F1 Raceweek: Who can challenge Hamilton's dominance in 2020?

By Sports Desk October 28, 2019

Lewis Hamilton has had a sixth Formula One title all but wrapped up for some time. In Sunday's Mexican Grand Prix, he edged ever closer.

Hamilton needed to outscore his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas by 14 points or more at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez but was made to wait as the Finn came in third.

It seems a matter of when, not if, for Hamilton however, as he nears capping another extraordinarily consistent campaign with another deserved title.

But while Hamilton – and Mercedes – have continued their dominance of F1 in style, 2019 has at least offered hope to others that title tilts of their own may be on the horizon.

With Hamilton showing no signs of letting up, who can be the main challengers to his crown next term?

CHARLES LECLERC

With successive wins in Belgium and Italy this season it has been a breakthrough campaign for Leclerc, who does not seem far off replacing Sebastian Vettel as Ferrari's number one driver.

Vettel's resurgence in the latter stage of the campaign has helped the four-time champions' cause, though Leclerc is undoubtedly the future for the team with nine podium finishes in 2019.

The 22-year-old has more than proved his quality this year and, with three races remaining, sits six points ahead of his team-mate in the drivers' standings. If he gets the better of Vettel, then Hamilton should be his next target.

MAX VERSTAPPEN

F1's youngest ever competitor looked set for a title challenge when he claimed two victories as part of three podium spots in four races between June and August.

Unfortunately for Red Bull the 22-year-old's form has since dipped, with Verstappen making the top three in only one of the following six grands prix.

The Dutchman's luck seemed to have changed when he clinched the second pole position of his career in Mexico City, only to be handed a three-place grid penalty.

However, despite his struggles of late, Verstappen – who is 10 points shy of Vettel in fifth in the championship standings – is one of the most talented drivers on the grid and should see himself as a contender for 2020.

VALTTERI BOTTAS

Hamilton has rightly taken the limelight, but the hard work and consistency shown by Bottas should not go unnoticed.

Bottas has improved no end since moving to Mercedes and is on course to complete his best season, having come third and fifth in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

By accumulating three victories this term, he is just 16 points shy of the 305 he earned in 2017.

There was some uncertainty Bottas would be remaining at Mercedes, with reserve driver Esteban Ocon – who has now joined Renault for 2020 – chomping at the bit to be given his chance, but Toto Wolff has stuck by the Finn, who will surely be aiming to switch a supporting role for a lead part next season.

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  • Hamilton: I'd swap seventh title to bring about change in F1 Hamilton: I'd swap seventh title to bring about change in F1

    Lewis Hamilton would gladly trade a seventh Formula One world title to bring more inclusivity and diversity to the sport.

    The world champion has been a leading voice in the fight for change amid the growing prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

    Hamilton was one of several sporting figures to speak out against the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis in May.

    The Briton has also taken a leading role in F1's End Racism campaign as part of the #WeRaceAsOne initiative.

    Hamilton has made a strong start in his bid to claim a seventh title in F1, winning three of the first four races and will start second on the grid for the second of a Silverstone double header this weekend.

    But ahead of the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, Hamilton was asked by the F1 TV pre-race show if he would swap another title for more diversity, to which he replied: "For the change? Sure."

    He added: "Winning championships is a great thing, and of course I'm going to push and see how far I can go with it, but I am the only black driver here, for whatever reason. I don't know why I was chosen to be able to do what I do in the car, and it wasn't somebody else.

    "Things have happened along the way in my life, and I don't think it’s a coincidence that I'm in the position I'm in today. But there was a point where I was like, 'Jeez, just me being here is not enough. I've got to speak up. I could do more'.

    "If I was to have retired a year ago, maybe nothing would have changed, I don't know. But what I love to see right now is that there is this awakening, there are people slowly [changing] – still not everyone, you still have a lot of these teams that are not saying anything, not holding themselves accountable, there’s still a lot of people [like that] out there – but it's finding a balance in how you engage those people, and yes, I hope in 10 years – I don't want it to be like 20 years' time, but I hope in a short space of time, I can see change.

    "You're seeing people already [engaging], you're seeing Chase [Carey, F1 1 CEO] and the sport, you're seeing Jean [Todt, President of the FIA] who I've had a chat with, and who has hired a lady from Jamaica who's now working on the diversity campaign for the FIA.

    "So you're seeing things but we need to stay on them and that's I guess part of my job being here, I think, and that means more to me, because if I'm able to look back and think, 'Yeah, I won championships but I was a part of helping shift the outlook of this sport and making it more accessible to people all over the world', I think that would be a great thing to be a part of."

    When asked what he thought when people say he should remain apolitical, Hamilton said: "I don't ever listen to it. 

    "Telling me to stop one thing is not going to stop me doing it, and I hope for everybody out there, nobody can tell you what to do ultimately.

    "I respect people's opinions. The fact is, I live in this world – not just in this world [of F1], I live in the world and everybody's opinion matters. 

    "The thing for me is that I say one thing and it travels very, very far. That’s an unbelievable power to have, that we have today in the media, being able to really push for change. I feel like I would be doing a disservice to people, to my family, to my followers if I didn't."

  • F1 2020: Starting grid and race preview for 70th Anniversary Grand Prix F1 2020: Starting grid and race preview for 70th Anniversary Grand Prix

    Valtteri Bottas will be hoping to make up for lost ground after qualifying on pole for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix this weekend.

    Following the disappointment of a late puncture that saw him slip from second to 11th at the British Grand Prix and fall 30 points adrift of Lewis Hamilton in the drivers' standings, Bottas is primed to bounce back in part two of the Silverstone double-header.

    In the same week he signed a Mercedes contract extension for the 2021 season, the Finn outpaced his team-mate to ensure he will start from the front of the grid on Sunday.

    After a dramatic finale last weekend, the two Silver Arrows appear destined to fight it out for glory again.

    WHAT HAPPENED IN QUALIFYING

    Hamilton was on provisional pole and slightly improved on his time on his final lap. Unfortunately for him Bottas went even quicker and he had to settle for second.

    Standing in for Sergio Perez due to the Mexican testing positive for coronavirus, Nico Hulkenberg guided his Racing Point to third after splitting the Mercedes in Q2.

    It was another day to forget for Ferrari. They were outqualified by AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly and saw Sebastian Vettel fail to get out of Q2; the four-time champion will start 11th after Esteban Ocon received a three-place grid penalty for blocking George Russell in Q1.

    THE STARTING GRID

    1. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), 2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    3. Nico Hulkenberg (Racing Point), 4. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
    5. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault), 6. Lance Stroll (Racing Point)
    7. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri), 8. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
    9. Alex Albon (Red Bull), 10. Lando Norris (McLaren)
    11.  Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari), 12. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
    13. Romain Grosjean (Haas), 14. Esteban Ocon (Renault)
    15. George Russell (Williams), 16. Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri)
    17. Kevin Magnussen (Haas), 18. Nicholas Latifi (Williams)
    19. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo), 20. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)

    70th ANNIVERSARY GRAND PRIX TALKING POINTS

    Much of the discussion this weekend has centred on Racing Point's 15-point sanction and €400,000 fine after an FIA investigation found their rear brake ducts were designed by Mercedes, breaching the sporting regulations.

    The team maintain their innocence and intend to appeal the decision, while four rival squads – Renault, who lodged the initial complaint, McLaren, Williams and Ferrari – have also challenged the outcome.

    Racing Point will continue to use the parts that earned the punishment so a strong display at Silverstone, something Hulkenberg will be desperate to produce having lost his seat this season, will cause further discontent in the paddock.

    Verstappen starting the race on the hard compound means he will be running a significantly different strategy to the leading Mercedes.

    WHAT THE DRIVERS SAID

    Valtteri Bottas (pole): "To be honest I think one stop could be quite difficult here with the compounds we have here this weekend. So I think things are going to be a bit different than last weekend in terms of strategy. I'm sure the guys will be looking at all the options overnight and obviously myself the expectation tomorrow, there's nothing more than to win the race when you start from pole."

    Lewis Hamilton (2nd): "At the end of the day we're drivers, we go out and continue to push. I improved over this weekend also but Valtteri did a better job at the end. I don't feel any way about it, we've got a long race tomorrow and I’ll be giving everything I can to try and beat this guy."

    Nico Hulkenberg (3rd): "To be honest it's very difficult [to get a podium] and challenging circumstances, but I know I have a fast car beneath me, so it's just trying to make sure to do everything right. Obviously starting, lap one, it's going to be also new for me. But I think I'll just try to get it right with all the experience I have and then we'll race. I'll try not to think too much, just keep my head down and have a good race."

    Max Verstappen (4th): "I just hope that I can have a clean start on the hard tyre. The hard tyre was last weekend's medium, so I don't think it will be too bad compared to what [the rest of the top 10] are starting on. Of course, you might lose a little with the initial launch, but I think it will be better for the first stint. Of course, it depends also if there are safety cars or not. So we just have to wait and see, but at least it's different to what other people are doing around me, and we'll see if we can do a better job."

    Sebastian Vettel (11th): "We tried a lot of things and I was happy with my laps, but I don't think that there was any more to get out of the car today. I need more grip to go faster. I must congratulate my engineers for improving the car compared to last weekend, but if you look at the stopwatch there is no difference. It seems we are stuck and of course it is disappointing to be in 12th [before Ocon's penalty] with that gap between our two cars. We are where we are for a reason, we are just not fast enough. It will be difficult tomorrow to fight for points but I will do my best."

    Esteban Ocon (14th): "It's a disappointing session overall as I felt my lap in Q2 was pretty good. The gap to Daniel [Ricciardo] was clearly big in that session so we need to investigate why. It could be something we just didn't understand entirely on the car after yesterday. The car felt very capable today with a bit more in hand. I just couldn't carry the speed when I needed to. We also have the incident with George [Russell]. It was no one on track's fault, but it's something we should have managed better."

    CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

    Drivers

    1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 88
    2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 58
    3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 52
    4. Lando Norris (McLaren) 36
    5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 33

    Constructors

    1. Mercedes 146
    2. Red Bull 78
    3. McLaren 51
    4. Ferrari 43
    5. Renault 32

  • MotoGP 2020: Starting grid and race preview for Czech Republic Grand Prix MotoGP 2020: Starting grid and race preview for Czech Republic Grand Prix

    Fabio Quartararo will go in search of a third straight MotoGP victory on Sunday - but it is Johann Zarco who surprisingly sits on pole for the Czech Republic Grand Prix. 

    Frenchman Quartararo, who had not managed to win a race prior to this year, has opened the delayed 2020 season with back-to-back triumphs in Jerez. 

    The Petronas Yamaha rider is setting the pace in a title race that is currently minus reigning champion Marc Marquez, who is not involved in Brno following a second surgery on the broken arm he suffered in the season-opening Spanish Grand Prix. 

    However, the early front-runner in the standings will have to get past compatriot Zarco if he is to clinch a hat-trick. 

    WHAT HAPPENED IN QUALIFYING

    Few can have expected Zarco to post the fastest time in qualifying. Now racing for Reale Avintia Ducati, his last pole came back in the 2018 season.

    Quartararo's quest to head the field for a fifth straight race ended when he crashed during his final lap, though there was a boost when Pol Espargaro was penalised for continuing during yellow flag conditions, dropping him from second to sixth.

    Franco Morbidelli will start on the outside of the front three, Aleix Espargaro from fourth and Maverick Vinales fifth, the latter having missed out on a final attempt to improve his time when starting the lap too late. 

    Andrea Dovizioso endured a session to forget, however, ending up in 18th, though was at least better off than Repsol Honda pair Stefan Bradl and Alex Marquez, who occupy the last two spots. 

    THE STARTING GRID

    1. Johann Zarco (Reale Avintia Racing), 2. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha), 3. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha)
    4. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia), 5. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha), 6. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM)
    7. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), 8. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati), 9. Joan Mir (Team SUZUKI ECSTAR)
    10. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha), 11. Alex Rins (Team SUZUKI ECSTAR), 12. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda)
    13. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3), 14. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing), 15. Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing)
    16. Iker Lecuona (Tech 3 KTM), 17. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda), 18. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati)
    19. Bradley Smith (Aprilia), 20. Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda), 21. Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda)

    CZECH REPUBLIC GRAND PRIX TALKING POINTS

    There will be a fresh winner in 2020, considering the absent Marquez is not around to defend his Czech crown.

    The recovering Spaniard is the previous rider to win the first three races in a season, doing so back in 2014. The in-form Quartararo will hope he can match that feat, despite finishing qualifying with a trip into the gravel after pushing too hard to get on pole.

    Dovizioso, who sits third in the standings, has work to do if he is to challenge as he struggled during an indifferent day for Ducati, despite Zarco's unexpected performance.

    There was a setback for Takaaki Nakagami too, as the LCR Honda rider missed out on Q2 after his best lap was wiped out by a track limits penalty.

    And what of Valentino Rossi? The Italian has won four times in Brno, albeit the last of those successes was back in 2009. His performances in practice suggested he could challenge at the venue this week, yet he had to settle for 10th place on the grid.

    WHAT THE RIDERS SAID

    Johann Zarco (1st): "I saw the lap time and I was even surprised, it was a huge difference to the lap time posted before with the first tyres I used at the beginning of qualifying."

    Fabio Quartararo (2nd): "I pushed a little bit too much and took some bumps in corner 13. But in FP4 we made a big step on the pace, we feel now exactly where the limit is – okay, I pushed way too hard on the brakes during qualifying, but on the pace it’s great to know the feeling."

    Franco Morbidelli (3rd): "It definitely looks like my best weekend in MotoGP so far. I'm happy about that, and I will try to capitalise tomorrow."

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