The Formula 1 season is about to get underway and there are unlikely to be wild form fluctuations or sensational shocks given the year-on-year regulatory stability, ahead of the 2021 overhaul. Nonetheless – and assuming coronavirus does not derail the championship – let’s make some slightly outlandish predictions as to what could happen and see how wrong they are come December.
A rejuvenated Vettel comes back fighting
When was Sebastian Vettel last at his mercurial best? Like, really at his best? There were certainly flashes in 2019, albeit few and far between. New team-mate Charles Leclerc was rightly lauded, handed a long-term deal, while Vettel faced questions – some harsher than others – over his reputation, his future and indeed legacy. Some suggested retirement was on the cards. F1 is currently riding the wave of the next generation but 35-year-old Lewis Hamilton remains king and Vettel is still in his early 30s. Washed up? Error-prone? Past it? It feels as if the narrative around Vettel has been the same for a long time. An on-form Vettel back at his best, beating Leclerc in the standings, and then committing to Ferrari for 2021 and beyond? It’s a bold bet. But we’ll make it.
Perez emerges as F1’s top midfielder
Assuming that seventh is the best a midfielder can grab then Sergio Perez is well-primed to finish as the ‘rest of the best’ champion. Perez claimed the honour in 2017 and 2018 – reaching triple digits on both occasions – and last year finished very strongly after his and Racing Point’s early slump. He is F1’s midfield veteran, can string together a Saturday and a Sunday, and has vast experience with his current team. Racing Point is primed to start the year well with its Mercedes-inspired (copy?) RP20, meaning the Mexican and the Pink Panthers should be competitive from the outset. And if Baku goes crazy then expect to see him pocket a trophy.
Ocon gives Renault its craved-for podium
Renault is a little bit of a dark horse at the moment but it is unthinkable that the marque will not be in the mix towards the front of the midfield. Racing Point (nee Force India) has been an occasional visitor to the podium, courtesy of Perez, while AlphaTauri’s predecessor Toro Rosso bagged two last year. Consequently it’s high time for the team which has been fourth and fifth across the most recent two campaigns to collect a trophy (or two?) in the upcoming campaign. And given that Nico Hulkenberg was never able to achieve the feat it would be ironically fitting if successor Esteban Ocon claimed a top-three result – and did so during the early rounds.
Russell gets double-digit points
This is a bit of a bold one, but why not have a little bit of optimism for Russell and Williams? Last year was dismal, with a solid block of Q1 exits and no points for the rookie, but the green shoots of recovery are firmly in place. Russell and Williams are still expecting to be last but are hopeful of being in the mix at the rear-end of the midfield. That should be enough to lift the team at least into contention for an occasional points finish. Aside from Russell and Robert Kubica only Romain Grosjean (on 8) failed to reach double-digits last season. A smattering of eighths and ninths? Let’s go for yes, with Nicholas Latifi also joining the points party.
Ferrari backs Shwartzman over Schumacher
We have to make one or two assumptions to begin with here. The first is that Alfa Romeo sticks around (ie continues with the naming rights for Sauber) into 2021, and that Ferrari retains a say on one seat at the team, currently occupied by Antonio Giovinazzi, previously held by Charles Leclerc (2018). Mick Schumacher is the high-profile candidate that has already sampled F1 machinery and would be a promotional dream. But aside from his late 2018 hot streak his junior career has been solid and unspectacular. We’ll make a gamble on the confident reigning F3 champion Robert Shwartzman to get the upper hand over Schumacher at Prema and emerge as the go-to Alfa Romeo candidate for 2021. Though F1, and commercial factors, may deem his team-mate the favourite…