Karun weighs in on how the midfield could play out in the 2020 F1 season
Like Senna, Mansell or Hamilton, you always watch Max’s race knowing that something is going to happen
ONE THING TO CONSIDER IS THAT WITH stable rules for F1 in 2020 and a big change coming for 2021, the answer of who comes out on top may well rely on which of the teams has committed more resources to the short term rather than holding back a bit with an eye on the future.
Max Verstappen has already shown that if there’s a car that’s fast enough to challenge for the title, he’s ready for it. The speed and consistency he’s shown in the last 18 months has been very impressive. Like Senna, Mansell or Hamilton, you always watch Max’s race knowing that something is going to happen. He’s not going to just drive around – there will always be some moments of dramatic brilliance or controversy.
Red Bull Racing were perhaps more competitive last year than they were expecting with three wins and strong pace in Hungary and Mexico as well. But being in the fight for wins at 25 per cent of the races isn’t going to make you a title contender and Red Bull know that. The chassis didn’t really deliver until Austria when the front wing upgrade seemed to unlock the potential of the RB15.
Honda have made very good progress and by the end of the season as a package, they were not far from the Mercedes. They have good resources as well as the key people from the years of domination from 2010 to 2013. I would be surprised if the Red Bull-Honda package isn’t closer to being title contenders than in 2019.
In the midfield, Mclaren were the most improved team of 2019 and the whole team has a very upbeat and buoyant atmosphere about it now. Let’s remember that there were times in 2018 where Alonso was qualifying behind Stroll or Sirotkin. No disrespect to either of those drivers, but that showed that the Mclaren was at times the slowest car in 2018 and therefore makes their recovery last year all the more impressive.
With Andreas Seidl at the helm, Zak Brown doing what he does best and roping in new sponsors, James Key now fully with his feet under the desk, a new wind tunnel coming, the Mercedes power unit deal a year away and an exciting young driver line up, there’s plenty of cause for optimism around Mclaren’s future.
Last season was a bit of a wake up call for Renault I think. The power unit side in Viry has clearly made steps forward in terms of performance as their pace at power sensitive venues such as
Canada, Spa and Monza showed. Reliability across the works cars and the Mclaren customers was still not as good as they would have liked but the bigger concern for the works team was that Mclaren were able to comprehensively outscore them last year with the same power unit despite being miles behind in 2018.
As a factory team, finishing behind your customer is never going to go down well with the paymasters (although let’s be honest, the extraordinary Carlos Ghosn saga has probably kept them busy over the winter). Cyrile Abiteboul has recognised that things need to be shaken up and the departing Nick Chester has been replaced by Pat Fry and Dirk de Beer. The former played a large part in Mclaren’s recent turn-around while the latter was well respected at Enstone and Ferrari despite a difficult time at Williams recently.
Both of these new signings have come in too late to have a real influence on the 2020 car but it’s an important move with the view towards the parallel design programs next year. Aero and downforce is still pivotal in F1 but so is consistency when you’re talking about a championship position. The team still have very good and experienced people running the trackside team like Ciaron Pillbeam and Mark Slade who are calm and sensible people and exactly what the team needs.
I’m very excited for the two new races but for very different reasons. Zandvoort has a lot of history and as a track to drive around on your own, it’s one of my favourites. The atmosphere with the passionate Max Verstappen fans is going to be off the charts.
Overtaking will be a problem at Zandvoort I think. Racing in other categories around there has been pretty processional but the FIA have tried to help this by introducing a highly banked final corner and therefore a long DRS zone to aid overtaking into the first corner. Fingers crossed this works but either way, it should be a good event.
Judging by what I’ve seen of the drawings and simulations, Vietnam could be the opposite. There are some long straights like we’ve seen in Baku as well as some long corners which will be a real challenge for the drivers, cars and tyres. Baku has thrown up some great races and overtaking in the last three years and hopefully we’ll get the same in Vietnam. Having the race early in the season will be interesting as the teams will still be in the phase of properly learning about their cars which could throw up a few anomalies as well. ⌧