Formula 1Opinion

OPINION – Silly Season: Formula 1 2020 – Who goes where?

10 Mins read
The drivers' start of season group photograph. Australian Grand Prix, Sunday 17th March 2019. Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia.

Whilst the F1 community decides where they are planning to spend their summer holidays, F1’s answer to musical chairs begins, with the silly season commencing as we reach the halfway point of the season.

So what do we know so far on who goes where?

We already know that McLaren will have an unchanged lineup for 2020.

However several drivers are out on contract and are on the market for future employers whilst some may have their contracts brought.

So who goes where?

Mercedes-AMG Motorsport

Credit: LAT Images

At the start of the 2019 season, it seemed that Esteban Ocon would be destined to take the second Mercedes seat if the much-maligned Valtteri Bottas fell apart in the first half of the season.

Ocon’s dream seemed dead when Bottas took victory in Australia and China, and pole positions in Azerbaijan, Spain and Britain, but since then the Finn has been off the pace, and looks set to be returning to the 2018 version of himself who was effectively a pushover.

With rumours swirling that Ocon will be guaranteed a seat in F1 for next year it would be bizarre if Toto Wolff doesn’t give his young charge the top seat in F1 if Bottas doesn’t pick up the baton and challenge Hamilton.

Prediction for 2020

Bottas’ time should be up, and it seems that it’s time to give Ocon a chance to shine, in a car that will put him up at the front with former karting rivals Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly, so our prediction will be Lewis Hamilton and Esteban Ocon.

Scuderia Ferrari

Charles Leclerc - Formula 1 - 2019 British GP
Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

Although both Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc have contracts until 2020, Vettel has been rumoured to be going elsewhere, with a return to Red Bull or even an early retirement on the cards for the four-time World Champion.

If Vettel does retire, it would be a great loss to the sport from the driver whose talent in securing pole positions and his clever race craft took him to four World championships with Red Bull before leaving in 2014 for Ferrari.

But Vettel has had his down moments as well, with the multi 21 scandal of 2013 causing him to be booed at seemingly every race, whilst his Ferrari career has seen his reputation taking a thrashing due to some cases of road rage and spins which marred his push for the 2018 championship.

This season has been a poor one for Vettel with multiple spins and incidents which included an embarrassing shunt with Verstappen at Silverstone has put the spotlight back on Vettel again.

The German hasn’t been the same since that soul-destroying mistake whilst comfortably leading the German Grand Prix last year, and with the Canada scandal which saw Vettel look deflated and fed up of the sport he grew up adoring as a fan of Michael Schumacher it seems right that he leaves with his reputation still intact as one of the all-time greats.

Last weekend at the German Grand Prix was a masterful driver by the former champion, but it remains to be seen if he can continue his form or if it was a blip in the pan.

But if Vettel was to go who would replace him?

A strong choice would be Daniel Ricciardo, who despite having a contract for 2020 at Renault has not signed a new deal with the Enstone based team, leaving him seemingly a free agent. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he did depart Renault after what’s been a far from successful 2019 season, which has seen the Renault struggle around most circuits.

Ricciardo would be a perfect fit for the Italian marque, with the fact he has Italian in his blood, a character that would give the PR team the easiest job in the world, and finally he’s an out and out racer who is cut from the same cloth as Nigel Mansell and Juan Pablo Montoya which will make him an easy fan favourite.

Some rumours have linked Verstappen to the prancing horse, but those were quickly quashed, leaving Bottas as the only realistic option if Vettel packs his bags and Ricciardo stays at Renault.

Prediction for 2020

If Vettel does retire, then it’s a slam dunk that Daniel Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc will pair up.

Red Bull Racing

Pierre Gasly, Max Verstappen & Charles Leclerc
Credit: Red Bull Content Pool (Charles Coates/Getty Images)

Although Verstappen looks certain for another year at Red Bull Racing, at least until Hamilton decides to end his spell in F1, Pierre Gasly looks far from set to be held on for another season, with the Frenchman constantly rumoured to be on the move or getting replaced by every driver who doesn’t have a contract for 2020; With Nico Hulkenberg to Daniil Kvyat both rumoured to be being lined up for the second Red Bull seat if the Frenchman doesn’t up his game.

If Kvyat does take Gasly’s seat it will be the completion of a huge turnaround in fortunes since being dropped from both Red Bull teams, with the Russian maturing in his spell out in the cold.

But the Russian may still be seen in Red Bull’s hierarchy as damaged goods, which may lead to Alex Albon getting push up to the top team after a good first half of the season for the British-Thai driver.

Albon has come from an almost rags to riches story after looking down and out of motorsport, from being dropped from ART Grand Prix for 2018, before finding a late drive with DAMS where he took George Russell down to the final race at Abu Dhabi in the battle for the F2 championship before getting his F1 birth at Toro Rosso.

Outside of the Red Bull inner circle, sightings of Vettel at the Red Bull motorhome have caused rumours that the four-time World Champion might head back to Red Bull after what has been a far from easy tenure at the Ferrari team.

In what surely would be one of the biggest surprises of the year, Vettel back to Red Bull would be the one that captivates the most nostalgia, from when Vettel was at the time the dominant force in F1 who couldn’t be beaten on Saturday or Sunday.

However, Vettel is no spring chicken and it would seem a combustible mix putting Vettel and Verstappen together in a team where Vettel burned a few bridges with teammate Mark Webber in the five years that they raced alongside each other.

The only other rumour that seems to be somewhat believable is of Nico Hulkenberg going to Red Bull, in what may be his final roll of the dice in the sport where he has only achieved a single pole position, which was in his rookie season in 2010.

Prediction for 2020

It would seem boring to think that Red Bull wouldn’t change their lineup and we would be far from surprised if they did but Red Bull should give Gasly a chance to prove himself and then if results don’t improve to give him the chop. Our final line up prediction is Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly.

Renault F1 Team

Credit: Renault Sport F1 Team

It’s not been a good first half of the season for Renault, with the new car not getting Renault into the top 3 as they had hoped in pre-season testing, it seems the gamble to bring in Daniel Ricciardo may not be paying off, nor has it to keep Nico Hülkenberg around for another year.

Pressure will be on Cyril Abiteboul to pick the right lineup in particular if Ricciardo bolts for the door.

If Merc gives Ocon the chance of the second Merc seat, it’s highly likely that Bottas would move to Renault with the top seats taken, and with a driver of Bottas’s credentials, it would seem that Abiteboul will push even harder to get Renault back into the big four.

However, if Ocon fails to get the second Merc seat, the Frenchman’s eye would surely turn to Renault, in what would be seen as a massive signing for the Enstone team.

But if Ocon gets the green light to drive for the silver arrows and Gasly gets a second season at Red Bull, it wouldn’t be surprising if Renault looks inhouse for a driver with one possibility being Sergey Sirotkin who is Renault’s current test driver.

Sirotkin was left without a drive for the remainder of 2019 with SMP Racing pulling out of FIA World Endurance Championship and with the Russian’s year of F1 experience where he grounded out a point for Williams at Monza, it would seem the Russian would be first in the queue for the Renault seat if none of the established stars come to Renault.

Renault may also look at Jack Aitken who is also on Renault’s books but is only fifth in F2 and some 57 points behind championship leader Nyck De Vries.

Others on Renault’s radar include Anthoine Hubert and Guanyu Zhou, who in their rookie seasons of F2 have been consistent with Hubert taking two victories this season, however, neither are a real threat to De Vries and may need more time to adjust to the F2 cars.

As for Nico Hulkenberg, his three years at Renault have been disappointing at best, and it’s probably time to say farewell from F1 or look for employment further down the grid.

Prediction for 2020

It may seem bizarre, but Renault’s line up may be the most unusual and most competitive, if Ricciardo goes and Hulkenberg gets his marching orders, we predict that Renault’s line up will be Valterri Bottas and Sergei Sirotkin.

Haas F1 Team

Kevin Magnussen - Formula 1 - 2019 French GP
Credit: Haas F1 Team

It’s all fallen apart for Haas in recent months, Rich Energy is doing the hokey cokey on whether they want to keep sponsoring the team and team principal Gunther Steiner has probably has had to do away with his swear jar for something bigger as he curses at his team’s failures. To top it all off their drivers have sometimes been acting like Laurel and Hardy, in particular after their Silverstone antics which wiped out both cars early and contact in Germany almost did the same.

Finding out why Haas has gone wrong may be a long process, but on the driver front, it should be easier.

Although Kevin Magnussen looks set to be around for another year, Romain Grosjean looks likely to be on his way out after a weekend in Silverstone where the Frenchman crashed in the pitlane in what was a new low for one of the most experienced in the sport.

It would seem that Haas would go to their reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi who is currently in the DTM series but has plenty of testing miles in the Haas, as well as shining in his brief appearances in Indycar and in WEC before he suffered leg injuries after a crash at Spa-Francorchamps.

​In contention for that other Haas seat are Sergio Pérez and Nico Hülkenberg with both men likely to be looking for future employment from their respective teams and hoping to keep their F1 futures alive for at least another season.

Prediction for 2020

Time is up for Romain whose F1 career has run out of steam after a good spell in F1, it will now be time for the Fittipaldi name to return to F1 after a twenty-five-year absence, our prediction is Pietro Fittipaldi and Kevin Magnussen.

Racing Point F1 Team

Credit: SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team

It has been a tough twelve months for Racing Point, their former owner has been found guilty of fraud, their team lost all their constructors points, and their lead driver Esteban Ocon was dropped due to a seat needing to be vacant for Lance Stroll whose father Lawrence had bought the ailing team.

It’s hard to see any changes to the Racing Point lineup bar, of course, the obvious of Ocon taking his old seat off his rival Perez, however with Mercedes snapping him up in my predictions the only one who seems ready to take the seat off Perez is George Russell whose attitude in his first season in F1 at Williams has made many think that he is a potential World Champion.

Prediction for 2020

With the team’s future secure, Perez’s eight-year tenure in F1 may be coming to an end, if this happens they could go with two young hotshots at Racing Point, George Russell and Lance Stroll.

Alfa Romeo Racing

Alfa Romeo - Kimi Raikkonen
Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Alfa Romeo’s return to F1 has been solid so far and the C38 has a lot of potential to be a solid midfield runner.

The lineup is likely to remain the same for 2020.

Kimi Raikkonen is still one of the best drivers on the grid and has achieved top 10 finishes in all butfour races this season, whilst Antonio Giovinazzi has seemingly found his feet in F1 after a rough start to the season.

Prediction for 2020

With Mick Schumacher and Callum IIott needing some more time to perfect their skills in F2, Alfa Romeo’s lineup should be the same as 2019 with Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi.

Scuderia Toro Rosso

Kvyat - Toro Rosso - Canada
Credit: Charles Coates/Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

So far, so good for Franz Todt’s team in 2019, with the Honda engine coming on song and both drivers, scoring a decent haul of points and a podium finish last time out, it would seem that both Daniil Kvyat and Alex Albon are set to be confirmed for 2020.

Only one driver stands in their way, and that is Pato O’Ward who has taken Dan Ticktum’s place as the new next big thing from the stables of Red Bull’s junior programme, after being picked up from Carlin’s Indycar programme.

O’Ward is joined in the queue for the second Toro Rosso seat by fellow Red Bull Junior Juri Vips who has so far impressed in Formula 3 and has seen his stock rapidly rise.

Prediction for 2020

Both drivers haven’t put a foot wrong this season, and it would be a strange choiec if both were dropped, considering Vips and O’Ward are not fully ready for F1, and will need some more time to get used to the more powerful machinery of F2 and Super Formula. Our predicition for 2020 is Alex Albon and Daniil Kvyat.

Williams Racing

George Russell - Williams
Credit: Williams Racing

Finally to Williams where anyone with enough super licence points and a suitcase of cash could find themselves in an F1 seat for 2020.

One of those who has cash and talent in hand, is Canadian Nicholas Latifi who in his fourth full season of GP2/F2 has notched up three victories on route to second in the championship standings.

Ahead of him in F2 is Nyck De Vries who once upon a time was seen as the next big Dutch driver before Max Verstappen came along and rained on his parade.

It’s been an up and down season for De Vries, despite being top of the F2 standings by thirty-one points, De Vries was dropped by McLaren but in a stroke of luck was picked up by Mercedes.

For Robert Kubica, the F1 comeback dream has turned into a horrendous nightmare, with a car that is stuck at the back and his wunderkind teammate outpacing him making the Pole’s woes almost unmanageable, it would be hardly surprising if he departs F1 again soon, despite his recent points finish.

Prediction for 2020

Williams need the money, but they also need the talent to fill in the gap left behind if Russell departs, our final prediction for 2020 is Nyck De Vries and Nicholas Latifi.

What are your thoughts on 2020? Do you agree with our writer? We would love to hear your thoughts below in the comments section.

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