First things first: happy new year to all of you GP247 readers. 2019 was a great year for our site, and we hope 2020 — and indeed, this next decade — will be even better.
This being the final year before F1 experiences a dramatic overhaul, we start the decade with several prominent figures at an interesting crossroads. Sure, there is rarely a time when there aren’t question marks hanging over drivers and team management alike, but with this being the end of an era, you would hope this particular time could provide as many answers as possible before embarking with them into a new one.
With that in mind, below you’ll find six F1 figures I believe really need to strut their stuff in the 2020 season. The cars might be set to get a little slower in 2021, but if they struggle to keep up this year, I could still see the sport passing them by.
A man not unfamiliar with outrageous proclamations, surely 2020 has to be the year where Cyril Abiteboul’s Renault either does something of significance, or he is moved on. The half a decade he has had is more than enough time to right the ship, and yet 2019 still saw them embarrassingly beaten by a customer team in McLaren while the gap to the front-runners remains largely the same as ever. If Abiteboul wants to be the one to return this team to championship prominence – not to mention convince Daniel Ricciardo to extend his stay past this season – he needs to start getting results, otherwise it’s impossible to justify keeping both him and his mouth around any longer.
Enjoying the single-most meteoric rookie season in F1 history, Albon went from being the dregs reluctantly scraped out of Helmut Marko’s barrel at Toro Rosso to a fully-fledged senior team driver at Red Bull by year’s end, and yet now the stakes have changed. In 2020 it simply won’t be enough for him to clear the low bar set by Red Bull rejects Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly, as his teammate Max Verstappen will be expecting to challenge for a title, and will need a wingman who isn’t always starting races too far down the grid to support him. If Albon can manage to keep up, he could cement the spot as his for the foreseeable future, if he can’t, he could be back looking for a Formula E drive before the year is out.
Of everyone on this list, there is none that has as much to gain and as much to lose as Seb Vettel in 2020 – he could finish the year with a fifth world championship… or he could be looking for a new job, such is his predicament. Out of contract at the end of the season while Charles Leclerc is locked-up until 2024, this year is essentially Vettel’s last chance to prove to Ferrari he is “the guy” who can lead them to the promised land, and while he almost certainly has the pace, it remains to be seen whether he has the composure. If he falters again in 2020 while continuing to clash with Leclerc, Mattia Binotto and co. might deem him not worth the headache, bringing his time at the Scuderia to a disappointing end.
A natural progression from one to the other, it follows that if Vettel is under pressure, so is his boss, Binotto. Under his watch last year the team was nothing short of disappointing, with an erratic car and a less-than-ideal relationship between his two drivers. As we saw with Marco Mattiacci in 2014, the Scuderia isn’t always patient with its team principals, and if this year turns out to be more of the same, he could easily find himself alongside Vettel in the unemployment line come December.
Now with back-to-back years at rock bottom, it would seem that one way or another, something has to change for Williams in 2020. Either they pick themselves up and start looking like an actual racing team again, or the woman who presided over their collapse has to step aside. Of course, who would want to take charge of this sinking ship remains unclear – although Claire’s brother Jonathan has been previously mooted – but in any case, they shouldn’t remain on a course that has their end-product looking little better than an F2 car.
It’s basically a yearly tradition at this point – Valtteri Bottas shows up with strong hopes for the season, and ends it getting smoked by Lewis Hamilton. Despite his strong start, last year’s version was still nowhere near good enough to trouble his teammate, and unless this year’s firmware update is significantly better, that’s unlikely to change. Additionally, the difference this year for Mercedes is that they will have some very tantalizing options with George Russell (equipped with two years of F1 experience) and Daniel Ricciardo likely to make themselves available, both of which will be hard to resist unless the Finn finally puts together a start-to-finish campaign of championship caliber.