I wanted to write an F1 preview back in March before the Australian Grand Prix was supposed to take place, but it just didn’t feel right given everything that was happening. On some level, I guess I knew that the race would be cancelled, so I was also unmotivated to write then.
But I am now.
Formula 1 is back this weekend for the first round of not only the Austrian double-header but the F1 2020 season itself.
At the moment, there are just eight confirmed races: two at Austria, one at Hungary, two at Silverstone, one at Spain, one at Belgium and one in Italy in September. Obviously a far-cry from the 22 race calendar we were set to get but it’s a start.
I’m expecting a some races to be added from the originally planned calendar: I’m certain we’ll see Bahrain, Abu Dhabi at the tail-end of the season. Whether we get we’ll get one or two races at any of those races (or perhaps an alternate version of Bahrain), we’ll see, but I’m fairly confident we’ll see a few races in the Middle-East towards the end of the year.
After Monza? I really believe we’ll get some tracks that weren’t on the original 2020 calendar.
One of, at the very least, Mugello or Imola is going to happen, I’m almost certain about that based on the various rumours/reports out there. It seems Mugello is a little bit more certain than Imola for now.
We could one/both of those, Portugal has a few options and, of course, Hockenheim should absolutely be in the mix. Regardless, I’d be shocked if more European races weren’t added after Monza.
F1 has previously said they’re confident they can get a 15-ish race calendar together, and that’s absolutely fine — that’s more than enough for a solid season.
Newer F1 fans have been spoiled by a 19/20/21 race season, but in my first season watching F1 in 2002, there were only 17 races. In 2003 there were 16 races — 14/15 races isn’t a huge departure, that’s more than enough to have a good season, especially if the action is close.
With that said, what affect does a shorter calendar have on the F1 season? I think it has the potential to even things out a little bit and I think a title battle — drivers and constructors — has the potential to be a little closer.
Heck, looking back to the previous 4 years and the margin in the drivers standings by round, we’ll say, 12…
2019: 62 points (leader: Hamilton)
2018: 24 points (leader: Hamilton)
2017: 7 points (leader: Vettel)
2016: 19 points (leader: Hamilton)
Throw 2019 out the window for this, there was no title fight once Bottas stuffed it in the wall at Germany, but for the other three seasons the margin was less than 25 points.
If you compare the margin between 1st and 2nd after the final round in those years above:
2019: 87 points (winner: Hamilton)
2018: 88 points (winner: Hamilton)
2017: 46 points (winner: Hamilton)
2016: 5 points (winner: Rosberg)
You get the idea: the fight between first and second has been a lot closer by round 12 compared to the end of a 19/20 race season, so a shortened season perhaps gives us a good of chance as any for a close title fight.
Of course… If Mercedes begins 2020 as they did 2019 then this is all irrelevant. Red Bull and Ferrari need to be somewhat close out of the gates, or Mercedes suffer somehow.
From what we saw in testing (yes, yes, not much to go on), Mercedes seemed to hold an advantage but Red Bull looked impressive, but a lot of time has passed between now and then.
While factories underwent their mandatory shutdown, some teams will be bringing upgrades to Austria. Renault, for one, say their car is going very different to the one they brought to Australia. Ferrari are also, supposedly, bringing some upgrades too, as are Mercedes — most teams probably will. So…it’s going to be hard to say because we really had no idea when it came to relative/real pace was.
Red Bull have been a little slow to start seasons in the past and to have any hope of either Max Verstappen challenging for the title, or Red Bull for the constructors, they need to be close enough to Mercedes out of the gate. Red Bull are good at bringing the upgrades later in the season, but they won’t have the ‘later of the season’ to bring those upgrades that take them closer to the top stop of the podium by Round 15 or so… They have to get it right quickly.
The problem, of course, is that there’s little regulation turnover from 2019 to 2020 and Mercedes, realistically, could’ve started prepping for 2020 after Spain last year, whereas Red Bull don’t like to write-off seasons early, taking their development later in the season bring them close to the front to at least challenge for some victories late on.
Ferrari…I’m not expecting much and I’m not sure how many others are either. Frankly, if they’re ahead of Racing Mercedes then I think that’s good enough. So, naturally — now that I’ve said that — they’ll be at the front (I wish)…
Elsewhere, the coronavirus is obviously going to be a topic all season. Obviously, safety is paramount but I’m curious to see if we see the need for a reserve driver to fill in at any stage this season for a weekend. Of course, no one wants this to be the case and that everyone is safe… You never know, it could be a factor in the drivers title?
Anyways, let’s get to some more F1 2020 talking points with good ol’ awards and predictions.
These are always hit and miss for me.
From last year’s predictions, I obviously got the Ferrari stuff very wrong (thanks guys) and Renault were definitely not best of the rest. I always believed in Lando Norris, so that worked out well and Pierre Gasly was indeed a giant disappointment at Red Bull.
Anyways, let’s get into the fun stuff. Awards and predictions for 2020. We can talk more about F1 2020
Driver’s Champion: Max Verstappen
Meh. I don’t feel great about this — it’s definitely a heart thing.
My head says Lewis Hamilton, my heart Max Verstappen. I expect Mercedes to be the ones to beat (and it could be by some margin), so I guess it depends how much you believe in ‘Bottas 3.0’ or whatever version we’re on. And Bottas has to go for it: this could be his last shot — he’s not going to have forever at Mercedes with George Russell waiting in the wings.
The talk during the winter and into the summer has been how Bottas is ready, so we’ll see. He made a step up last year, so it’s not out of the question he’s got another level in him. If it’s enough to beat Hamilton over a full season? I’d lean no. Is it enough to beat him over a shortened season? Now, that could be a lot more possible.
The saving grace potentially for Verstappen and Bottas is that shortened season, where reliability and/or driver error will be punished a lot more over a shorter season, could play a facotr, but the key for Verstappen is that Red Bull need to be close, at least quick enough, where Max can at least split the Mercedes.
Constructors’ Champion: Mercedes
Whether Red Bull/Verstappen have the pace to challenge, we’ll see, but there’s no doubt that Mercedes have the better pairing to win the constructors title than Red Bull, and I don’t think that’s especially harsh to Albon. If he gets a podium out of the gate in Austria, maybe we can re-evaluate…
Albon has a lot to prove this year. Allowances were made last year because, well, it couldn’t have been worse than Gasly’s performances. He’ll be expected to perform and be close to Verstappen this year. If he can do that…things become very interesting.
Otherwise, I don’t see anything stopping Mercedes from a seventh consecutive title, and there’s not much else to say about it.
It is what it is.
Best of the Rest: Racing Mer… Point. Racing Point
This may not be especially close in terms of the pace difference between Racing Point and McLaren but perhaps a little closer in terms of the final points tally.
McLaren certainly have a better driver lineup than the boys in pink, so that might give them a chance, but Sergio Perez might be enough to keep Racing Point 4th — because you can be sure he’s going to deliver. Perez is just a solid force, he’s going to give it everything and get the most out of that car — he’s proved he can throughout his entire career.
Either way, I think everyone agrees that Racing Point’s pace will be legit, which means we’re about to find out how good of a Formula 1 driver Lance Stroll really is.
He built a bit of a reputation last year of a driver who is actually handy enough in the race, the problem is that Stroll is, arguably, the worst qualifier on the entire F1 grid — that has to change this year. He cannot be outside the top 10 while his teammate is 7th, or possibly higher. Arguably, starting outside the top 10 might help with strategy for his races but Stroll has to be closer to Perez this year.
If that car is legit, and Stroll is holding Racing Point back and costing them money…things might become interesting. Yes, yes Lawrence Stroll is there but there are more shareholders than just Lawrence Stroll.
Perez should be very excited for this season though, and next season too. This is right in his wheelhouse, and a podium appearance or two will not surprise me in the slightest and I think their outright pace advantage will propel them to P4.
Surprise of the Season: Sebastian Vettel
Vettel’s reputation has taken a hit in the last few years and many, myself included, have been pretty harsh on him for it (comes with the territory when you’re a 4x champion and driving for Ferrari).
Free of the pressure now that he’s on the way out, Vettel can just drive again and not worry about everything else that comes with being a Ferrari driver. I hope we see a more relaxed, free Sebastian Vettel and one back in his element and I think he’ll be right there, or higher, than Charles Leclerc.
Whether 2020 is Vettel’s last in F1 remains to be seen, but he can at least be free and I think a bounce-back year is definitely on the cards.
Alex Albon has solid potential here, and if Racing Point are actually quicker than Ferrari you can place them here too.
Best Rookie: N/A
Only one rookie in F1 this season and he’s a 25 year old who didn’t win the F2 title last year. Needless to say, I’m not massive on Nicholas Latifi but maybe he’ll be OK… I don’t expect him to be anywhere near George Russell though.
Most Improved: Lando Norris
I don’t really like the idea of putting a second year driver here (because you expect improvement from year 1 to year 2) but with Norris now heading into his second year and — as he’s talked about — free of the ‘jitters’ that come with being a rookie, I think he’s in for a great season.
He was very close to Carlos Sainz in terms of performance last year, and the standings weren’t a fair reflection of how close Norris was to Sainz last season. Don’t get me wrong, Sainz was definitely better last year, but Norris was close and often suffered from reliability more than Sainz. Norris just about out-qualified Sainz too over the season — his pace in qualifying is handy.
I think there’s a great chance Norris is ahead of Sainz this year, and it’s going to be very interesting when Norris outperforms Sainz the year before Sainz heads to Ferrari…
Most Disappointing Driver: Lance Stroll
This will be a little harsh, and I’ve kind of explained the Racing Point thing already, but this is a big year for Stroll, especially if Racing Point’s top 4 pace is legit. He’s a good driver on the Sunday but needs to improve on the Saturday. If he’s about 40/50 points away from Perez — which is very possible — then I think this will be justified.
Other potential disappointments might include Carlos Sainz, but only from the perspective that he’s about to become a Ferrari driver and if he’s out-performed by Norris.
Most Disappointing Team: Ferrari
McLaren could be tempting to put in this spot, and Renault is always a great shout, but I can’t help but feel Ferrari will, once again, disappoint.
It’s not that anyone is expecting them to win — as was the case last year after 2019 testing — and I don’t even think people will peg them ahead of Red Bull either, but the fact that they’re not going to be at the front, and potentially closer to Racing Point than Red Bull, is going to be a massive disappointment. Having gone close in 2017 and 2018, things have gone backwards, and 2020 seems like (at this early stage) it’s going to go the same way.
Best Livery: TBD
I mean, I want to say Mercedes but until we see it on track, that’s to be decided.
Haas’ new livery this season is fantastic, as is Williams’.
Ferrari made some big steps too — red and black usually go perfectly, but with Ferrari…I don’t know. It just doesn’t work as well compared to red and white or just plain red (2018 style). Less black on that Ferrari this year helps.
Racing Point have helped themselves a lot too, now that SportPesa are out of the picture and with it the blue…
Plenty of excellent looking cars this year, to be fair.
Worst Livery: Red Bull
It’s not that it’s ugly, it’s just the same as it was back in 2016 — every team has changed their livery in some major way at least once since 2016, think it’s time Red Bull do too. They were well ahead on the matte-train, but when they’ve teased us with testing liveries that are better looking than their race livery, frustration builds…
Best Helmet: Lando Norris
This was tough.
For starters, here’s a handy list compiled by RaceFans of the 2020 helmets, so get yourself acquainted (and try to be mature).
Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon and Daniil Kvyat (definitely most improved on helmets) have great helmets, but I’m going to go with Lando Norris.
The colour combo of neon green and blue is fantastic, and the design around that is fantastic. Neon green probably shouldn’t work with orange…but Norris’ helmet just works somehow.
With Mercedes’ new black look, we can expect to see new designs by both Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas. Hamilton has had some great helmet designs/colours over the past few years, and I think he has big potential here too.
So, I’m excited for that but, for now, I’ll go with Lando Norris.
Worst Helmet: Carlos Sainz
Sorry, I love Carlos Sainz but it’s just too bland. There’s a large grey spot near the top which is just empty: it’s just grey, and grey is just so boring here. The Spanish flag design on the helmet is great but the rest just falls completely flat on its face — such a step down. It might look better when Sainz is in the car, but on its own? No.
Daniel Ricciardo’s 2020 helmet is also pretty disappointing too after a successful 2019 outing.
So, there’s a brief conversation about the F1 2020 season and some predictions before we get going. Regardless of how it shakes down, can we at least get some close battles near the front? I’m basically resigned to the fact Hamilton will equal Michael Schumacher this year with 7 world titles, but can he at least work for this one?
Midfield battle will be as fun as always — always a joy. Big seasons ahead for Alex Albon, Lance Stroll, Valterri Bottas, Antonio Giovinazzi and both Haas drivers.
We shall see… F1 2020 is certainly going to be a little different, but if the racing is close? I don’t think people will mind at all.