The 2019 F1 Season saw new challengers to the crown. It even produced some stunning races at Germany and Brazil where the title favourites came up short. However at the end of it all, Mercedes AMG Petronas and Lewis Hamilton reigned supreme..for the sixth time.
The sport celebrates 70 years of racing in 2020. It is the last year before there is an overhaul of technical regulations by the FIA in order to bring more parity to the playing field. 2020 also sees a couple of driver changes - Esteban Ocon comes in to replace Nico Hulkenberg at Renault while Nicolas Latifi, 2019 F2 Championship Runner-up ( a rookie ) replaces Robert Kubica at Rokit Williams F1 Team who took up a reserve driver role at Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team. Sadly Nyck de Vries, the reigning F2 Champion couldn't make a place for himself in the world of F1 and left the McLaren Driver Program to race with Mercedes in Formula E.
The Vietnam GP ( to be held in the capital city of Hanoi ) and the Dutch GP at Zandvoort are the new tracks added to the F1 Calendar. The German Grand Prix, unfortunately, made its exit for 2020.
So what has changed on the Regulations side for 2020?
1) Teams will be allowed to use one more MGU-K unit compared to 2019 to compensate for the increased demands of contesting twenty-two races.
2) Pre-season tests are shortened from 4 days to 3 and the mid-season tests of Bahrain and Spain have been done away with to ease the strain of a longer season.
3) Teams aren't allowed to hide their cars / put up screens during the Test Days.
4) The Hours of Curfew are extended from Eight to Nine, allowing mechanics some more rest on Race Weekends. Teams however are allowed to break the curfew twice in one season without attracting a penalty.
5) The rules surrounding jump-starts and missing the weighbridge procedure ( in-session ) have been softened. This will allow stewards to dish out less severe punishments ( based on steward discretion ).
6) The "Waving of the Chequered Flag" makes a return. The Chequered Light Panel has been done away with after a glitch caused the Japanese GP to end a lap earlier in 2019.
7) Drivers will have more control at Race Starts. 90% of the engine’s torque will be controlled directly on the driver’s command with their clutch paddle or paddles ( which the rules now stipulate to be “pull-type” paddles ). Drivers will still have stall prevention and bite point finder functions available to them – but the onus is now even more on them to make sure they get a good getaway.
The pre-season tests are done and dusted. The Season Opener in Australia is next.
Let us have a look at the report card of each team post testing!
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :
Mercedes AMG Petronas have been the strongest team in the Turbo Era. They have snapped up all the titles on offer since 2014. The pre-season tests in 2020 suggest it might be no different. Mercedes always find novel ways to stay ahead of the competition and the latest addition to their arsenal was the Dual Axis Steering system or DAS.
So what is DAS? I quote formula1.com "The DAS system works by Bottas and Hamilton pushing and pulling on the steering wheel in the cockpit of their W11, the action effecting a change on the car’s front wheel toe angle – with conjecture remaining about the exact benefits the system brings." They will be using it in Melbourne as the tests revealed the system working brilliantly.
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas stay with the team for 2020. They enjoy a really amicable relationship with a fair bit of competitiveness ontrack. Bottas had a better outing in 2019 and will be hoping to mount a bigger challenge for the title. Lewis Hamilton is chasing the dream of equaling Michael Schumacher's record of 7 World Titles! Hamilton had a near perfect 2019 but in 2020 Bottas wont be the only challenger to the title. Max Verstappen and the Ferrari Duo will be gunning for it as well. Hamilton has been there, done that on 6 occasions...so he has an edge.
Mercedes clocked the highest number of laps in the pre-season tests while Bottas was the only driver to go set a 1min 15s lap. The only hiccup came in the form of a breakdown in the power unit during testing ( something they will address before Australia ). Their pace ontrack is also backed up by brilliant strategic calls, something that was a regular feature at races where they weren't the quickest.
Mercedes are once again the team to beat in 2020. Period.
Red Bull Racing F1 Team :
Red Bull had a challenging start to 2019. Max Verstappen brought home a chunk of points, podiums and victories up while Pierre Gasly, the recruit that replaced Daniel Ricciardo found it hard to make things work in the A team. He was eventually demoted ( at Spa, Belgium ) and replaced by Alexander Albon who hit the track running with very strong performances. His finishes in the second half of the season warranted him a seat for 2020, to partner Max Verstappen. If Mercedes boast about their DAS System then Red Bull have some innovations of their own - a clever new steering and double bulkhead arrangement that is seen on their challenger RB 16.
Max Verstappen will be the leader at Red Bull while Albon will provide a solid supporting role. Verstappen's Orange Army will be looking forward to flood the stands for the maiden Dutch GP in Zandvoort. Verstappen even got a few laps on the circuit thanks to a Red Bull event there. It will be interesting to see how the cars cope with the Banking that makes a return after the races at Indianapolis in US.
Red Bull will need Albon to bring home some podiums and possibly wins that will aid them in the Constructors' fight. Honda proved to be the 2nd fastest engine after Mercedes in pre-season testing, so the signs look really promising. They need to ensure that the engines stay reliable though, something that hurt them in the business end of 2019.
Red Bull will be hot on Mercedes' heels. Will they be able to sustain a challenge consistently throughout the season is another question. Unlike 2019, there isn't as much uncertainty about the competitiveness of their drivers and the team can channelize their energies towards reducing the gap at the front.
Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :
Ferrari, the most successful team in F1 is going through one of the longest droughts in terms of winning a Championship. They have worked really hard to make it back up since the onset of the Turbo Era but their best hasn't been good enough vs the might of the Mercedes. 2019 was going to be their year, with the fastest car and an amazing driver pairing ( mix of experience and youth ). However it all fell apart with strategic howlers, driver errors, ontrack skirmishes and reliability problems. They even went on to admit that there was a fundamental flaw in the design of the car, something that couldn't be undone. There were also questions raised and an investigation launched by the FIA over the legality of their engine with regards to fuel consumption and their sensors. A settlement was done recently, something that didn't go down well with the other teams ( the ones not powered by Ferrari ). Nonetheless they finished P2 in the Constructors' Championship with their drivers finishing 4th and 5th.
The team already seem to be on the backfoot before the start of 2020. They were consistently lapping half a second slower than the Mercedes on the straights in their effort to improve cornering speeds at the pre-season tests. Some Experts suggest that Ferrari were sandbagging, something that they aren't really good at. Based on the results from the pre-season tests, Ferrari seem to be the 3rd fastest team on the grid. Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc renew their partnership. It remains to be seen who will enjoy the number 1 status ( although it fell apart after a few races ). Vettel is aware of the fact that this is his last chance at winning a championship with Ferrari; Leclerc wants to establish himself as the driver to back for the title fight. Ferrari function well with a clear Number 1 and Number 2, they must ensure it stays that way if they wish to mount a challenge of any kind this year. There can be no room for politics or in-fighting within the team. The top brass must ensure that they back their personnel in their respective areas of expertise.
Racing Point F1 Team :
Racing Point had a mercurial 2019, finishing P7 in the Constructors' Championship. The bulk of the points were scored by Sergio Perez while the new entrant Lance Stroll took some time to find his feet. The team has been on the rebuild ( albeit with new owners ) and there is no doubt that they are here to stay and are serious about taking the fight to the big boys. The 2020 Challenger has striking similarities to the W10, Mercedes' Championship Winning Car from last year, thereby attracting the attention of many in the paddock. It has been setting swift lap times in the pre-season tests and being dubbed the 4th fastest car ( possibly ) by the experts. Perez too admitted that this was the best car he has ever driven in F1. Perez will be the driver to lead the charge according to me. He is well versed with the way the team works and capable of providing precise information for developing the car even further. Its still early days for Stroll but he will need to bring his A game to the table if the team wants to move up the grid. This season will reveal his true abilities and hopefully address all reservations that experts had about him.
Racing Point have been there, done that. They have a really strong contender for 2020. Hopefully it can deliver consistent performances every race weekend. The unreliable ( for now ) Mercedes Powertrain could be the chink in their armour..time will tell.
Renault Sport F1 Team :
Renault had a good outing in Barcelona in the pre-season tests. They were the 3rd fastest team ( on one lap pace ), even beating the mighty Scuderia Ferrari. The French based outfit landed the services of the Flying Frenchman Esteban Ocon to partner Daniel Ricciardo for 2020. Cyril Abiteboul, the Team Principal has to start delivering in 2020, specially after the disappointments of 2019 or his place is in peril. The team are also aware of the fact that another mediocre year and they stand to lose their prized asset in Daniel Ricciardo to another team. Esteban Ocon will take sometime in settling into the team so the onus will be on Ricciardo to deliver from the word go. The signs look positive from the results in Barcelona but the real capabilities of the car will be revealed in Bahrain ( a power track ). They have an equally good driver pairing, if not better, in their battle with their immediate rivals in McLaren. Both drivers will be pushing each other all through the season and if they can perform at the level that they are capable of performing, then they can be the best of the rest.
I still believe that getting into the Top 3 won't be possible, even though the deficit has reduced. The Team have the resources, the personnel, the facilities to keep developing their challenger throughout the year. Hopefully 2020 is the Year of Revival!
McLaren F1 Team :
McLaren worked really hard in 2019 and reaped the rewards with their 4th place finish in the Constructors' and a 3rd place finish for Carlos Sainz Jr. in Brazil.. their first podium in 2072 days. However its a known fact that the higher you go up the grid, the tougher it becomes. McLaren will be well aware of the fact that the Renault works team will leave no stone unturned in reclaiming the 4th place that they lost in 2019. Their biggest asset in this battle is their Driver Pairing of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr. The latter finished 6th ( best of the rest ) winning what is known as the "B Championship" in the media circles. while Norris had a great year as a rookie. Both are capable of replicating ( if not going better ) their performances in 2020. The Team will look upon Sainz to spearhead the challenge. They should hope to score more podiums in 2020 to really assert themselves as a force to reckon with. Norris has worked hard over the winter break to get fitter and faster. He could be the next best thing for Britain ( after Hamilton ) in racing.
This year, pre-season tests suggest that its going to be a close contest between the two Renault powered teams. Its really tough to put your money on either. McLaren were slow off the blocks but came into their own after a few rounds in 2019; but as of now, based on the data received, they seem to be the 6th fastest team on the grid.
Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team ( formerly Scuderia Toro Rosso ) :
Scuderia Alpha Tauri which was formerly known as Scuderia Toro Rosso had a memorable 2019 with 2 podium finishes for both their drivers, something that other mid-field placed teams weren't able to accomplish. They will be aiming to throw up more surprises in 2020 in their new avatar and livery. They persist with their lineup of Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat. Kvyat did a fine job in 2019 and Gasly came into his own after Red Bull decided to demote him down the grid into the B Team. Both the drivers will be hoping to maintain the momentum going into 2020. I really hope both get an opportunity to prove themselves with a top team in the future ( if not Red Bull ).
Toro Rosso have always been in the mix, 2020 is going to be no different. The biggest positive for them will be the mileage they have clocked in the pre-season tests. The Honda Power Unit ( which is getting faster and more reliable with each passing day ) coupled with a potent chassis will pose a serious challenge to their immediate contenders. Team Principal Franz Tost is bullish about 2020 and believes his team can finish in P5 at the end of 2020. McLaren's Carlos Sainz Jr. also stated that Alpha Tauri was one of the two teams he feared most for 2020. They finished P6 in 2019..it will be really tough to go better than that in 2020 but in F1..you never know.
Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :
Alfa Romeo Racing F1 is now known as Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 after Orlen, the Polish based Oil Refinement Company came onboard as a co-title sponsor. Robert Kubica, the ex- Williams Driver joined the team in the reserve driver role while Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi continue their partnership for another year. It was a good decision to persist with the latter; he has had a very strong second half in 2019 and should be able to maintain the momentum in 2020. In Kimi Raikkonen, the team has the wise old head and he will always be a force to reckon with. ( This could be his last year in F1 though ). He is adept at eking out results while Giovinazzi with his revived form could be auditioning for a potential seat in 2021 at Ferrari. Both share a great relationship, the Italian Stallion learning the trade with the Iceman as his mentor.
Alfa Romeo's performances in the pre-season tests have been somewhat of a hit and miss. The low-fuel runs were good but race simulations a disappointment. Both drivers reiterated the need to make changes before the Australian GP and the Hinwil based outfit must ensure that they don't lag behind in the ever-so-tight midfield. Strategic calls will also be a big make or break in the races, something that the team struggled with in 2019.
Its early days for a prediction but I do hope to see the team battle hard in the points scoring positions, possibly even for a podium.
Haas F1 Team :
Haas F1 had a season to forget in 2019; after the highs of 2018, the team weren't able to break the rut of mediocrity in 2019. Their decision to persist with their current pairing of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen for 2020 came as a big surprise. The only logical reason behind this seems to be their desire for continuity and working with people who are well versed with the functioning of the team. Pre-season tests suggest that the car is nowhere near the level of performance they expect it to be. Infact some experts believe that this will be the slowest car on the grid in 2020. The Ferrari power unit has also been through an overhaul and all isn't well on the powertrain side either. It might end up being a very long season for the team.
Gene Haas, the team owner has made it clear that he will reconsider his decision of continuing in the sport should their results not improve in 2020. Roman and Kevin must ensure that they work together, as one, in propelling the team forward, maximizing results as and when the opportunities arise. This year will decide the fate of both, the drivers and the team. They can't be sparring team-mates, they have to justify their status as F1 drivers.
Rokit Williams Racing F1 Team :
Williams were the slowest team on the grid in 2019. The team also lost a sponsor ( Orlen ) which left with Robert Kubica who moved to Alfa Romeo ( as a reserve driver ). They have roped in the services of F2 Driver and 2019 F2 Runner-up Nicolas Latifi to partner George Russell for 2020. Russell will have his hands full since Latifi isn't a slouch. He will eventually come out on top I feel.
Williams was the first car out ontrack for the pre-season tests.. a big step from not running on the first 2 days last pre-season. They even put in a considerable number of laps albeit with a few hiccups on the powertrain side. They are in the thick of the lower half ( 7th to 9th ) of the field and must work hard throughout the year to ensure they don't lose touch of their immediate rivals. There seem to be better days ahead with a slightly faster car, a young and fast driver pairing but the biggest challenge will be finances and their ability to bring in upgrades throughout the year.
2020 is an important year for the team and its top brass..they can't be stuck in this vicious cycle of staying last every year..something drastic will have to be done then.
The outbreak of the COVID - 19 Coronavirus :
The start of the 2020 F1 Season is less than a week away and the entire sporting spectacle is under serious threat due to the global outbreak of the COVID - 19 Coronavirus. The virus, whose origins were in China has spread rapidly claiming the lives and infected many globally.
Moto GP, Formula One's counterpart on 2 wheels, had to cancel their season opener in Qatar and some other GPs also seem to be impacted.
In F1, the Chinese Grand Prix ( 4th Race on the Calendar ) has been postponed due to the outbreak. The Bahrain Grand Prix Organisers have declared the race to be a "Participant - only" event. The Maiden Vietnam GP could also be cancelled if the situation fails to improve. There are logistical hassles as well due to these schedule changes. The Australian GP ( as of now ) proceeds as planned.
Travel Restrictions and Quarantine procedures have been enforced by various countries to control and contain the spread of the virus. Italy is one of the countries badly hit and this will impact the number of personnel that teams like Scuderia Ferrari and Scuderia Alpha-Tauri can deploy for a race weekend.
Praying for all those affected by the virus and wishing everyone a speedy recovery...
F1 returns ( hopefully ) and so will sanity! This will be Kimi Raikkonen's last year in F1 and I hope he has a great end to an illustrious career. I plan to be at 4 races to support him and Giovinazzi in the Alfa Romeo Orlen colours!
Ferrari gets another shot to make it to the top. Are Ferrari sandbagging and trying to hide their cards until the last moment? We shall know soon.. Haas F1 and Rokit Williams F1 need to have a decent season in 2020 to deem it favourable to stay beyond 2020 ( for Haas ) and keep the team alive and potentially grow ( for Williams ). Red Bull need to ensure their challenger gives Mercedes a hard time and keeps Verstappen convinced that this is the team to be in for 2021. Renault Sport F1 Team can't afford to get it wrong again..they have a lot at stake besides holding onto Daniel Ricciardo.
Title Number 7 beckons for both Lewis Hamilton & Mercedes AMG Petronas F1... probably the year of completion of their fruitful partnership. He might look at other pastures post 2020..
A lot will be revealed over the course of the season. It is the year of "Now or Never" for so many!
Bring on F1 2020!