RACE DEBRIEF

    Could the revised 2020 calendar result in a non-Mercedes driver being crowned champion for the first time since 2013? It’s a contingency the Silver Arrows are seriously considering, after Mercedes Technical Director James Allison admitted that he expects Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to be especially strong in the opening two races of the season in Austria.

    Earlier this week, Formula 1 confirmed that it would begin racing again in early July, starting with a double header at the Red Bull Ring followed by a single race in Hungary.

    READ MORE: F1 confirms first 8 races of revised 2020 calendar, starting with Austria double header

    And with Verstappen having won in Austria for the last two years running, and taken his first career pole at the Hungaroring in 2019, Allison was clear about who Mercedes’ main rival was going to be in the first few races…

    “There's no doubt that Max is going to be a formidable opponent for us this year,” said Allison, speaking on this week’s F1 Nation podcast. “Ferrari too showed glimpses of some form in pre-season testing, [but] we would imagine that Max will again be strong in Austria because Red Bull are always super-pumped up there – and they've got a bit of a track record.”

    READ MORE: Mercedes and Ferrari set for private tests as they ramp up preparations for F1 return

    By contrast, after winning every Austrian Grand Prix between 2014-2017, the last two Red Bull Ring races have been miserable affairs for Mercedes.

    Both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas retired from the race in 2018 – with Hamilton also left unimpressed that year by Mercedes’ strategical failure to pit him under the Safety Car – before issues with cooling in 2019 forced Hamilton and Bottas to manage engine temperatures throughout the race, putting them out of contention for the win.

    READ MORE: Toto Wolff on his future, Mercedes’ commitment to F1 – and those Aston Martin links

    The last two Austrian Grands Prix haven't gone well for Mercedes, with a double DNF for the team in 2018

    But despite those previous setbacks, Allison appeared confident that the new Mercedes W11 wouldn’t suffer the same issues as its predecessors this time around in Austria.

    “Our campaign in Austria last year was hampered by our own mistakes on the cooling side, which meant that we were chugging around way off the actual natural pace of the car,” said Allison.

    “And the year before, [we were] hampered by some unreliability and rather clumsy moves around the Safety Car. So I think we're all looking forward to getting to Austria, and maybe showing a bit more of what we're capable of than the slight underperformance that we put in in the previous two seasons.”

    READ MORE: Toto Wolff explains Mercedes' driver plans – and doesn’t rule out Vettel swoop

    Use the player embedded above to hear more from Allison on the latest episode of F1 Nation, including his thoughts on the likelihood of Vettel joining Hamilton at Mercedes for 2021, as well as why some parts of the new 2021 rules leave “a bad taste” in his mouth. ALternatively, listen via Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app.