- George Russell is yet to score his first championship point in Formula 1, but this statistic won’t get in his way if Mercedes decide to have other plans for him in 2021
- Like Russell, Nicholas Latifi’s team of choice wouldn’t have been Williams either had it not been the only team with an opening for 2020
- In the last two years, Leclerc has without a doubt been the most-exciting talent to join Formula 1 and rise up the ranks in Ferrari
Eight of the twenty drivers that will start the 2020 Formula 1 season this weekend have about two seasons worth of experience. Charles Leclerc, Antonio Giovinazzi, Pierre Gasly, Lando Norris, Alexander Albon, Esteban Ocon, George Russell and Nicholas Latifi are the young drivers who represent 40% of this season’s grid! From the list, four drivers – Norris, Albon, Giovinazzi and Russell, start their second season in 2020 whereas Latifi will make his debut. We focus on the young guns and how 2020 could shape their future. In fact, a few weeks ago, I asked the question – is Formula 1 skipping an entire generation of drivers like Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez and others?
The 2018 Formula 2 champion graduated to Williams in 2019 alongside Robert Kubica who was carving his comeback to Formula 1. The young Briton impressed the paddock when he out-qualified his much-experienced team-mate in all the races of the season — probably one of the few highlights in an otherwise dismal season for the team and driver.
Yes, Williams might not be his team of choice as he chooses to further his career in Formula 1, but the larger picture of Russell’s career is that he is a junior driver for the reigning champions, Mercedes. In 2020, a repeat of his performance from 2019 would be the least one would expect — out-qualifying his team-mate and registering impressive drives when his car permits.
Russell is yet to score his first championship point in Formula 1, but this statistic won’t get in his way if Mercedes decide to have other plans for him in 2021.
After three years in Formula 2, Latifi finally gets his shot at Formula 1. Like Russell, Latifi’s team of choice wouldn’t have been Williams either had it not been the only team with an opening for 2020. But of course, the question can be asked if another team would’ve shown interest in a driver who couldn’t be champion in Formula 2 despite racing for three seasons.
In fact, Latifi was beaten by his then Formula 2 rivals — Russell, Norris and Albon, in 2018 with much ease. For 2020, Latifi’s focus would be adapting to a faster car plus bigger team operations. Performance-wise, his talent would be noticed if he’s able to match Russell in as many sessions as possible. It’s unfortunate for Latifi that his time in Formula 1 comes when Williams is working hard to revive their form, but that’s how it can be in the world of Formula 1.
The ease with which Norris settled into Mclaren and Formula 1 was a delight. The Briton delivered an impressive debut season, even if it meant that he lost the Rookie of the Year award to Red Bull’s Alexander Albon. From 21 races, Norris scored points in 11 races — finishing an impressive sixth twice in the season. In the Drivers’ Championship, Norris was 11th — five positions behind his team-mate, Carlos Sainz Jr.
The most endearing aspect of Norris’ debut season was his ability to be self-critical — accepting the blame for his mistakes or acknowledging his lack of experience as he went about carving his own identity and position in the team and sport.
In fact, one wouldn’t be surprised if Mclaren’s refusal to Fernando Alonso for a return to Formula 1 in 2021 was due to Norris’ settling within Mclaren. In 2020, one should expect Norris to build further on his debut season and challenge Sainz on a regular basis. Let’s hope that the rivalry between Norris-Sainz doesn’t ruin the friendliness they built last season.
The Thai-British racer’s rise through the ranks of Red Bull Racing is a story worthy of a movie. In fact, how Albon fares in 2020 could decide whether a movie is actually made on his career or not! In 2019, it was Albon’s attitude and ability to perform in the cut-throat Red Bull environment that brought him much success.
It was simply the case of the driver not letting the occasion and the pressure get to him. Albon’s split season (between Toro Rosso and Red Bull) saw him score almost on-par with Pierre Gasly, the foremost challenger of his seat at Red Bull. It must be added that Gasly has a full season more in experience while Albon was robbed of a podium in Brazil.
However, the general perception is that Albon is yet to showcase pace that is close to Verstappen’s. For 2020, Albon would have three targets ahead of him. First, score ample points that help Red Bull compete against Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship. If the first falls in line, the second target would be easier – to see the full season out with Red Bull. Finally, if he gets a full season alongside Verstappen, matching the prodigal Dutchman would be obvious but beating him on a few occasions (or more!) would make the whole paddock sit up and take note!
Last year, when the Gasly-Albon swap was ordered, we were present at media sessions of both the drivers. Gasly was downright shocked — at the reality of his career, but moreover on Red Bull’s going back on their word of giving him the full season to settle. However, Gasly was quick to recover after his demotion to Alpha Tauri and put together some stellar drives that made one wonder if it was the pressure at Red Bull that he failed to adjust to. In 2020, Gasly would be focussed on a dual goal — first, to perform consistently that would force Red Bull to grant him second goal and chance at partnering Max Verstappen. If the chance at Red Bull comes, let’s hope that pressure isn’t ever a reason for his non-performance.
It’s easy to be harsh while judging Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi’s performances in 2019. After all, he’s filling Charles Leclerc’s big shoes in the team while partnering the ever-so-popular, Kimi Raikkonen. Moreover, the start of Giovinazzi’s career in Formula 1 has been a bit fragmented.
He was drafted into Sauber in 2017 to fill for a recovering Pascal Wehrlein’s absence in the opening two rounds of the season. In 2018, the Italian was forced to sit out the season barring an appearance in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In that case, the slow start to Giovinazzi’s campaign in 2019 was understandable — the Alfa Romeo racer was still finding his feet.
In comparison, Raikkonen scored a bulk of his points in the first part of the season, one that gave the Finnish driver an advantage to score more than 3 times the points as Giovinazzi. For 2020, Giovinazzi’s target would be to beat Raikkonen, who is in the twilight of his career. By doing so, the young Italian would come good on Ferrari’s belief in his talent while cementing his place in the team in the new era of the sport. In fact, if Giovinazzi fails to deliver and Raikkonen decides to retire at the end of 2020, Alfa Romeo could be forced to make odd choices for 2021.
In our last interview with Ocon for Firstpost (Spa, 2018), the Frenchman had expressed his worry about being forced to take a year’s break from Formula 1. Understandably, he was concerned about being forgotten and never making it back to the sport ever. Luckily for Ocon, his ties with Mercedes coupled with Renault’s hunt for a fall guy for their failed campaign in 2019 (Nico Hulkenberg), means that he is able to return in 2020.
In his two years of racing with Force India/Racing Point, Ocon was evenly matched against Perez despite losing out in the final championship rankings. At Renault in 2020, Ocon is up against a proven race-winner in Daniel Ricciardo. It will be interesting to see how the two drivers push Renault forward in the Constructors’ Championship while still fighting for points on-track. For Ocon, beating Ricciardo would make a big statement – one that could force Mercedes to rethink their decision to loan him to Renault. If Ocon fails to rise up to the Ricciardo challenge, his desire to get himself in a race-winning cockpit in the future could remain unfulfilled.
It’s only when one refers to the statistics does it dawn that Ferrari’s star driver will actually start only his third full season in the sport in 2020. In the last two years, Leclerc has without a doubt been the most-exciting talent to join Formula 1 and rise up the ranks in Ferrari.
The Monegasque not only out-classed Sebastian Vettel over the course of the season but also showcased that he was more than capable of taking on the challenge of Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. In Leclerc, Ferrari have committed their next five seasons, too. In which case, the upcoming season would be another learning curve for Leclerc, understanding the finer nuances of Ferrari’s operations and getting them to deliver as a unit while also challenging for pole positions, podium finishes, race wins and the Drivers’ Championship? If Ferrari are to win a championship in 2020, the assumption is that Leclerc would be the driver who could do so.
This post was first published on Firstpost.