By Daniel Gaffney
After a long winter break, the lights will finally go out, and the long-awaited 2020 Formula One season will kick off in Melbourne. But this year promises to be a bit different…
There is anxiety over the global coronavirus outbreak, which has led to the postponement of the fourth race of the season, in China, and forced the second – in Bahrain – to be held behind closed doors. It is not yet certain how the spread of the virus may affect the rest of the season.
Along side this, there is also a rooted distrust between the teams and the sport’s governing body over the legality of Ferrari’s engine last season, with many in the paddock feeling that Ferrari were not properly punished for duping officials over fuel flow regulations.
This is all happening as F1 embarks on one of the most significant seasons in the sport’s history.
British driver Lewis Hamilton is shooting for a seventh drivers’ world championship title, which would draw him level with Michael Schumacher. This season could also see the 6-time world champion surpass Michael Schumacher’s all time record of 91 race wins.
Formula one also celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. 2020 will feature the fastest cars in the sport’s history, before a change to regulations in 2021 shaves seconds off of lap times in the hope of producing more exciting racing.
While the action out on track promises to entertain, many fans are looking forward to what outgoing Renault driver Nico Hülkenberg called: Formula One’s ‘silly season’.
There is the potential for a major shake-up in the driver market, as most of the big names – including Hamilton – have their contracts coming up for renewal. And there are some significant aspects of the plans for 2021 still to be finalised.
So far, only Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen have signed long-term deals with Ferrari and Red Bull respectively. All the other top drivers – Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo – are out of contract, along with a number of other drivers up and down the pit lane.
After being comprehensively beaten by his teammate Charles Leclerc in 2019, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel has a lot to prove this year. Ferrari say Vettel is their “first choice at the moment”, but many questions surround that. After the tensions of 2019, do Ferrari really want two ‘A-listers’ in the same team? If Leclerc is again quicker than Vettel on balance, could the German accept a supporting role? Given his pride at his achievements so far, the likely answer is no.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, and Lewis Hamilton have both been heavily linked with the Maranello outfit. Hamilton was rumoured last season to have already had an informal meeting with Ferrari Chairman, John Elkann.
If Hamilton does move, who will replace him? And will Mercedes stick with the consistently out-performed Valteri Bottas?
Current reports are that Hamilton is expected to stay where he is, assuming Mercedes stay in F1 – and team boss Toto Wolff has described reports that the board are considering their future as “complete nonsense”. While Mercedes junior drivers George Russell and Esteban Ocon will both want to make a case for themselves to be promoted to a race seat at the Silver Arrows in 2021. But a lot can change over the course of a season.
Last year, Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg was the man who found himself without a chair when the music stopped. Who will it be in 2020?