all the drivers to only wear their racing suits to the Podium.

FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 – 70th Anniversary Grand Prix – Silverstone Circuit, Silverstone, Britain – August 9, 2020 Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton kneels in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign on the grid before the race Pool via REUTERS/Bryn Lennon/File Photo
  • Honda’s decision to pull out of F1

Something that has left their customer Red Bull in a great limbo. The Japanese company has been manufacturing engines for Red Bull and its sister team, AlphaTauri.

The heavy costs of making an F1 power unit was the primary factor that influenced this decision. But for a team that aspire to become World Champions again, this was a huge shot in the arm. Engines are the heart and soul of an F1 car.

So, how is Red Bull dealing with it?

Since they are exiting in 2022, this offers Red Bull some time to assess their options. They have the option of buying the IPO of the engines from Honda and taking over the operations. Or the worst-case scenario of going back to now-bitter foes Renault for engines.

And understandably, they are trying by all means to meet the first option. Even going as far as pushing for a freeze on engine development from the 2022 season.

NUERBURG, GERMANY – OCTOBER 11: Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner and Red Bull Racing Team Consultant Dr Helmut Marko talk on the grid before the F1 Eifel Grand Prix at Nuerburgring in Nuerburg, Germany. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
  • Mazepin’s unpopular retention at Haas

Nikita Mazepin’s announcement as a Haas driver for the 2021 F1 season was met with little fanfare. On the contrary, fans were already against this move as it had non-racing motives. His billionaire father is financing the team, and that played a role.

To make matters worse, his disciplinary record in the junior categories was loathsome. From pushing drivers off the track to hitting them with a ballad, he did his reputation no favors.

And then a leaked video at the end of the season was the final nail in the coffin for his image. His actions in the viral video were derogatory and landed him in hot water. Haas were quick to post a public apology, condemning his actions.


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However, it was not enough as there were calls to debar his participation in F1. But the American outfit and the FIA took no action amidst the public backlash, and he will race next season. Though, with a noose hanging over his head.


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To conclude, these were the most controversial moments from this exhausting season. Hopefully, 2021 brings more drama and a great racing spectacle but fewer controversies that malign the sport.

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Bharat Aggarwal

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Bharat Aggarwal is a sports analyst for EssentiallySports, covering Formula 1 and NBA. A Delhi University graduate, Bharat has multi-year experience in sports writing, having closely worked with the content strategy aspect as well. Bharat Aggarwal supports Manchester United, Lewis Hamilton, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Nadal, Dirk Nowitzki, Sachin Tendulkar, Ayrton Senna, Kristaps Porzingis, and Dallas Mavericks.