6 Shady Predictions for F1's 2020 Season
If you were to summarise 2019, the obvious headline would be that Mercedes continued to dominate the 'power unit' era with sixth consecutive drivers' and constructors' world championships. And that was pretty predictable, right?
Not exactly. The desperate-for-something-different media and increasingly bored fan contingent had gone into Melbourne all but certain that it would in fact be Ferrari leading the way. But ultimately, the big Ferrari story would be Charles Leclerc smashing Sebastian Vettel's number 1 status to smithereens, and Mattia Binotto insisting that an engine design that was beaten into submission had in fact been legal all along.
So what predictions can we get wrong for 2020? Let's give it a whirl:
1. Mercedes will stop winning
You can just tell from Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton's demeanour that although they've enjoyed driving everyone nuts for the last half-decade, things are definitely winding down at Mercedes. Not a single person would have given credence to a Wolff-to-Ferrari rumour unless there was a lick or two of flame at the end of all that unlikely smoke, and it's obvious there was more than meets the eye to his inexplicable decision to give Brazil a miss.
Prediction: With vegan leather to fit in its road cars, Formula E cred to establish, and everyone (including the Daimler board) bored to tears of silver cars winning, Mercedes is winding down its works team project and will be a pure engine partner to McLaren by 2022.
2. Red Bull-Honda will win
I think Dr Helmut Marko is spot-on when he predicts that while Ferrari had the winter season form and a suspiciously fast engine at times in 2019, the prancing one is not the pony to bet on this year either. And if this was a bullfight, Red Bull-Honda is like a starving beast full of Samurai blood whipped since birth by Jos Verstappen, and Mercedes a tired and ageing old stag that now attracts rolled eyes rather than wild cheers of awe.
Prediction: Max Verstappen will end 2020 as F1's youngest ever world champion.
3. Vettel will 'retire'
I put the scare quotes around that dreaded r-word because it won't be a simple case of: "I've won as many titles as Alain Prost and it's time to go." Sebastian Vettel may actually put a line like that into the press release, but the more honest German would say something along the lines of: "Leclerc made me look silly and I'd rather go home to my beautiful young family and disassemble a vintage Triumph motorbike than knock about in a McLaren on $5 million per miserable season."
Prediction: Hardly a paddock pundit of the future, we may end up seeing Vettel as often as we have seen his wife or his three children in the past few years.
4. Ricciardo will replace Vettel
As for who will replace Vettel, that's quite a tricky one. It won't be Antonio Giovinazzi, because he isn't even as good as the ageing, unmotivated and cash-collecting Kimi Raikkonen. It also won't be Mick Schumacher, because twelfth in Formula 2 is not even good enough for a super licence let alone a call-up by the world's most famous racing team. Kevin Magnussen would clash with Leclerc, and Hulkenberg has already been forgotten about, so I think it will come down to three names for 2021: Carlos Sainz, Valtteri Bottas or Daniel Ricciardo.
Prediction: The best, most consistent, and most Italian of the three is Ricciardo. Leclerc-Ricciardo. Looks good.
5. More drivers will be pushed out
Off the top of your head, you may not be able to think of a brilliant young gun that is angrily knocking on the Formula 1 door and really deserves a shot. And 2021 will not even be an ideal year for a rookie, as teams will favour continuity even more than ever for the brand new regulations and cars. But ask yourself what excites you more: Antonio Giovinazzi or Mick Schumacher? And ask yourself another couple of questions: Would you miss Romain Grosjean or would you prefer the silly season to do its thing? And is it better to keep Daniil Kvyat clinging on yet again or to finally get Red Bull's junior program moving along again?
6. McLaren will stall
Without a doubt, the big mover of 2019 was McLaren. But before applauding too loudly, just wonder for a moment how excitedly Ron Dennis would have been beating his palms together at the end of a season with a measly (and lucky) single podium. With this once-great team's amazing facilities and still-sizeable budget, finishing fourth is better than fifth and an awful lot better than tenth, but that is not the kind of target that made us love McLaren in the first place. Yes, Carlos Sainz and the cute and giggly Lando Norris are good, but in the post-Alonso world and even with a very solid 2019 behind them, I can't see McLaren doing any better for now.
Prediction: Renault will be in awfully big trouble back at Boulogne-Billancourt if McLaren is not behind them at the end of this year.
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