Several drivers find themselves feeling the heat heading to the 2020 Formula 1 season, using their futures on the grid far from protected.
In a year that could see a lot of movement in the motorist market ahead of 2021 – when a plethora of new athletic, financial and technical regulations come into play – some drivers over others are needing hitting the ground running to dispel any possible fears above their chairs.
Here’s a peek at those who need a solid 2020 campaign…
Undoubtedly, Sebastian Vettel is under intense pressure and scrutiny heading into the new season.
The four-time world champion faces a formidable opponent in teammate Charles Leclerc and is currently entering the final year of his contract.
Following Leclerc move himself to become the new group leader of Ferrari and recovered to regularly out-perform Vettel.
His form turnaround against the French Grand Prix watched him move from the potential supporting action as he started to assert himself using a streak of qualifying dominance within the 38, to shooting on the role of Vettel.
Leclerc maintained Ferrari’s first (and second) victories of the season and scored seven pole positions – more than any other driver – on his way into rounding out his maiden campaign in the Scuderia clear of Vettel in fourth place in the tournament.
In contrast, Vettel could only manage 1 success in Singapore, in which a much better strategy helped him leapfrog pole-sitter Leclerc to finish his yearlong wait to return to the top step of the
After four years of facing resistance in the shape of teammate Kimi Raikkonen and being the team leader at Ferrari, Leclerc’s emergence has seemingly rattled Vettel.
This sparked intra-team worries that brewed and bubbled into a crescendo at the penultimate round of the season in Brazil, where Leclerc and Vettel came together into what Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto described as a”silly” crash that wiped both drivers.
Signs of potential fractions were seen early on as equally Leclerc and Vettel each took it in turns to ignore team orders as they battled it out for supremacy in the Maranello group, together with the prior eventually winning the duel in 2019 at least, and earning himself a fresh five-year deal running until the end of 2024 in the procedure.
Vettel revealed flashes of his brilliant best with a dominant display in Canada (until his costly late error), his remarkable recovery drive in Germany and stunning pole lap in Suzuka, but finally, there were not enough highlights during this year as Ferrari struggled to get in addition to its complicated SF90 idea.
As this author predicted before this 2019 season – which Leclerc’s promotion would make or break the Ferrari tenure of Vettel – Vettel is this year.
Prospective candidates to substitute Vettel could include the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo.
It might sound odd to include a motorist who has enjoyed the most successful season of his career to date and ended up runner-up from the F1 championship, but that doesn’t fully quell the pressure.
Bottas, equipped with a beard and a new hardened approach which quickly saw him dubbed as Valtteri 2.0′, bounced back from a tough, winless 2018 by creating the ideal start to the season as he beat teammate Lewis Hamilton to success in Melbourne.
A second triumph, this time converted in Baku, from pole transferred Bottas into an early championship lead, when Hamilton hit his stride during the European leg of this 44, but any hopes of claiming a maiden title were soon dashed.
The Finn paired F1 qualifier of time with five sticks across the season, though he was unable to maintain a sustained title bid and was able to put up his biggest challenge to Hamilton yet.
Having shown that on his day he could match and even beat Hamilton and playing a more than sufficient role in picking up enough things to assist Mercedes to seal a comfy sixth world championship double, Bottas’ improved showing in 2019 resulted in the German maker handing him a second one-year contract extension for 2020.
Bottas‘ most important problem is that his afternoon comes far and too few in between.
He admitted greater consistency is required if he’s to genuinely battle Hamilton for championship silverware and said he’d invented a secret” strategy” in his hopes to topple the six-time world winner in 2020.
Another similar season to 2019 should help Bottas keep his seat for a further year, but any dip in shape could put his place at the reigning world champions under threat from George Russell, while Mercedes will also be keeping tabs Max Verstappen’s contract position in Red Bull.
What a rollercoaster of a two decades Alexander Albon has gone .
He went from having an initial race-by-race deal in Formula 2 at the beginning of 2018 to emerge as a championship contender, finding himself on the verge of a Formula E change, before receiving a late call up to complete Toro Rosso’s line-up for the 2019 season and ultimately ending the year at Red Bull.
Despite having never driven F1 machinery before 2019, Albon seamlessly transitioned into the championship and made an impressive start to life at Toro Rosso.
His powerful early variant coincided with fresh Red Bull signing Pierre Gasly’s struggles, which resulted in the Milton Keynes squad swapping the duo about in Belgium.
A few rookie mistakes apart, Albon performed admirably given the situation and a streak of eight top-six appearances from the final nine races a streak only blemished by a tangle with Lewis Hamilton in Brazil while Albon looked on course to score his maiden podium – saw him land a full-time chair in the group for 2020.
Albon proved aggressive and consistent compared to Gasly amazed over the team with his specialized feedback and maturity and had alongside the feeling that is Max Verstappen.
But the honeymoon period is over for Albon.
The weight of expectation falls heavy on the shoulders of almost any young driver in Red Bull and Albon should now increase his game to become more of a threat to Verstappen (especially if the Red Bull-Honda package does emerge as a title challenger) and successfully steer clear of exactly the same treatment that has befallen on people who have neglected to do before him.
Antonio Giovinazzi recovered from a tough start to his debut full-season at F1 but a turnaround in the second half of 2019 helped him secure his position.
Giovinazzi failed to make the top 10 while Raikkonen enjoyed a run of four successive points finishes.
He was on course to make until he popped out of the top 10 on, a mistake which nearly cost him his 31, two points finishes in Spa.
But, Giovinazzi instantly responded by coming back into the points with a drive and bouncing back at Monza on home soil.
His season highlight came in Brazil although his qualifying performances against Raikkonen enhanced dramatically as he took a fifth to seal the Alfa result of the year.
The Italian will be expected to do from the get-go in 2020, along with the experience he will have obtained together with Raikkonen must stand him in good stead.
Failure to create a step up will result in uncertainty over his future, amid various promising talent appearing from Ferrari’s youthful driver pool.
The Scuderia is understood to maintain a determining sway over who gets among the Alfa chairs – that will have helped Giovinazzi’s trigger in watching off potential competition from the likes of Nico Hulkenberg – and will be closely monitoring the performances of its own rising stars such as Mick Schumacher, reigning Formula 3 champion Robert Shwartzman and Marcus Armstrong, any of which may thrust themselves into contention for a 2021 Alfa seat using a specially outstanding F2 effort.
There is also what Raikkonen will decide to do upon the expiry of his contract at the close of the season the question mark.
If Raikkonen decides to bring his impressive tenure after 300 + races, then that may hand a lifeline if needed to Giovinazzi in the game to a close.
Despite facing doubts within his future past 2019 with Haas, Romain Grosjean’s continuation with the US team to get a fifth season was supported back amid an effort’.
While it awakened a car Haas’ VF-19 challenger would collapse back a problem that the team failed to conquer through the year, on a Sunday and fought in race conditions.
Much like in 2018, Grosjean didn’t score points before the fifth round of this year in Barcelona and made a beginning.
Just two top-10 appearances would follow Baku and Germany as teammate Kevin Magnussen that the Frenchman within the year.
Although Haas team leader Guenther Steiner confessed Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg were considered for a chair alongside Magnussen – that already had a deal in place – Grosjean was retained.
Both drivers are at the end of 2020 out of contract however, it’s Grosjean who heads to the season under stress, after attempts.
Another season from Grosjean might end up being the last straw for Haas.