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The 2020 Formula One season will be the 71st edition of the best drivers in the world taking the wheel of the fastest cars on the planet, and the big question is can somebody – anybody – stop the incessant winning machine that is Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes?
Hamilton will be going for his seventh Drivers’ Championship title and his sixth in the past seven seasons, while Mercedes will be looking to top the Constructors’ Championship for an unprecedented seventh campaign in a row.
Ironically, Hamilton’s contract with the team comes to an end at the conclusion of the 2020 season, and that has been the main talking point heading into the new term – will he stay or will he go?
Either way, he and Mercedes will be desperate to make it a magnificent seven, while Ferrari – courtesy of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel – and Red Bull – with the exciting Max Verstappen at the wheel – may just have something to say about that.
The 2020 F1 season is shaping up rather nicely then, but who is expected to be taking home the gold come the end of November?
Drivers’ Championship Favourites
What is it that motivates sportsmen and women who have achieved everything in their chosen discipline?
Each individual is different, of course, but if Lewis Hamilton was in any danger of literally and metaphorically taking his foot off the gas then the sheer number of records he could break this season will surely keep his engine running.
He has arguably the greatest ever, Michael Schumacher, in his sights. The German legend won seven Drivers’ Championships and 91 races, and Hamilton can match his silverware haul and surpass Schumacher’s Grand Prix tally should he triumph in eight or more races.
Given that he won eleven times in 2019, that certainly cannot be written off, and it will take a marked improvement from the Ferrari and Red Bull teams, in particular, to rain on Hamilton’s parade.
His Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas is, as you might expect, number two in the pecking order at the German firm, and he is very much feeding on the crumbs from Hamilton’s table. Four wins last term highlight his quality, but it would be a huge surprise if he were to have enough opportunities to win the Drivers’ Championship.
Realistically, there are only two teams that can challenge Mercedes’ dominance, and thus that means there are only four other drivers with a sniff of the Championship: Leclerc and Vettel at Ferrari, and Verstappen and Alexander Albon of Red Bull.
Leclerc is one of the fast-rising stars of the sport, and you sense that the Frenchman enjoys his status as F1’s enfant terrible.
He and teammate Vettel do not get along, and such is the animosity between the pair you wonder how Ferrari chiefs will implement a clear pecking order in terms of who will be given precedence in the Drivers’ Championship race. And, with just three wins between them last season, it will take some phenomenal work from the Ferrari backroom team to produce a car that can consistently compete with Mercedes.
In terms of pure driving ability, Max Verstappen is right up there with the best in the business. The Dutchman won three times in 2019 and secured nine podium finishes in all, and the manner in which Red Bull finished the campaign suggests he certainly has an outside chance of dethroning Hamilton this season.
As for Albon, well, he is still a veritable rookie in the sport, but his first season with the team was encouraging – particularly from the German Grand Prix onwards – and he will be the perfect foil for Verstappen. But he is not, as yet, Drivers’ Championship material.
Constructors’ Championship Favourites
The relentless consistency of the Mercedes car explains why they have enjoyed so much success for the best part of a decade.
Interestingly, they have reinvented the wheel – so to speak – in the off-season with a Dual-Axis Steering system that has been the talk of the paddock, although it’s highly unlikely to give them a major advantage. The only other major change is a new cooling system, which should help to eradicate some of the problems that Mercedes had in hotter conditions, principally Austria in the midst of its heatwave and in Brazil.
As for Ferrari, their SF90 car offers an excellent foundation for the team to build – even if reliability was an issue at times last term.
If lessons have been learned, and Ferrari chiefs Mattia Binotto and Louis Camilleri have spoken of investment into the vehicle’s engine and aerodynamics, and while it would be a leap into the unknown to suggest they will progress once again, there’s no doubt that the ‘Prancing Horse’ are nibbling at the tail of Mercedes.
Red Bull’s early speed tests in 2020 have not been all that encouraging, but then they started last season slowly too – it took Verstappen nine races to land on the podium.
Mercedes were more than 200 points clear of Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship in 2019, and it would take something extraordinary for such dominance to be overturned in just a year.
Underdogs and Ones to Watch
Again, McLaren are expected to be the ‘best of the rest’, and that will provide a platform on which Carlos Sainz Jr and Lando Norris can thrive. Sainz took third place at the Brazilian Grand Prix, and that was the fourth of his top-five finishes in 2019. Another year older, the Spaniard can improve once more.
Norris enters his second season as an F1 driver after an encouraging start for the 20-year-old. He improved as 2019 went on, and consistently delivering top-six finishes – with the odd podium return – will be the name of the for the Englishman.
Pierre Gasly was a fantastic second at the Brazilian Grand Prix but his progression may be hampered by an unreliable Scuderia AlphaTauri vehicle.
Many are tipping Daniel Ricciardo to replace Vettel at Ferrari in time for the 2021 season, but for that to happen the Australian will need to show his class this season too. He will need Renault to improve in order to match his ambition, but if they can then Ricciardo can really shine in a car that gives him a fighting chance of taking on the big boys.
Seventh Heaven for Hamilton and Mercedes
Taking Bottas out of the equation, Hamilton finished 135 points clear of Verstappen last season in the Drivers’ Championship and Mercedes dominated the Constructors’ category by 235 points. How on earth can Ferrari and Red Bull expect to close the gap?
It would take something extraordinary, and especially so if the Achilles heel of the Mercedes car has been solved with that new cooling system.
We know that Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen are supremely gifted young drivers, and it is rumoured that Ferrari have made genuine strides with their car in the off-season. But have they made enough progress to derail the winning machine that is Mercedes?
It seems highly doubtful, and even if the chasm is narrowed we still expect Hamilton and Mercedes to be comfortable victors come the end of the season – you can back him at odds of 11/20 with Betsson.
Do you think Lewis Hamilton will make it a magnificent seven, or can one of the young pretenders like Leclerc or Verstappen steal his crown?
And can Red Bull usurp Ferrari as Formula One’s next best team behind Mercedes?