This year F1 looks to get back to normal, however, already that appears to be in doubt with the calendar already being rewritten. The coronavirus pandemic has always been in the minds of many in the sport, but last year we saw the sport able to travel safely with the handful of cases.
Mercedes and Sir Lewis Hamilton are going to be the main story this season, they are after the eighth drivers for Hamilton as well as his century of wins and the German manufacture going for the constructors. Hamilton is in his prime, but with next years regulation changes how long does he want to keep going.
Valtteri Bottas only has a year’s contract as well. Mercedes is in a very strong position despite not having a long term driver signed to race. Bottas admitted in Sakhir that being outshone by Russell would be ‘embarrassing,’ that happened.
Russell is the one to watch, and we have seen that he has outshone his Williams, and can he use his one race with Mercedes to move the team forwards?
Red Bull know they need to hit the ground running well, they admit that themselves. They want to be fighting Mercedes, with the new line up of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez they hope they can be more consistent with three to four races to be closer to Mercedes when they make mistakes.
Red Bull enter the final year with Honda, they have until the beginning of June when the deadline is ‘normally’ for confirming engine supply for the following year and we all know they are interested in building their own engines.
This is going to be a key battle in the politics of F1, to do that they need the engine regulations to be frozen. The question is will Mercedes, Ferrari and Alpine agree to freeze the engines, I think this is going to be a hard-fought battle. But, if Red Bull loses this and if they are left without an engine Alpine under the regulations would be forced to supply Red Bull.
Red Bull need a title challenge but know they need to overcome to the issue of starting the season slowly then growing stronger and challenging Mercedes towards the end of the season. So will the freeze in certain parts of the car help them?
The arrival of Sergio Perez at Red Bull I believe is going to push Max Verstappen, which we haven’t seen in the last two years. The biggest task for Red Bull is challenging Mercedes consistency over the course of the season.
Can Perez challenge and be on the same level a Verstappen? That’s what Red Bull really need if they are going to fight Mercedes, we need to remember it could take a few races to settle in. Realistically about four races in is when I think we will be able to assess how the drivers are performing.
Ferrari has a difficult season, the directives in February last year saw them lose performance. This year, Ferrari want to be challenging for the title, but over the last year, they have only had three podiums. They also have their youngest driver line up in their history.
Sainz and Leclerc are a very exciting line up for a new era for Ferrari, we know that the team needs to use this year as a rebuilding year ahead of next years regulation change. It shocked me when Mattia Binotto said openly last year that Ferrari wasn’t expecting to challenge for the title with the minimum third in the constructors.
All the teams know this year is going to be one where they are using effectively ‘B-spec‘ 2020 cars because this year’s cars are largely carried over from last year. They have this token system when it comes to upgrades this will be interesting to see how this plays out in terms of developing the cars, could this put in motion regulations which freeze certain parts for a few years to improve racing? This could be an interesting discussion.
The budget cap, better financial distribution under the Concorde Agreement come into force this year. I think this will be at the back of everyone’s mind in the midfield, but we shouldn’t expect to see changes in the competitive order until 2023-24 when I think this cap will start to really prove its worth.
We will be watching to see if any team does have to stop developing because they have hit the budget cap? I think this is unlikely as teams always manage to find a way of squeezing the most from there resources. I’ll be watching Aston Martin, with the new investment the arrival of Sebastian Vettel.
The coronavirus pandemic will continue to have an impact, already we have seen drivers test positive this year and races be postponed. This year won’t be normal, but the question is how close we can get to a ‘near normal.’
The virus didn’t have a major impact in terms of the championship, and we can’t say for certain it will be the same this year. There I think will be no appetite to vaccinate the whole paddock as we know the people in the sport are reasonably fit and well.
The midfield battle will be tight, this development war will continue but there isn’t much between the Aston, Alpine, McLaren and Alpha Tauri. Last year two of these teams managed to take wins and throughout the season there was only a handful of points between the teams, as well as close racing on the track.
Mercedes will be suppling both Aston and McLaren, this could give the Woking team that extra boost in fighting each other. I think are at the same level, or McLaren slightly ahead, but this is going to be about how they spend the cash within the cap.
Fernando Alonso’s returns to Alpine for his third stint at the Enstone team, this year is not the one he wanted he was motivated to return to the sport by the regulation change. He has a big challenge to re-find his form in the mid-2000’s, or is he coming back for fun? Alonso in my view isn’t a driver who races for fun he wants to have wins and podiums.
Stefano Domenicali took over as F1 CEO in January, his first year and 100 days will tell us a lot about his vision and priorities for the sport in the years ahead. One of his immediate priorities will be steering the sport through this pandemic and putting next years regulations in place.
Domenicali, I think along with Ross Brawn are in a stronger position than Carey because they have been team principals and worked for Ferrari. The biggest challenge they have is getting Ferrari to agree to freeze the power units again.
The reason Ferrari don’t want to do this is because of the deficit they have on power to Mercedes and they still retain veto powers. Ferrari admitted they need the regulations before being really competitive, this year I still believe they are going to be on the back foot.
There will be some stories which no one could predict, but you have to believe the close fight in the midfield.