The Azerbaijan Grand Prix of June 7th 2020 has been the most recent race of seven to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst the reduced race calendar or complete cancellation of the F1 season is not a ‘good thing’ for any F1 driver or team, there is little doubt that less racing in 2020 and the delayed introduction of the new rule changes – designed to a create closer and more exciting racing across the season and constructors championship in 2021 – will benefit and hinder some more than others.
The one-time world champion and Finnish fans’ favourite Kimi Räikkönen, nicknamed the ‘Ice Man’ due to his cool demeanour and temperament under pressure, has the most to lose from a reduced or postponed 2020 F1 season.
While Räikkönen has not explicitly stated that he will be leaving the sport anytime soon – instead saying he sees the sport “more as a hobby” – the reality of the situation is that his contract with Alfa Romeo runs out at the end of 2020. Couple this with the fact that he is now 40-years-old and the oldest driver on the grid by five years, and you see that the Finn is in a tight-spot for next year.
While there’s no doubt that the 40-year-old is a great driver who can better Alfa Romeo with his exponential experience in the sport, all of his qualities could be utilised without Räikkönen being one of Alfa’s two drivers for 2021 and him having a role in the garage instead. This prospect looks particularly enticing for Alfa Romeo considering Räikkönen only finished 12th out of 20 in the 2019 F1 World Championship. Furthermore, Alfa Romeo will want to opt for a younger driver to partner Antonio Giovinazzi if they are serious about being more than just a Ferrari ‘feeder team’, and finishing higher than second from last in the Constructors’ World Championship.
We may well see the Ice Man in Formula One for one more season, but fans of the sport should not be fooled. The end is near for Kimi Räikkönen, and the Covid-19 pandemic may well have accelerated its arrival.
Daniel Ricciardo signed a two-year $31 million contract with Renault in August 2018 with the distinct aim of winning a World Championship sooner rather than later. In his first season this didn’t even look remotely close to transpiring with Renault finishing 5th in the Constructors’, and Ricciardo himself finishing in 9th with 54 points.
With his contract which expires in 2020 and therefore could engineer himself a move to a top team, the likelihood of a move to a big team like Mercedes and Ferrari is unlikely. Not only do these teams have numerous young, talented drivers in their respective academies, but they also have many placed in teams lower down the grid which they would ordinarily opt for first. Additionally, the F1 grid is littered with other drivers that are younger, less expensive and have performed better in the most recent season than Ricciardo. Options like McLaren’s Carlos Sainz could prove a more attractive option.
The 30-year-old’s opportunities to secure a Drivers’ World Championship are by no means over but the Aussie driver will be hoping that the 2021 rule changes will be able to propel him to the front of the grid in whatever car he may be driving, after wasting what could be two years of his prime driving years in a mediocre car that has failed to deliver on its potential in the first year and could be parked in the garage for most of the second.
2020 is Alex Albon’s second season in Formula One after his successful debut season at both Toro Rosso and Red Bull. This new season will ultimately see him start as Red Bull’s second driver behind Max Verstappen and represents a clear chance for the Thai to firmly cement his place in the team after doing a sterling job in the second half of the season.
Albon, 24, is a talented young driver. He demonstrates that a failure to perform in 2020 doesn’t represent the end of his F1 career at a top level. There is little doubt that a replication of Gasly’s poor performances in 2019 would see Albon swiftly demoted back from Red Bull to Torro Rosso. Due to the attached risk of this season, many may therefore see the postponement or the reduction of the F1 calendar as a good thing for Albon. There is no question that the young driver cannot wait to start racing again in 2020 due to his prior red-hot form of last year that consisted of four 5th placed finishes, three 6th place finishes, and one 4th place finish at Red Bull that he would be desperate to replicate.
The mental and psychological health of any sportsman, especially F1 drivers, is integral to their success or failure on track. Haas’s Romain Grosjean and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly demonstrated in 2018 and 2019 how a number of poor results and crashes can significantly damage a driver’s confidence, and in return negatively affect their future performances. Albon has exhibited no such nerves or loss of confidence thus far, but it is fair to assume that uncertainty regarding this F1 season will be playing havoc on this young driver, who looked set to be without any form of motorsport racing seat in the summer of 2018, until he was tossed a last minute lifeline by the Red Bull Academy. Fans of Albon and Red Bull will hope that the uncertainty hanging over this season will conversely spur Albon onto more success when racing finally resumes.
Haas F1 have been in Formula One for only 6 years. Whilst finishing 5th place in the Constructors’ World Championship in the 2018/19 season – a record achievement for a team that had just joined the sport in 2014. Contrastingly the 2019 season was devastating for Haas, with the American team firmly finishing in 9th place, 29 points behind the 8th placed Alfa Romeo. This huge fall in results and performances even resulted in owner Gene Haas admitting that he would consider closing the Constructors team altogether, if 2020 replicated the same dire performances of the prior year.
A reduced F1 calendar would undoubtedly give the engineers, team strategists and management somewhat of a ‘free-hit’ to work out all the cars’ kinks before the next season. While owner Haas’s aforementioned words highlight that he will not accept failure, it can nevertheless provide the team with vital data and performances that they were missing last season and help them build onto next season. This is in light of F1’s officiating body The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) stating that the same cars of 2020 would be fielded again next season, before the racing regulation changes were introduced at a later date of 2021. This includes Haas’s team principal Günther Steiner, who will certainly hope this new announcement will prevent a repeat of last year, where interviews and the behind-the-scenes documentary, ‘Drive to Survive: Series 2’, depicted an increasingly bewildered and agitated principal, whose team could not comprehend the disparity between qualifying and race pace. For the sake of his reputation, the former Red Bull Technical Director would benefit and hope for a more successful yet reduced season.
Drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen could also benefit from a reduced race calendar considering their poor performances on the track, which saw them finish 18th and 16th respectively in the 2019 Drivers’ Championship. These drivers were not only unsuccessful but also self-destructive, as highlighted by their collision on the opening lap of the British Grand Prix. This was in spite of specific pre-race briefings and instructions that the two were to avoid on track fighting, and instead prioritise the completion of the race so that the team could attempt to fix some of their unexplained lack of race place. With many in F1 questioning the reasoning behind the renewal of Magnussen and particularly Grosjean’s contracts for the 2020 season, perhaps a reduced calendar will see these drivers finish higher in the Driver Championship, a plausible outcome considering both are known to historically be highly inconsistent and reliant on ‘streaks’ of good form. Fans of Haas and their two drivers will hope this eventuality rings true for them.
To argue that the four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel would benefit from a reduced or postponed season would be ludicrous. However when looking at Vettel’s poor 2019 season which saw him finish in 5th place, behind the young Max Verstappen and new team Charles Leclerc in a season when Ferrari statistically had the best car, it would not be an outrageous claim to argue that Vettel simply isn’t the driver he once was. He has failed to win a single World Championship with Ferrari during the ‘Hybrid’ engine era, winning just one race in 2019, finishing 24 points behind his teammate who wasn’t in Formula One two years ago.
Considering Vettel was outperformed by his new teammate in 2019 and Red-Bull’s data has shown that they have a more superior car to Ferrari, if Winter testing is to be believed, it looks probable that Vettel could finish even lower than 5th place. Whilst it’s distinctly possible that Vettel could prove me wrong and rekindle his racing form from 2012 once racing resumes, there is little doubt that Vettel is currently on a downwards trajectory. A full season in this Ferrari car would doubtlessly hasten his departure to teams such as McLaren and Alfa Romeo, who have supposedly been interested in acquiring his services.
Since joining Mercedes, throughout 2018 and 2019 Bottas has failed to set the world alight and match his teammate and six-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton. This was exemplified by Hamilton smashing him on race wins 11 to 0 in 2018, and 11 to 4 in 2019. While Bottas has made an improvement from 2018, he finished 87 points behind Hamilton, and has been criticised for only converting 4 of his 5 poles to race wins and failing to hold his nerve and win at Hockenheim, when all of his rivals were sliding off the track.
Bottas is not an inherently bad driver but it is evident that he is currently only serving as a reliable ‘stop-gap’ in the second Mercedes seat until their junior drivers of Esteban Ocon and George Russell come of age. This was shown by Mercedes Team Principle: Totto Wolff called him an “ideal wingman” and team strategist James Vowles told Bottas at Singapore in 2019 to “slow down” to protect Hamilton from Albon. While the 30-year-old Finn has not publicly spoken out against this arrangement, there is little doubt that he wants to be seen as more than just a deputy. This is not only an issue of pride but also a problem that will either cut short his career at Mercedes or extend it.
Mercedes only confirming that they would retain Bottas for 2020 after the Summer break at the Belgium Grand Prix highlights that they believe his time is nearly up. However, a reduced 2020 season makes it unlikely that Mercedes would cho0se to replace Bottas for 2021; he has only completed a partial season, Ocon has just signed a deal with Renault, and Russell is establishing himself at Williams. Therefore this ‘reduced’ season would effectively give Bottas a season and a half in which to prove himself at Mercedes and retain his seat further. This might be just the right amount of time in for the Finnish driver to prove all his critics wrong and exhibit his finest motorsport form to date. Fans of Valtteri and the man himself will certainly hope this is the case.