Seven months after they last competed in earnest, the Formula One circus will push a post-lockdown reset button to open the 2020 season in Austria on Sunday.
Lewis Hamilton, powered by the all-conquering Mercedes, goes in search of a seventh drivers' title to equal the record of Michael Schumacher.
"It has been unbearable – I have missed the racing and the competition so much, so it will be great to be back," said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.
The event at Spielberg is being held on its original calendar date, but is not the once-anticipated 11th round of the championship, but the first – a season-opener delayed by the global coronavirus pandemic.
More than three months after the Australian Grand Prix was abandoned on the eve of opening practice in Melbourne, the race in the Styrian Alps will be run behind closed doors, without fans, sponsors' agents and guests and only a handful of reporters restricted to the media center.
The usual high-rise motor homes will be replaced by tents and awnings while the teams, cut to 80 members and all in protective gear, will operate in sanitised "bubbles within bubbles" in a paddock bereft of human contact and the usual swell of rumour and speculation.
For all involved, who are tested four days before the event and five days later, it will be an unprecedented and unique experience.
Yet, despite all the change and the surreal atmosphere it is expected that the action, when it begins, will deliver the same likely story.
Even during lockdown, drivers moves for next year took place, Ferrari announcing the release of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, to be succeeded by Carlos Sainz of McLaren and Daniel Ricciardo signing to leave Renault and be the Spaniard’s replacement at the cash-starved outfit so badly hit by the pandemic.*AFP
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