Dubai: There are going to be varied challenges facing each of the teams as Formula 1 marks its return to action with the Austrian Grand Prix from July 3-5.
Without any fans filling up the grandstands at any of the eight venues decided upon so far, the season will be long remembered as one of the most unusual championships in the 50-year history of the sport.
And now after a near four-month delay for the 2020 campaign to begin, the 10 teams in the fray will have to account for differing challenges staring them in the face.
1. Mercedes: High Standards
They have an astonishing win record of nearly 74 per cent en route to winning the last six drivers and teams championships between 2014 and 2019. Formerly competing in Grand Prix in the 1930s as the dominant Silver Arrows, the Mercedes name returned to Formula One for the 2010 season.
They have won 89 of the 121 races contested in these past six seasons, and since that first Nico Rosberg win at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2013, the team have got more innovative, faster and better with each passing year.
At the core of the set-up is 48-year-old Austrian Team Principal Toto Wolff, who has moulded the group into perhaps one of the most ruthlessly efficient and successful sporting entities in modern-day sport.
The team’s challenge this season will be to maintain and continue that quest to hold on to the pinnacle of racing, even though there will be several uncertainties — Wolff himself has already gone on record to say he’s been contemplating his role in the team, while six-time defending champion Lewis Hamilton is yet to sign a new contract for next year.
2. Ferrari: Driver harmony
‘Champions are propelled by desire, not compelled by fear,’ goes a famous saying. And when you have a former four-time Formula 1 World Champion wanting to go out on a high, then the others better watch out.
Having won consecutive titles between 2010 and 2013 with Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel — who turns 33 on July 3 — will want to walk away from the ‘Prancing Horse’ with that one last hurrah.
During the course of last season, things were really not all sombre and calm between Vettel and his younger French teammate, Charles Leclerc. There were at least four flashpoints in the final eight races of 2019 itself that eventually culminated in the duo banging wheels and retiring in Brazil.
Since then, changes have occurred and Vettel and Ferrari have decided to end their relationship at the end of 2020 leaving Leclerc to spearhead the Italian team’s title push.
But before Vettel says his goodbyes, the German has got one more season to show what he is actually made of that led him to those four world titles not so long ago.
3. Red Bull: Consistency
Everything seems to be pointing towards a success for Red Bull. The revised calendar that consists of two races on the home turf in Austria followed by the third one in Hungary will be very much to the liking of the think tank.
With Thailand’s Alexander Albon joined by Dutch driver Max Verstappen, the Red Bulls have been the real fade-outs after time and again threatening to emerge from the shadows of the big two in F1. Further, it is remarkable to think that it’s been seven years since Red Bull last built a car capable of genuinely winning a championship.
No doubt, they’ve won races, and for short periods even appeared like a mirage that they are capable of handling Mercedes and Ferrari. But, none of these threats have really stayed the course. However, the opening sequence of the revised calendar might suit them, and if they capitalise on those advantages and keep the momentum going, then perhaps we could hope for some great action this season.
4. McLaren: Forward momentum
McLaren’s best performance in the past seven seasons came last year as they ended fourth in the constructors’ championship with 145 points behind champions Mercedes (739 points), Ferrari (504) and Red Bull (417). But, a team like McLaren currently has a bit of a tight corner before them: they’ve got to first account for the other mid-field teams before looking to challenge the top three.
However, provided with a fruitful 2019, the Red Bull drivers of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz will have to sustain this momentum, and for varied reasons. The 20-year-old British-Belgian driver, Norris has had his contract extended and Sainz — who is scheduled to take over Vettel’s spot at Ferrari — will want to depart with pleasant memories and a reason to feel more comfortable with the Italian outfit.
5. Renault: Which direction
While McLaren were enjoying a renaissance in 2019, stablemates Renault was sort of heading in the opposite direction. The French manufacturer had to ultimately face the cruel fact of finishing behind their customer team in the constructors’ championship (91 points to McLaren’s 145). The child had upstaged the parent.
And as 2020 took a toll on the sport, Renault hit a further speed bump when their star driver Daniel Ricciardo broke the news that he would sidestep into a McLaren car starting 2021.
Unperturbed, the French team assured one and all of their commitment to the F1 project in May and gave a huge boost to internal moral. Since then, the results have started to manifest with their cars showing an encouraging pre-season testing pace.
However, it’s a bit too early to go into the other complexities as these would count for nothing if the team doesn’t make the most of the lifeline in hand.
6. Alpha Tauri: Regular midfielder
Like the McLarens, the 2019 campaign was a strong one for Toro Rosso — now known as Alpha Tauri.
The team of Frenchman Pierre Gasly — stranded in Dubai for at least two months of the pandemic — and Russia’s Daniil Kvyat scored more than one podium in a single season for the first time in their history, and equalled their best-ever finish with two podiums to boot in the constructors’ championship, with sixth spot and 85 points.
Now, and rightly so, Team Principal Franz Tost has set his sights on going one better. But, to achieve that goal, the team will first have to be even more competitive for the midfield battle. And to emerge supreme in their own little circle, the Alpha Tauris will have to habitually beat the McLaren, Renault and Racing Point — all three of who have looked quicker during pre-season testing.
7. Aston Martin: Huge boost
There is going to be another new name with Racing Point owner Lawrence Stroll rebranding his outfit as Aston Martin Racing this season. Team boss Otmar Szafnauer has laid out an early boast while calling upon his “most competitive” car to go even better than last year.
Perhaps, the CEO and Team Principal of Racing Point might have reason for this brag. With the name comes the expectations and greater responsibility. So, with Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll lie these expectations, while the rest of the crew aim for an ultra-efficient set-up that will ultimately deliver a competitiveness without the loss of their core identity.
8. Alfa Romeo: Time for youth
Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen will turn 41 in October. As the elder statesman in the paddock, the ‘Iceman’ has adequate experience as the team seeks to cash in on his superior knowledge.
But given the fact that some of the drivers weren’t even born when he started F1 racing in 2001, it would greatly benefit the Alfa Romeos to have a new and younger face behind the wheel.
That said, Raikkonen oozes star power and is an instant attraction on all circuits due to his natural overwhelming demeanour.
And what is even better from past experience is that a happy Raikkonen means he will do a strong job and deliver for the team. So ultimately, it will be left up to Team Principal Fred Vasseur to see how the Finn and his experience delivers as he prepares for his third full season in charge of the Hinwil-based team.
9. Haas: There is hope
Haas will be another team on familiar ground when they return to Austria next month. Established by NASCAR Cup Series team co-owner Gene Haas in April 2014, the team waited for another two years before making their debut at the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix.
No doubt, their foray into F1 has been a largely successful one so far. But the American team got themselves in all sorts of trouble last year while producing a car they simply did not understand and could not get to work to its optimum.
That saw them ending in a lowly ninth spot in the constructors’ championship, something that the founder has felt was undeserving.
However, there’s hope as the soon to be implemented new rules, that includes a cost cap, seem to have allayed many of Gene’s fears. But that said, he will certainly not be tolerating another wayward season in 2020.
So the focus for Haas needs to be simple and true: find a good baseline from the off and then steadily keep on improving.
10. Williams: Sitting at the edge
If you’re looking at a struggle in the F1 world, then it ought to be the one that revolves around the iconic British team.
To start with, Williams have lost their title sponsor. But, they have also opened the door to selling part of the team as they eagerly run against time to re-shape the set-up and capitalise on the incoming cost cap and new technical regulations.
There wasn’t much one could argue following last season’s horrible campaign where the team cut adrift from the pack and when they failed to even have a car ready in time for testing.
But, since the pre-season testing for 2020 signs have been encouraging and the inherent pace of the car suggested that maybe, just maybe, they might be able to haul themselves onto the back of the midfield.
After all, an improvement overall would make them a more attractive proposition.