F1 2020 Mid-Season Report: Every Driver Graded
There are definitely some fantastic performances going unnoticed this year. Equally, some drivers have fallen well below the mark.
The 2020 Formula One season has reached its midpoint, with nine Grands Prix completed on the condensed 17-race calendar. Unsurprisingly, Lewis Hamilton is leading the championship by way of a substantial 55-point margin. With this in mind, it is easy to forget that those nine races have seen four different winners. Let’s take a closer look at each driver and analyse who is standing out for all the right reasons and also the wrong ones.
At this point, it seems as though Lewis Hamilton could be thrown into a chess tournament, swimming competition or a game of billiards and he would still manage to land on his feet. Hamilton’s journey at Mercedes has, like any good story, had its fair share of great and also more trying times, but his 2020 campaign is perhaps the point of crescendo for both driver and team.
With the exception of a muted performance at the season opener in Austria, Hamilton has not put a foot wrong all season. The only other two instances in which he has dropped points were courtesy of an exceptional performance from Max Verstappen at the second Silverstone weekend and a whirlwind race for the ages at Monza in which Hamilton carved through the field in a from-the-back recovery drive.
As with any great sportsperson, Hamilton has been able to ride his luck from time-to-time, and when he limped over the line to secure victory at the British Grand Prix despite total tyre disintegration, you would not have been foolish to feel at that point he had been given divine right to be crowned champion.
It seems to be a given that 2020 will see Lewis Hamilton not only topple Michael Schumacher’s all-time win tally, but also equal his landmark seven championships. The fact that we can say that speaks volumes of how much Hamilton has developed and grown as a consequence of his move to Mercedes.
Much can be made of the dominance of Hamilton’s car, and rightfully so, as it is almost certainly the most crushingly-superior Silver Arrow of the hybrid era. That is, however, as much of a testament to Hamilton as it is to every other member of the Brackley outfit.
The championship leader has given us no reason to expect the hierarchy to change during second half of the season, as he is riding a wave of momentum from his emphatic victory at Mugello. It seems inevitable that, despite the shortened calendar, Hamilton will earn himself another season of double-figure victories on his way to that seventh crown.
The lights-to-flag victory at Austria’s season-opener must seem like a distant memory for Valtteri Bottas, who has failed to earn a single victory ever since.
In the following eight race weekends, he has been on the podium for all but two, although his teammate has won six of them.
There has been a noticeable shift in demeanour at Mercedes since Bottas was drafted in to fill the Nico Rosberg void. Hamilton may no longer have an adversary who can regularly beat him in the same car, but he does now have a teammate whose pace is good enough to occupy any blue and red challengers who fancy their chances of chasing the Silver Arrows. This seems to have had a beneficial impact on Mercedes’ team dynamic, as everyone now knows where they stand, with significantly less infighting.
The idea of being a tepid tool to maintain the status quo must be frustrating for Bottas individually though, as he of course yearns to be one position further ahead. He always seems to be a step behind Hamilton, though, and on the rare occasion he has been handed a lifeline, he has failed to capitalise, with instances such as the unfortunate tyre failure digging him a further 18-point-hole to Hamilton at the second Silverstone race.
Whilst critics may look at the Finn’s season as lukewarm at best, Mercedes will look at their man as being second in the championship, behind only his champion teammate.
From the outside, Max Verstappen is having an incredible season; he has been on the podium in every race he has finished. Internally, though, Verstappen himself must be seething. The Dutch prodigy has split the two all-conquering Mercedes three times on Sundays and beat them outright at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix – but three instances of misfortune have deprived him of quite possibly a trio of additional podiums to complete the set for the season thus far.
Power unit issues retired him at Monza and at Austria’s season opener when he was running in second, whilst another engine problem saw him lose pace before being rear-ended by Kimi Raikkonen at Mugello.
Verstappen’s frustration spilled over the radio after the Tuscan Grand Prix retirement as he berated the unfortunate series of events. Clearly, Verstappen is frustrated, but if he was able to take a step back and steer his sights away from the untouchable Silver Arrows for a moment, he would begin to appreciate just how exceptional he has been.
Whilst having close to double the points of his teammate, the simple fact that Verstappen, had it not been for his Mugello retirement, would be Hamilton’s closest championship rival, puts him in contention for driver of the season to this point.
Hamilton’s own admiration for Verstappen’s efforts has percolated through some of his recent comments, as he referred to the Red Bull driver as a title threat before his two Italian DNFs.
For Verstappen to even be on Mercedes’ radar, in a car that currently has no right to be so, is astounding. It would be fair to say the team does probably have the second-best package at present, but the gulf to the leader is still so giant.
Lesser drivers would be looking behind them at the surging McLarens, Racing Points and Renaults, but Verstappen’s relentless pursuit of the leading duo is something to be celebrated. Let’s just hope we can see a true Hamilton-versus-Verstappen title fight on level ground before it is all said and done, because they are in a class of their own.
Alex Albon’s season has followed a similar path to his predecessor’s time at Red Bull – seemingly miles behind his teammate Verstappen. Having been steady if nothing else during his half-season in 2019, this year has seen little in the way of improvement for the 24-year-old.
Whilst his aforementioned teammate has claimed a podium in every race he has finished this year, Albon has only managed to grab a solitary top-three at the Tuscan Grand Prix – a race where almost half of the field failed to finish.
Racecraft does not appear to be the issue for Albon, as he has regularly demonstrated his ability to execute some fetching overtakes. One such example came on his way to the podium as he swooped past Sergio Perez’s Racing Point at Mugello’s Turn Three. Evidently, Albon is at least competent on Sundays.
Albon’s primary problem is his qualifying pace, which has been lightyears behind Verstappen on every occasion, with the average deficit being in excess of half a second. In one particularly poor showing, Albon even failed to reach the qualifying shootout when he ended an embarrassing 13th fastest in Hungary.
These uninspiring hot laps are creating an uphill climb for Albon on race days, as he first has to fight his way past the midfield McLarens, Racing Points and Renaults to reach his fellow Red Bull and beyond – at which point, they have already sailed off into the distance without him.
Red Bull are not expecting him to thrash or even equal Verstappen, as they know as much as anyone how high a benchmark he is setting. What they do need, though, is a second driver who is strong enough to stay within touching distance, and right now Albon is nowhere near.
The Thai driver has a sensible head on his shoulders and the level of his peril will be abundantly clear to him amidst Pierre Gasly’s resurgence. Fortunately for Albon, the team has seemingly made an active attempt to praise their man and reiterate their intention to retain him for the future, perhaps in part due to the fact they do not wish to be seen to ‘back track’ again. If he wishes to guarantee his seat with one of F1’s most cutthroat team though, he will need to get his act together – particularly on Saturdays.
Amazingly, the highest-placed Briton after the first round of the season was not Lewis Hamilton, but Lando Norris, who kicked off his campaign with a career-first podium. The McLaren driver has driven with a marked improvement in consistency and dependability as he has brought home points from every Grand Prix minus Hungary, where his race was hampered by a poor start.
Last season, Norris scored half as many points as his teammate. This year, the roles have been reversed as Norris’ 65 points puts him in fourth while Carlos Sainz sits a distant 11th with 41. Whilst this is far from the whole story, it is still impressive that a driver so inexperienced has done enough to find himself chasing only the two elite Mercedes and Max Verstappen in the standings, despite having perhaps the third-best car on average.
Norris is driving with the same panache he showed during his rookie season, but has also clearly learnt from his mistakes to develop himself into a very promising driver. It will be interesting to see whether he can remain the leading McLaren all season.
Carlos Sainz’s season has been an interesting one. One one hand, he has done well to strengthen his qualifying form as he now leads Norris 5-4 in their hot lap head-to-head, which had been his Achilles’ heel last year, having narrowly lost out. On the other hand, an endless stream of misfortune has deprived the Spaniard of the opportunity to continue his bulletproof race day efforts.
When given the chance, Sainz has continued to spearhead McLaren’s lineup, notably the Hungarian and Spanish Grand Prix weekends when the McLaren package was underperforming. However, he has experienced the frustration of a costly tyre failure when running ahead of Norris at Silverstone as well as numerous bust-ups and pit-stop delays which have cumulatively impacted his championship position.
The Spaniard was able to get things back on track during the hectic Italian Grand Prix though, where he stole second place from Lance Stroll and chased eventual winner Pierre Gasly home to claim his second F1 podium. Although at the time Sainz was frustrated not to have caught Gasly, he can look back on it as not just his own season-high, but also the whole team’s.
Sainz may currently be 11th in the championship, but it is through no fault of his own and he is absolutely not driving like it.
Few people would believe you if, six months ago, you were to say Lance Stroll was sixth in the World Drivers’ Championship – and he could even be fourth had it not been for an unfortunate puncture at Mugello.
Stroll does benefit from the luxury of driving for a team owned by his father, which will naturally afford him luxuries that other drivers do not have, but the idea that he is not there through merit is much overstated.
Whereas last year, Stroll was riding the veteran Sergio Perez’s coattails, this year he has proved himself a highly competent teammate and he currently enjoys a 13-point advantage over the Mexican.
In some ways, the story mirrors the aforementioned McLaren driver situation: Perez has been hindered by the lion’s share of bad luck, but this does not change the fact that Stroll, who was perceived by many as nothing more than a pay driver, is taking his chance to lead the midfield and is running with it.
At times, his inexperience and naivety still shows. The ludicrous Monza race should have been a victory in the bag for Stroll after his red-flag, tyre-change jackpot, but he choked on the start and lost position. He did, nonetheless, come away with a podium for his troubles.
As with Norris, it will be a hard-fought battle for Stroll to keep Perez in the shade all season, but with a podium to his name, and the knowledge that he will be joined next year by four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, his confidence will be at an all-time high.
What are the chances he beats Vettel in 2021? I would wager they are higher than most believe.
Sergio Perez is one of the best drivers on the grid. He has a long history of extracting the absolute maximum and securing opportunistic podiums in midfield cars, but he has never had the chance to showcase his skills in a truly competitive car.
This season must have excited Checo at first: the prospect of driving a car heavily-inspired by last season’s earth-shatteringly-dominant championship winner. Unfortunately, in the year where he has had the strongest car of his career, Perez has arguably had one of his most muted seasons.
Perez is yet to claim a podium this year, although this quite possibly would not be the case had he not been pitted for new tyres immediately before the red flag in Mugello, which thus allowed all runners in front of him to change onto fresh rubber without incurring the same positional loss as Perez, who did well to still come away with a point.
Seldom has Perez been able to complete a race weekend without it being negatively impacted by one of many variables. In Hungary, he was physically ill. Then, at Silverstone he was forced to miss both races after testing positive for Covid-19. Then, again, in Spain, he led Stroll all weekend only to miss out due to a controversial penalty, and at Spa his otherwise strong weekend was impeded by a questionable strategy call, which saw him tumble down the order.
Immediately after finding out he would be losing his seat next year, Mugello offered the opportunity of a ‘reset’ for Perez as he finished fifth to take a healthy 10 points when the pendulum swung in the other direction and the other Racing Point encountered issues.
Perez currently stands ninth in the championship, but five drivers ahead of him are perfectly catchable.
He is a superb racing driver with possibly an unmatched ability to manage his tyres. This, together with his substantial accompanying sponsorship package, will mean he should be hot property in the driver market.
Just last weekend, Daniel Ricciardo was beating himself up over a fourth place finish at Mugello, because he had been unable to catch the Red Bull of Albon for an elusive Renault podium.
That in itself shows how much ground the seven-time race-winner has managed to help Renault make up. Last year, he was having to make do with scrapping for occasional points. 2020, however, has seen Ricciardo and the French outfit fight to establish themselves as a leading midfield force.
The former Red Bull man has convincingly asserted himself over Ocon in one of 2020’s most highly-anticipated teammate match-ups. But Ricciardo will have be paying more attention to those in front of him than he is to Ocon, as he looks to have the frontrunners in his sights.
Perhaps simply to make a statement before moving to McLaren in 2021, Ricciardo seems to be determined to hand Renault their first hybrid era podium in order to force team boss Cyril Abiteboul into fulfilling his end of their rather hilarious ‘tattoo-for-a-podium’ wager.
Whether the silverware comes or not, Ricciardo has had a solid season considering where he is leaving Renault compared to where he joined them at.
2020 was never going to be an easy year for Esteban Ocon. After being unceremoniously dumped by Racing Point in 2018, he was relegated to a reserve driver role with Mercedes in 2019, meaning by the time he climbed into his Renault R.S.20, he was more than 12 months out-of-practice.
Despite this, as a consequence of his performance with Racing Point, he was expected to beat a seasoned veteran and seven-time race-winner in Daniel Ricciardo. Realistically speaking, this was never going to happen. There are only a handful of drivers who can do that on the best of days and Ocon is not currently one of them.
What the Frenchman has done, however, is gradually narrow the gap to his teammate, incrementally, throughout the shortened season. Having started the season six tenths of a second adrift of Ricciardo in qualifying, Ocon has since closed the gap to just a couple of tenths.
Single-lap pace has always been a strength of Ocon’s though, whereas when it comes to race days, he is still struggling to find a quicker route to the chequered flag than Ricciardo.
Despite this, Ocon has managed to score points on a regular basis, which is impressive in such a fiercely-contested midfield.
Ocon currently holds a points haul of 30 compared to his elite teammate’s 53 – which is not bad for a driver who missed a year of action. It just is not great, either.
Charles Leclerc would have hoped to build on the two wins and five pole positions he earned in the latter half of last season, but unfortunately for him, the sanctions imposed from Ferrari’s FIA winter deal have crippled the team and stripped the car of its pace.
When the Austrian season-opener came around, it became evident that Ferrari’s package was lagging behind by a substantial margin as its drivers qualified a full second slower than the previous year.
This lack of pace has been compounded by every other team’s hefty steps forwards, with the likes of McLaren and Racing Point making up as much as half a second per lap.
Ferrari’s Monegasque star has done his best to smile in the face of adversity though, having followed Bottas home to finish a miraculous second place at the season opener. Leclerc’s heroic performance was further highlighted by his teammate’s lowly finishing position – 10th.
Leclerc, and indeed Ferrari, has been unable to move forwards since then, with sporadic mid-range points finishes being tallied up, mostly by Leclerc.
The Ferrari youngster was able to wrestle his SF1000 to third and fourth-placed finishes at the two Silverstone races, before the team came crashing back down to reality at Spa, where Leclerc limped home behind his teammate in a mutually pointless endeavour.
Leclerc will undoubtedly be frustrated at how his 2020 is panning out, but when viewed without the scarlet-tinted spectacles of Ferrari’s typical expectations, his season is instead one of a great driver who is doing his best to lead the ‘best of the rest’ in a car that is probably the fifth-fastest at best.
He will be looking forward to the team’s eventual return to form, because he will be a force to be reckoned with once he has a car worthy of his talent. But he could be waiting for a long time.
Sebastian Vettel is a four-time world champion whose all-time win total is bettered only by Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton.
Anyone who watched their first Grand Prix in 2020 would laugh in your face if you said that to them.
The former record-breaker is enduring the most catastrophic season of his illustrious career, with a meagre 17 points to show for his nine races. His teammate, Leclerc, has 49.
Although Vettel’s recent years in red have been less than idyllic, the periods of struggle had tended to be broken by moments of vigour, such as the Singapore victory which elevated an otherwise sub-standard season in 2019. This year, however, has seen no such glimpses of the German’s earlier flair.
The fallen champion will be counting down the days until his 2021 move to Racing Point’s Aston-Martin-backed team, but the prospect of him taking any degree of momentum with him is marginal at best.
If there was an award for career-turnaround of the year, the trophy would already have Pierre Gasly‘s name engraved on its base.
After being brutally demoted by Red Bull and abandoned at AlphaTauri, Gasly quiety kept his head down and marched on forwards.
The Frenchman is thrashing Daniil Kvyat 7-2 in the inter-team qualifying battle, and this superior form has continued throughout Sundays as the drivers’ respective points hauls stand at 43 to 10 in favour of Gasly.
This sensational resurgence started during the closing stages of 2019 when the Toro Rosso returnee stormed to a second-placed podium in Sao Paulo. His momentum has continued to snowball before culminating in his against-the-odds victory just a couple of weeks ago in Italy.
The 25-point Monza jackpot has catapulted the Red Bull reject to 10th in the standings, which places him in the mix with the Racing Points, McLarens and other leading midfielders, whilst his teammate is merely ahead of the languishing Alfa Romeos, Haas cars and Williamses.
Gasly has already done more than enough to qualify for a second chance in the senior team, although Red Bull seem to be in opposition to the idea. This is perplexing, considering how brightly Gasly’s star is shining compared to his struggling successor.
Daniil Kvyat‘s season would probably be viewed in a different light, had it not been for his teammate’s meteoric rise. 'The Torpedo' has scored points at four out of the nine races, which is only one fewer than Gasly.
The difference is, for Kvyat, all of those have been at the marginal end of the top 10, whereas Gasly’s aforementioned performances have often been closer to the leading pack.
In reality, Kvyat’s efforts are probably reflective of where the AlphaTauri deserves to be – but having your teammate quadruple your points return is never a good look.
The Russian’s future under the Red Bull umbrella seems less than certain, and frankly perhaps a change of scenery would be beneficial for all parties. If Kvyat is to convince another team to take a punt on him for next season, he will need to up his game for the second half of this year.
At the age of 40, Kimi Raikkonen is the oldest driver on the grid by half a decade, and whilst his raw pace may not be as blistering as it was in years prior, his wealth of experience still makes ‘The Iceman’ a dependable driver.
Alfa Romeo have been hit hard by the Ferrari engine’s recession, which has seen them fall to a position where they are arguably the least-competitive team on the grid.
As a consequence, the 2007 champion had struggled to get off the mark for his Italian team until he scored his first two points of the season at the Tuscan Grand Prix.
Having found himself temporarily running in the podium places after the race’s red-flag-restart, Raikkonen fought in vain to defend his lofty position, as car-after-car breezed past his struggling C39.
Being the bulletproof veteran he is, Raikkonen did nonetheless manage to guide the car home in a season’s-best ninth while his younger teammate faltered and stumbled out of the points.
With 2020 likely to be Kimi’s final season in the sport, it is a far cry from the swan song he would have been hoping for.
Whether it has been simply due to Alfa Romeo’s lack of pace or not, Antonio Giovinazzi has largely spent the season either immediately behind or in front of teammate Raikkonen.
The Italian started the season with a surprising ninth place for two points, but has been unable to add to his tally ever since.
Giovinazzi has managed to close the gap to Raikkonen in their qualifying duel, which the latter currently leads by a narrow 5-4 margin, with gaps routinely being within a single tenth. It remains unclear how much of this is due to Giovinazzi’s own development as opposed to Raikkonen’s advanced age, however.
The Ferrari junior’s racecraft still has room for improvement, as his race-day performances highlight how he is still rough around the edges. He has been no stranger to high-speed-mishaps and ugly shunts, with his Belgian Grand Prix crash marking a particular low point when he lost control and binned the car into the barrier at Turn 14.
A couple of seasons ago, Kevin Magnussen was receiving plaudits for being one of the grid’s unsung heroes after a series of quietly brilliant performances for the Haas team.
2020 has been less kind to the American outfit and their drivers, though, as thus far the team has just a single point to their name – scored by Magnussen in Hungary after a late call to start on dry tyres.
Haas’ descent down the grid has, like with Alfa Romeo, been aggravated by the Ferrari engine’s lack of grunt, and Magnussen has found himself regularly racing in the high-teen places rather than the points-scoring positions he had grown accustomed to.
For what it is worth, though, the Dane has been the leading Haas more often than not.
Romain Grosjean‘s days in F1 could be numbered, and it only takes a momentary glance at his 2020 data to see why. He is currently in last place in the championship standings and has only finished ahead of his teammate on a single occasion.
Although the fiery Frenchman has distanced himself somewhat from his crash-happy reputation, this has done little to inspire any level of career renaissance as he has spent much of the season berating his car’s lack of pace but doing little to improve the situation himself.
The long-serving Haas driver has been given several second chances by the team in acknowledgement of his efforts, but it would be unsurprising to see his name included in the list of casualties of the 2021 driver market as numerous more favourable pilots become available.
George Russell‘s second season has followed much the same suit as his first, with the 2018 F2 champion thrashing his substandard teammate in a car that cannot compete with its peers.
It is difficult, though, to celebrate the Brit’s performances too fanatically, as thus far his only benchmarks have been a battle-worn and long-in-the-tooth Robert Kubica after years of inactivity, and now a rookie whose lower formulae record shows him to be steady but not special.
Williams as a team has made some gains on the lower-midfield though, partly thanks to the all-conquering Mercedes power.
Russell has been unsuccessful in converting this into any kind of points return, though, as a top-ten finish still eludes him. He came close to scoring at Mugello, but a botched getaway after the second red flag saw him lose out as he left the door open for the Renaults of Ricciardo and Ocon.
The Brit’s 100% qualifying record against his teammate is not something to be sniffed at, and he is clearly already better than the grid’s lesser racers, but there is only so long a driver can languish at the back of the pack before he fades into obscurity.
Hopefully Williams’ new ownership can uplift the team and finally give Russell the car he needs to compete with the midfield, which he will need to do in order to develop his reputation further.
When Williams signed Nicholas Latifi after he finished as the distant runner-up among one of F2’s weakest grids, it was an uninspiring decision at best.
However, 2020 as it has transpired, has to be one of the most difficult and inopportune times to debut, with a global pandemic to deal with while attempting to get on terms with a new team and a condensed calendar.
With this in mind, it is at least worth noting that Latifi been able to keep his highly-rated teammate to him than Kubica could at a minimum.
Although the Canadian is yet to give us a breakout performance to earn acclaim per se, he had finished every race of the season until an unfortunate collision forced his first retirement in the early stages of the race in Tuscany.
This consistency has seen the steady newcomer finish 11th at both the Austrian and Italian Grands Prix, although this was in no small part due to the sheer number of retirements around him.
The 2020 season resumes this weekend as the F1 grid heads to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix. Take a look at the complete World Drivers’ Championship standings below.
POS DRIVER TEAM POINTS
1 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 190
2 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 135
3 Max Verstappen RED BULL 110
4 Lando Norris MCLAREN 65
5 Alex Albon RED BULL 63
6 Lance Stroll RACING POINT 57
7 Daniel Ricciardo RENAULT 53
8 Charles Leclerc FERRARI 49
9 Sergio Perez RACING POINT 44
10 Pierre Gasly ALPHATAURI 43
11 Carlos Sainz MCLAREN 41
12 Esteban Ocon RENAULT 30
13 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 17
14 Daniil Kvyat ALPHATAURI 10
15 Nico Hulkenberg RACING POINT 6
16 Kimi Räikkönen ALFA ROMEO 2
17 Antonio Giovinazzi ALFA ROMEO 2
18 Kevin Magnussen HAAS 1
19 Nicholas Latifi WILLIAMS 0
20 George Russell WILLIAMS 0
21 Romain Grosjean HAAS 0
Standings after the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix.