A very much delayed Formula One season begins with the Austrian Grand Prix this weekend, the first of eight confirmed events so far, as Lewis Hamilton looks for a record-equalling seventh championship.
With the first 10 races of the season cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the FIA have been working hard to put a plan together and the curtain will finally go up at the Red Bull Ring on July 5th.
A second race follows a week later at the same venue while the Hungarian Grand Prix will take place a week later on July 19 followed by a one week break.
There will then be two back-to-back races at Silverstone on August 2nd and August 9, with the Spanish Grand Prix being held in Barcelona on August 16.
The Belgian Grand Prix will take place on August 30 and the Italian Grand Prix at Monza is planned for September 6
Organisers still hope to hold races outside of Europe, although it is yet to publish details, saying: “We will be finalising the details of the wider calendar and hope to publish that in the coming weeks with an expectation of having a total of 15-18 races before we complete our season in December.”
The changes to the calendar are bound to make this season different from any other in living memory, though the quality on the track remains as strong as ever as Lewis Hamilton looks to make more history by equalling Michael Schumacher’s haul of seven Drivers Championships, which he completed back in 2004.
Hamilton is just 1.50* to win the title, but might not have it all his own way, with a number of drivers perhaps looking at this unique set of circumstances as the perfect opportunity to stop the current champ in his tracks while making a name for themselves.
So here are some of those who could well be there or thereabouts when the new F1 season finally gets underway in Austria at the weekend.
Charles Leclerc certainly caused a stir when he burst onto the Formula One scene last year, but now that the sport’s best-kept secret is no more, can he handle the expectation?
He may only be 22, but Leclerc has grown-up a lot in the past 12-months and a more mentally mature driver might just have what it takes to lay down the gauntlet to Hamilton.
He is contracted to the team until 2024, and this year could be a crucial one for his development, while his input has gone into the design of a car he will race in 2020, which is a huge statement of intent.
But while his credentials aren’t in doubt, the only real concern could be the quality of his car because, if the evidence of recent testing is anything to go by; Ferrari might struggle to keep pace with both Mercedes and Red Bull this season.
2020 Drivers Championship Odds: 7.50*
For the first time, arguably in his Formula 1 career, Max Verstappen goes into the 2020 season as something of dark horse for the title.
Many believe that Red Bull will be the nearest challengers to Mercedes in the coming season, rather than Ferrari, and that is down to the talent of Max Verstappen.
He has form on his side and in pre-season testing, certainly on the long runs, they looked more of a danger to Mercedes than the famous Red Arrows; who have been struggling for pace somewhat.
Red Bull are a team who like to be on the front foot and are in a position where they can go flat-out in every race – which might just play right into the hands of Verstappen and give them an edge over other contenders.
2020 Drivers Championship Odds: 5.00*
With the likes of George Russell, Esteban Ocon and Vettel linked to Mercedes next season, Bottas has plenty to prove in 2020 of he’s to retain his place in the team, which might just give him the added incentive he needs.
Nobody can deny that Bottas is very quick, and on his day can cause Hamilton a problem or two, but it seems that day doesn’t come around enough for him to be considered as a genuine title contender.
For that to happen, he needs to be right there with Hamilton, not just outqualifying him, but converting grid positions into race wins; something he has struggled to do in the past, even when he’s started ahead of Lewis on the grid.
The keyword is consistency for Bottas, who is looking in the best physical shape for some time, and if he can raise his game on the big occasions might just cause a surprise or two over the next six months.
2020 Drivers Championship Odds: 7.00*
Back in May, Ferrari revealed that Sebastian Vettel would not be staying with the team beyond the end of this season, confirming Carlos Sainz as his replacement; so what can we expect of the four-time champion as he plans to bow out of F1, perhaps for good?
In some ways, knowing his fate might just help the German rather than hinder him as, when he was leading the team, he had the might of Tifosi on his shoulder, which didn’t always work in his favour.
So with nothing to prove and an opportunity to go out with a bang, we might just mean we see one of the greats of his generation in the mix during the truncated 2020 Formula One season.
Remember, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button all bowed out fighting in the midfield, so if Vettel can do so with some race wins to his name, it’ll do his legacy the world of good.
2020 Drivers Championship Odds: 15.00*
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