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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    Mercedes' radical 'dual axis steering' system looks set to be banned from Formula One in the 2021 season.

    The constructors' champions introduced the new technology - also known by his acronym 'DAS' - at this week's testing session in Barcelona.

    Discussions over its eye-catching appearance and effect are set to continue into the 2020 campaign, with Mercedes looking to have developed a new tool to push the team even further forward at least in the short term.

    World champion Lewis Hamilton was shown on his car's on-board camera to be adjusting his steering column in practice, pulling it towards him and pushing it away.

    That was said to result in small changes to the toe angle of the wheels - their alignment when the steering is set straight - and Mercedes technical director James Allison has said DAS offers drivers "an extra dimension of control".

    However, amid a slew of changes to Formula One's rules that will come into effect next year, there are defined restrictions on steering mechanisms.

    The 2021 rules state: "The re-alignment of the steered wheels, as defined by the position of the inboard attachment of the relevant suspensions members that remain a fixed distance from each other, must be uniquely defined by a monotonic function of the rotational position of a single steering wheel."

    The BBC reported on Friday that Michael Masi, race director of governing body the FIA, confirmed the rule amendment would affect DAS.

    Masi is quoted as saying on the BBC Sport website: "We will see what teams can come up with within those boundaries of what the regulations are written for in 2021

  • Hamilton yet to open contract talks with Mercedes Hamilton yet to open contract talks with Mercedes

    Lewis Hamilton revealed he was yet to begin contract talks with Mercedes as the world champion focuses on preparations for the 2020 Formula One season.

    The six-time world champion is out of contract at the end of this season, which begins in Australia next month.

    But Hamilton, who has been linked with a move to Ferrari, is in no rush to open talks with Mercedes.

    "We haven't sat down. I know Toto [Wolff, Mercedes team principal] is keen to, but right now the focus is on trying to make sure I am fit and ready for the season ahead as it ramps up," Hamilton said at pre-season testing on Thursday.

    "You want to start on the front foot so it is not something I really get bogged down with at this period of time."

    Hamilton has won five championships since joining Mercedes in 2013, including the past three to move within one of Michael Schumacher's record of seven.

    The 35-year-old Brit said there would be more to talks than just the rest of his driving career.

    "People talk about freedom as if it is a bad thing, but it is not at all. Mercedes have allowed me to be who I want to be rather than keep me constricted and ask me to speak a certain way or dress a certain way," Hamilton said.

    "There were question marks over all the different things I do, but everyone can see the results I have had over the last two years. The flexibility helps me to be more engaged and an even better driver than I thought I could be.

    "It is now about trying to figure out what the next five-to-10-year plan is, and how the decision I make now will impact the future.

    "Does it allow me to put certain things in place so that, when I hang up my helmet, I am able to continue to pursue other interests? That will be in the small print of what we agree and what we will mostly be talking about."

  • Ibrahimovic, Boateng and Paulinho - Barcelona's most eyebrow-raising signings Ibrahimovic, Boateng and Paulinho - Barcelona's most eyebrow-raising signings

    It is fair to say Barcelona's signing of Martin Braithwaite has raised a few eyebrows.

    After being granted special dispensation to complete a deal for the Leganes forward outside of the transfer window, Barca announced the arrival of Braithwaite on Thursday.

    Braithwaite moves to Camp Nou with a modest return of 10 goals in 43 LaLiga appearances and having had uninspiring spells at Middlesbrough and Bordeaux prior to moving to Spain.

    Yet, this is hardly the first time a Barcelona signing has seemed puzzling to those on the outside.

    Here, we take a look at some of the strangest, not necessarily the worst, signings Barca have made in recent history.

    ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC

    This feels like the caveat of surprising not worst needs re-emphasising. Ibrahimovic's standing as a world-class talent is not in question. But it was a signing that seemed out of place with Barca's style of play under Pep Guardiola, and a deal made even more perplexing by the club's decision to sanction Inter's signing of Samuel Eto'o, who was part of a devastating triumvirate with Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry. While Eto'o went on to win the treble under Jose Mourinho in 2009-10, Ibrahimovic – while still managing a solid return of 16 goals in 29 LaLiga outings – never really fit the mould at Camp Nou and reports of discord with Guardiola were always bubbling under the surface. He was shipped out to Milan a year later with a LaLiga and Club World Cup medal to show for his efforts.

    ALEX SONG

    Cameroon midfielder Song made over 200 appearances for Arsenal but not many truly thought he was a player with the calibre to shine at Barcelona. With Barca's midfield boasting the talents of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Thiago Alcantara, Javier Mascherano, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets when he joined in 2012 it was hard to see where Song fit in. And so it proved, with Song twice being sent out on loan to West Ham before a permanent move to Rubin Kazan was agreed in July 2016.

    JEREMY MATHIEU

    David Luiz, Marquinhos and Mats Hummels were all tipped as potential additions for a Barca side seeking a central defender in July 2014. For one reason or another none made the move and so Barca paid the €20million release clause to Valencia to make Mathieu the most expensive defender over the age of 30. Having only really played one full season as a centre-back it was not a deal that exactly screamed value. But, to his credit, Mathieu proved a useful squad player and he left Camp Nou with two LaLiga medals, three Copas del Rey and a Champions League win to his name.

    PAULINHO

    This one definitely falls under the category of surprising rather than worst. Paulinho was widely regarded as a £17million flop during a two-season stay with Tottenham so not many could have foreseen Barcelona forking out a reported €40million fee to sign the Brazil midfielder from Guangzhou Evergrande. But Paulinho was a solid squad man at Barca and his one-season stay – he would re-join Guangzhou in July 2018 – saw him make 34 league appearances, as well as returning a LaLiga and Copa del Rey double.

    ARTURO VIDAL

    Much like Ibrahimovic, it was not a question of Vidal's talent or achievements, more if he could fit the stereotype of a Barca player. The Chile midfielder, who has won top-flight titles in Italy and Germany with Juventus and Bayern Munich, has proven a useful player for Barca, helping the club to LaLiga glory last term, but has made just six league starts this term. The 32-year-old was the subject of reported interest from Inter in January.

    KEVIN-PRINCE BOATENG

    A player certainly not devoid of talent but Boateng is the sort of player who in years to come many will say out loud "I didn't know he'd played for them!" A nomadic career has seen him take in spells with the likes of Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund, Milan and Schalke but few would have imagined Barca would come calling in January 2019. However, with Ernesto Valverde on the lookout for back-up to Luis Suarez and Boateng having had experience of playing as a centre-forward in LaLiga with Las Palmas, a loan deal with Sassuolo was agreed. He made just four appearances and is now enjoying a temporary spell at Besiktas from Fiorentina.

    JEISON MURILLO

    Much like Boateng, Murillo arrived on a short-term loan in the 2019 January window as a short-term option. With injuries to Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen leaving Barca short at centre-back it was not particularly a surprise to see them enter the market, more that they moved for Murillo who had made just one LaLiga appearance for Valencia since joining on a full-time deal from Inter. Opportunities, as you may expect, proved scarce and Murillo played just four times for Barca.

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