Not since the opening round of the 2011 Formula One season, the Bahrain Grand Prix, had we been witness to the cancellation of a grand prix. On this occasion, the decision was made due to safety concerns around political uprisings and the actions of protestors.
Fast forward to the 2020 F1 season and the opening round, the Australian Grand Prix. This was hyped to be a season to remember for many reasons, a swansong of sorts for the cars with thirteen-inch rims and the current aero packages we have grown so used to. For 2021, the rule book had been torn up and re-written in the most radical of ways – eighteen-inch rims, heavier and slower cars, with new sleeker designs and a greater emphasis on reliability from the power units and their components.
Other than the talk of Ferrari’s secret fuel burn system that deemed legal by the FIA and yet couldn’t be used, and the innovative Mercedes Dual Axis Steering (DAS) system that was to be used for the first time at a race weekend, there was overcast skies. The clouds gathering in Melbourne were not for any pending rainfall, but for the cancellation of the opening grand prix weekend due to the encroaching COVID-19 pandemic. The F1 paddock and the entire world had been brought to a standstill under the threat of this new type of respiratory virus. It was a silent assassin that couldn’t be seen, yet it was potentially deadly to some.
With the glimmer of hope that the weekend of racing would go ahead, the F1 teams, drivers and the paddock went about their Thursday’s preparations as normal. Of course, the feeling in the paddock was different to when I had attended the race in 2019. The drivers were reluctant to conduct as many media briefings or their interactions were generally as we now all know, isolated and removed from direct contact with the outside world.
McLaren made the decision late on the Thursday night that they would withdraw from the weekend’s planned on track sessions. On the Friday morning, the public were met with closed gates at the Albert Park circuit. Sadly, there was to be no admission into the public areas of the Albert Park venue for the F1 fans. Word had also filtered through that that both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had left Australia already following an early morning dash to the airport and onto flights bound for Europe.
Within hours, the decision had been made that the Australian Grand Prix was not going ahead at all. Everyone’s attention then turned to the following races in Bahrain, Vietnam and China. National Governments had quickly enacted border lock downs and, all of a sudden, the 2020 F1 season had been put on hold, with no known return date. This has, of course, meant that both the FIA and F1 had to make some big decisions about how to run a non-championship season, if at all, and which circuits they could use. The teams have since expressed concerns over the proposed shortened season at the cost of running back to back races, and the physical demands on their staff.
In addition, the FIA have now announced that the change to the 2021 regulations will be held back and implemented for the 2022 season. Effectively, 2021 will be the season we see the current cars in this format for the last time. Of course, the Gregorian calendar doesn’t concern itself with one other significant factor, the contracts for the current field of F1 drivers. The expiry date on the contract still stands, even if the drivers are asked to take a pay cut by their current teams. When we look at the current list of drivers, there are three key drivers that are off contract at the end of the 2020 calendar year. Those drivers being, Lewis Hamilton, Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo.
So here is my guesstimate at what may or may not happen in 2021 with regards to certain drivers in the F1 field.
LEWIS HAMILTON – remain at Mercedes AMG for one more year, to simply take a seventh drivers’ title and draw level with the great Michael Schumacher.
SEBASTIAN VETTEL – retirement. He is starting to look like another Fernando Alonso. He has four titles to his name already and is now simply chasing his next win, let alone another title. If he steps away from Ferrari to a lesser team as Räikkönen did, it will be to his own detriment.
DANIEL RICCIARDO – The Renault experiment, up until the end of the 2019 season, has failed. I believe he will be in a McLaren, alongside Lando Norris in 2021.
GEORGE RUSSELL – the perfect number two and apprentice to Hamilton at Mercedes.
CARLOS SAINZ – no longer tied to McLaren after 2020, he will fit into a seat at Ferrari and be the next Eddie Irvine or Rubens Barrichello as a wingman for Charles Leclerc.
VALTTERI BOTTAS – feeling dejected by Mercedes, he will join Esteban Ocon at Renault where he is under a lot less pressure to deliver. He can go back to simply being an F1 driver, lowering his defence shield of protecting against comparisons to Hamilton.
MAX VERSTAPPEN & ALEXANDER ALBON – both will remain at RBR as they have so much to offer the team and bow to the demands of Helmut Marko so easily.
NICHOLAS LATIFI – the great unknown as a rookie, he is more than likely to remain at Williams. His father is looking to invest in the team as Lawrence Stroll did at Racing Point and, in my opinion, Williams are a team on the brink of a return to at least the mid-field positions.
Having evaluated the possible destinations of those drivers with solid contracts to rely on, we must now look at those in doubt of a drive in 2021.
— Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN (@alfaromeoracing) March 12, 2020
KEVIN MAGNUSSEN – a driver that suits the Haas mould and has delivered for the team compared to his teammate. Another season without a podium may not be to his liking though, but where could he place himself? At Alfa Romeo as he at least knows the Ferrari power unit.
ROMAIN GROSJEAN – maybe F1 isn’t for him after all, and he is yet another one of those French drivers like Olivier Panis, Charles Pic, Franck Montagny and Jean-Marc Gounon ,that couldn’t cut the Dijon mustard in F1.
KIMI RAIKKONEN – retirement. Kimi has said that he doesn’t need the coin and is just having fun. How long can he trawl around the midfield and find enough enjoyment and satisfaction to keep going?
ANTONIO GIOVINAZZI – like the electrics in a 1983 Aflasud, it’s hit and miss what sort of a start you will get. Maybe his placement in the team has just been a marketing stunt to put an Italian driver in the squad.