Formula 1

SEASON PREVIEW: 2020 Formula 1 – Can Verstappen and Albon return Red Bull to former glory?

4 Mins read
Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

Believe it or not, but it’s been over six years since Aston Martin Red Bull Racing claimed a constructor’s championship, when Sebastian Vettel wrapped up his and the team’s fourth consecutive title to dominate the final years of the V8 era. But since the hybrid era began back in 2014, they have struggled. After a painful divorce from Renault back in 2018, Red Bull will be looking for championship success in their second season with Honda. And with a strong driver pairing of a new de facto number one driver Max Verstappen and sophomore season driver Alex Albon, the team will be looking to rekindle past glories of the previous decade and bring back both championships to Milton Keynes.

Can Verstappen finally deliver a season-long title push?

It’s amazing to think that 22-year old Max Verstappen is about to embark on his sixth Formula 1 campaign. He’s now reaching a very interesting a potent moment in his career, where his youth and experience will begin too pay dividends. All this depends on the machinery he’s given of course, and with 2019 being his best season to date, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that he won’t be taking another step forward in 2020. With eight wins and 31 podiums under his belt already, he’s slowly etching his name into the history books, but a championship is what the Dutch superstar so dearly craves.

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

If there’s anything we learnt from winter testing a couple of weeks ago, it’s that the new RB16 is very fast, but potentially unstable. Verstappen especially was seen spinning multiple times over the six days of testing as he was searching for the limits of the new Adrian Newey masterpiece. However, he is confident that they’ve finally designed a car that can fight for victories and podiums immediately at the start of the season, which hasn’t been the case in previous years. The mercurial Verstappen will be looking to push through the might of Mercedes and the ever-existing challenge from Ferrari to finally silence his naysayers and not only bring home Red Bull’s first drivers and constructors championship for seven years, but also become the youngest World Driver’s Champion in the process. He has the world in the palm of his hands.

What can Albon achieve in his sophomore F1 campaign?

Back in December 2018, Alexander Albon was due to embark on his maiden Formula E campaign with Nissan. Fast forward 15 months, and the British-born Thai driver is on about his second season in Formula 1 with one of the most sought after teams in Grand Prix racing. The second half of last season was somewhat of an eye opening period for just about everyone in the paddock in regards to Alex Albon, and it’s fair to say that he passed his initial test at the Belgian Grand Prix with flying colours after replacing the underperforming Pierre Gasly for the remainder of the season. He showed fearlessness, strong race craft and a level of maturity that gave him the second seat for 2020.

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

Talking of 2020, Albon is under no illusion that his journey is just beginning. But everyone at Red Bull, including Christian Horner, Helmut Marko and even his team-mate Max Verstappen believes that this could really be a breakout year for Albon. If last season’s Brazilian Grand Prix is anything to go by, then we will see a season of fireworks from the the often quiet and timid Albon. But once the visor is down, we see a different side, and it’ll only be a matter of time before he’s scoring podiums and scoring enough points to help Red Bull reclaim the constructors titles that they’re longing for. The development of Alexander Albon will be one of the most talked about and watched stories in 2020, and from what we’ve seen so far, he appears to thrive off of the pressure.

The RB16 is undoubtedly fast, but is it too unstable?

The first thing to takeaway from testing this year is that Red Bull did 123 laps less than Mercedes over the course off six testing days at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. With only a small niggling issues on the RB16, once the car was on track it looks very fast in the hands of both Max Verstappen and Alex Albon, with a time go 1:16.269 being set by Verstappen on the final day to be just within a tenth of the apparent leaders, Mercedes. The first thing that was immediately noticeable out of on the circuit however, was the car’s skittish look. Many times during the test, both Verstappen and Albon both looked on the ragged edge of adhesion with the car often very twitchy under braking and on turn-in.

There’s no doubt that Honda have once again provided more power and improvements to the drivability, so now it’s down to the chassis department to calm down the temperament of the RB16 before the F1 circus arrives in Melbourne on Friday. Both Verstappen and Albon were quick to quash any negative reports in regards to the multiple offs they suffered during the two weeks, and were insistent on their team’s ability to arrive in Australia with a car capable of challenging for the top spot of the podium.

So what can Red Bull achieve in 2020?

Early signs show that Red Bull are somewhere in between Mercedes and Ferrari in the pecking order heading to Melbourne, which is an improvement relative to where they were at this time 12 months ago. The general consensus about 2019’s RB15 was that it was underdeveloped in comparison to their immediate rivals, and the team have put in a lot of effort to make sure that in 2020 they hit the ground running with their latest car. The car looks fast indeed, and it could be a two-horse race between themselves and the mighty Silver Arrows in the early part of the season.

Max Verstappen scored all of Red Bull’s nine podiums last season, and will be looking to double that figure if himself and the team will be looking to put in a season-long challenge for the title. Their main downfall from the early stages of 2019 was not having both drivers consistently scoring podiums and strong points, as Pierre Gasly was struggling to come to terms with the RB15, and often scoring little to no points whilst Verstappen was picking up podiums left, right and centre. With Albon, Red Bull now have the attacking guile to take points away from Brackley and Maranello. The team haven’t looked this strong going into a new season in some years, and 2020 could finally be the year that Red Bull’s wings fly high once again.

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British Formula 4 correspondent and occasional F1 reporter for The Checkered Flag.
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