Making F1 Great Again
Formula One is primed to become more exciting - here's why.
Since the Hybrid Era of Formula One began back in 2014, there's one team that's been a level above the rest - Mercedes. And whilst this has been impressive to watch as they notch up six Drivers' and Constructors' Championships in a row, it's felt as if the Silver Arrows have become untouchable. But that may all be about to change.
It seems fitting that a burst of driver related news should emerge on the week of the seventieth birthday of F1. First, it was announced that Sebastian Vettel would be leaving Ferrari at the end of 2020 - whether he goes to another team or simply retires is not yet known at the time of writing. But if you ask Perez, he's closer to retiring than joining another team.
Then it was announced that Vettel would be replaced by Carlos Sainz in 2021 as he made the switch from McLaren. Daniel 'Honey Badger' Ricciardo was then confirmed to join Lando Norris at McLaren for 2021, thus opening up a spot at Renault. Who will replace Ricciardo? We don't know that yet either but it's possible Hulkenberg could make a comeback - although there are also delicious rumours that a certain Fernando Alonso might make his Formula One comeback with the team that he won his two World Championships with over a decade ago. Wouldn't that be quite something?
Vettel's departure triggered a domino effect and nobody knows where that will end. Why is all this good for F1 I hear you ask? Let me explain.
Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the world has been on hold for a few months now - and going racing in Formula One hasn't been an exception. As a result, the 2020 season is likely to be shorter than originally planned - so much for a record breaking 22 race season! With lots of races all in relatively quick succession and a later starting date (currently F1 plans to go racing again in Austria in July), it should mix things up nicely when the lights go green. Driver and/or team mistakes over a weekend may prove to be costly than usual as making up for them may be harder to do with a reduced race count. This could lead to a very close Championship battle reminiscent of the of the early 2010s.
It also means that any drivers looking to stay where they are or jump ship to another team have less time and more pressure to prove their worth - which could lead to some more risk taking during races.
It will also be the last season before the aforementioned shakeup in the driver line-up takes place meaning that some driver pairings may get heated towards the end of the year. Imagine Lando and Carlos fighting it out for a podium position. And if Bottas isn't satisfied at Mercedes, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on Russell...
Again, due to the delay to racing caused by Covid-19, some of the brand new regulations that were initially slated to come into effect into 2021 will in fact come into force in 2022.
Teams will use the same chassis from 2020 moving into 2021. McLaren may find this tricky as they are set to switch from Renault to Mercedes power in 2021.
But the new budget cap of $175 million will also come into effect in 2021 as planned, forcing teams to become creative within the rules in a new way. With 2021 hopefully having a season that looks like it normally does in terms of length, it will be interesting to see which teams develop too much too soon and are then unable to evolve those developments later on, thus leaving them vulnerable to attack from rival teams.
It could also spell the comeback for Williams - something I think everybody wants to see. To say the team has been struggling in recent years is an understatement. Perhaps 2021 will finally see them bounce back.
Racing Point will also be re-branded as Aston Marin Racing for 2021. Sergio Perez has signed to stay with the team until the end of 2022 but if Lance Stroll can't improve on his performance in the car soon, then the fact that his father owns the team may not be enough to save him from the chopping block. And with Racing Point having looked strong in 2020 pre-season testing, it will be interesting to see if and how they can continue that momentum in 2021.
Driver pairings will be interesting to watch in 2021 too as Sainz partners Leclerc and Ricciardo teams up with Norris. Whoever comes into Renault to join Ocon will have to prove themselves quickly, given Ocon's talent in an F1 car. Whoever it is might risk not being in the team for long.
As of writing, many other drivers on the grid don't have a fixed contract yet for 2021. Neither Hamilton nor Bottas have officially signed for 2021 and beyond yet - but it seems unlikely that either of them would leave Mercedes. Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren are done deals - and unless either Alpha Tauri driver messes up big time this year, their driver line up will probably stay the same. But if Williams don't have a strong 2020, could we see Russell or Latifi make the move to Renault? Or K-Mag might make the switch, leaving a seat open at Haas. And one has to wonder about Grosjean - surely if he keeps driving the way he does, his future at the American outfit will be over soon. If that were the case, it's possible that Haas gets a brand new driver line-up for 2021.
What's more is that Kimi runs out of his current contract with Alfa Romeo at the end of 2020. Whilst nobody wants to see the Iceman leave F1, if he does, what does that mean for 2021? Giovinazzi might stay for the sake of consistency but it's anyone's guess as to who would partner him.
Of course, a lot of this is speculation but it is the season for it - and for once, anything really is possible on the driver market.
With the new regulations coming into full effect for the 2022 season, F1 will have undergone another rebirth. Whilst 2021 will give us a teaser of what the new world order will look like - sexier cars, closer racing and limited in season development due to testing to name a few, 2022 will put all of it into motion. That's sure to upset the apple cart some more, with teams and drivers getting more of a chance to fight for podium positions.
As for the driver line-up - there's even more wiggle room to play with. From the current driver line-up, only a handful have a certain future - but as we have seen before, even those aren't guaranteed. Verstappen has signed with Red Bull until 2023, Perez is with Aston Martin Racing until the end of 2022 and Leclerc is with Ferrari until at least the end of 2024. Every other seat on the grid then is up for grabs. If Hamilton becomes content with his many Championships, he could retire or switch teams for another challenge. Ricciardo could move again, this time to Mercedes. Albon has proven himself in his short time in the sport so whilst Red Bull will probably be keen to keep him, he too may be in high demand. If Bottas is able to win a World Championship soon, he may become the new number one driver for Mercedes - if he doesn't he may hunt for success elsewhere - meaning his seat at Mercedes would become a very valuable commodity.
And then there are drivers like Vettel, Alonso and Hulkenberg to name a few. Any one of them could make a comeback - if only for a season to feel things out in the sport again or finish off some unfinished business.
There's also a possibility that with the new budget cap, new teams might be tempted to roll the dice and enter into Formula One, mixing up the grid even more and allowing more young talent to prove their worth. We might even get to see some new female F1 drivers like Sophia Flörsch or Jamie Chadwick. Wouldn't that be awesome?
Right now, it's hard to say for certain what will happen - but with all the uncertainty in the air and the driver market already in flux, it's not hard to see Formula 1 getting spicy again very soon. And with Formula 1 having turned seventy, there's no better time to do it.
My three predictions for the next three years are:
1. Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo become teammates at McLaren.
2. Sophia Flörsch begins racing in Formula One.
3. George Russell wins a World Championship...with Williams.
Not sure how likely these all are but would love to see at least one of them happen!
What do you think? Got any wild driver line-ups that you think will happen in the next few years? Or any other predictions about how F1 will evolve over the next few years? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.