MELBOURNE, Australia — After what felt like a long off-season since the season finale in Abu Dhabi in December, Formula One finally returns to Australia this week, albeit amid a flood of coronavirus related concerns.
However, drivers have one more season to impress their bosses, since many are out of contract at the end of the year, and teams have around 21 races to squeeze the most out of this year’s car before the big regulation changes of 2021 shake things up.
In our first edition of Power Rankings for the 2020 season, we have listed every driver’s targets and concerns for the year ahead, starting in Melbourne on Friday.
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
If you have any doubts about Hamilton’s motivation ahead of season 2020, check out his most recent Instagram post. The six-time world champion is looking ripped and believes he’s in the best shape of his life. Add in the fact he’s piloting the grid’s best car (again!) and it’s pretty clear he’s the man to beat, not only in Australia, but over the course of the season.
The reigning F1 world champion is the man to beat this season once again. Photo by PETER NICHOLLS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
Could this be the year Verstappen consistently challenges Hamilton? Testing suggests it very well might be after Red Bull impressed in Barcelona. If the car can be even 90 percent of the Mercedes, Verstappen will like his chances of challenging for the title, and with a long-term deal just signed, the young Dutchman has to feel on top of the racing world.
3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
In his first season at Ferrari, Leclerc crushed his four-time world championship winning teammate Sebastian Vettel. By Abu Dhabi he had assumed the No. 1 position at the team. Ferrari might not have had a great winter but Leclerc has to like his position and with a year of experience under his belt, is only going to be stronger in 2020.
Ferrari will be hopeful that Charles Leclerc can kick off from last season. Photo by Marc Gonzalez / AFP7 / Europa Press Sports via Getty Images
4. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
He might not have picked up a single trophy last year, but Sainz was just about the standout performer of 2019. Last year’s sixth place finish in the championship has to fuel the Spaniard with confidence ahead of this season. If he repeats it this year, he will no doubt be one of the hottest properties in the sport ahead of the F1 silly season.
5. Sergio Perez (Racing Point)
If we were handing out preseason awards, Perez and Racing Point might just get it. The team looks to have taken a giant step and we all know Perez, who has eight podiums in his career, is the driver who can capitalize when given a sniff. This could be the year he reminds the world why he is one of the most underrated and often overlooked drivers in F1.
6. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
Let’s hope Bottas 3.0 is an improvement on the first two versions. This season, in particular the first half a dozen races, will make or break Bottas’ career. If he can’t consistently challenge Hamilton, it’s going to be curtains for him at Mercedes. The fact he heads into the season with the grid’s strongest car yet under enormous pressure means he is unable to hold a place inside the top five.
7. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault)
The Australian’s decision to leave Red Bull for Renault left many scratching their heads but it did little to tarnish his reputation as being one of the grid’s most talented drivers. Ricciardo was a shining light for the French team in 2019 and heads to the season-opener, his home race, with a stronger car. Oh, don’t forget he will play a pivotal role later in the year when the driver market hots up.
Will this be Daniel Ricciardo’s last season at Renault? Photo by Marc Gonzalez / AFP7 / Europa Press Sports via Getty Images
8. Alex Albon (Red Bull)
Red Bull offering Albon a contract for 2020 shows just how highly he’s rated by the team and it’s little surprise after a very impressive run of form in the second half of last year. If he survived being thrown into the deep end last season, we could be about to witness a breakout season, particularly given Honda’s engine package looks to have taken another step in the right direction.
9. Lando Norris (McLaren)
Last year, Norris might have produced the greatest rookie season since Hamilton in 2007. That’s no hyperbole. Norris demonstrated class and experiences well beyond his 20 years of age en route to 11th in the championship. If he can close the gap in qualifying to Sainz, Albon won’t be the only second year driver producing a breakout season. But remember, with expectation comes pressure…
10. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
The Australian Grand Prix will reveal plenty about Vettel. Let’s be honest, 2019 was an absolute shocker for someone who holds four world championships. Too many mistakes. Too much complaining. The Ferrari looks to be some way off the pace already and if Leclerc trounces him again, it could really start to impact Vettel’s racing legacy.
Sebastian Vettel will be looking to bounce back from a disastrous 2019 campaign. Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images
11. Esteban Ocon (Renault)
The Frenchman makes a much anticipated return to the grid in 2020 and just misses out on a spot inside the top 10 of our Power Rankings. We know Ocon’s talented, but Ricciardo has already had a season to get accustomed to the Renault package and heads into this season with a huge advantage. If Ocon can’t start strongly, pressure will continue to grow.
12. George Russell (Williams)
His rookie season will forever be overshadowed by what Norris and Albon achieved in stronger machinery, but don’t discount Russell. Williams look stronger this year — albeit still likely the slowest car — and with a rookie teammate alongside him, it could be a season where he stamps himself as another youngster worthy of a top end drive. Mercedes in 2021?
13. Lance Stroll (Racing Point)
The Racing Point battle between Stroll and Perez wasn’t even close last year with the Mexican winning it 52-21. Season 2020 is a great opportunity for Stroll. He can start fresh and take advantage of a Racing Point car which looks much quicker. If he struggles again, even father Lawrence Stroll will start to lose patience in him.
14. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)
Plenty has changed for Gasly in the last 12 months. He lost his seat at Red Bull, claimed his first podium and then his new team, Toro Rosso, decided to switch its name to AlphaTauri. We’ll see in the early races of the season whether his second place finish in Brazil last year has him believing he belongs in the sport.
15. Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri)
After a solid start to last season, Kvyat began to fall away once Helmut Marko ruled him out of a return to Red Bull in 2020. It was as if he had lost all motivation. If he arrives in Melbourne with a better attitude, he will be favoured to get the better of his teammate, but if he’s still dwelling on the past season 2020 could prove to be his last in F1.
16. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)
Speaking of final seasons… Raikkonen had some strong moments last year, particularly in the early rounds, but at 40 years of age, his time is coming to an end. The days of Kimi fighting for wins and podiums have gone, and we’re not even sure he’s going to consistently be battling for points. Right now it feels as if he’s just making up the numbers.
As the clock ticks down on Kimi Raikkonen’s career, can he still deliver some victories? Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images
17. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
You’ve got to worry about Haas in 2020. This time last year they appeared to be the midfield leader and we all know how that turned out. K-Mag had just three points scoring finishes in the final 20 races of the season and nothing we saw in Barcelona suggests things will be different this year. It’s a shame because we all know what he can do when he has the tools.
18. Romain Grosjean (Haas)
You could just about copy and paste the above. Like Magnussen, Grosjean had a disappointing season last year. A crash in testing is the latest mistake from Grosjean and few would be surprised if this was his final year in the sport.
19. Nicholas Latifi (Williams)
He’s the only rookie in 2020 and comes in without much expectation. From Latifi’s perspective, that’s a good thing. Having said that, he will have his work cut out for him, going head-to-head against Russell, but it’s unlikely Williams will find itself in many points scoring positions and 2020 will be a year for him to get to grips with the sport.
20. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
You get the feeling Mick Schumacher will be following the fortunes of Giovinazzi in 2020 as he could be his replacement for next season. The Italian showed very little last year which would suggest he can consistently fight for points and with the car looking even slower, it could be a long, disappointing season.