The Coronavirus alert is impacting our lives, but the sport world isn’t immune either. Most of the world championships have been postponed or cancelled, and Formula 1 is part of those.
News of today is that the summer shutdown will happen between March and April, during these days were teams like Scuderia Ferrari and AlphaTauri (both based in Italy) must respect the local lockdown.
The consequences on the 2020 calendar are still uncertain, as the available time is limited and every circuit still wants to be a part of this weird and unique season.
Lots of rumors suggest every kind of solution: finishing this season in early 2021; cancel the entire season; 2 races on every circuit; and these are just a few given out by the paddock’s insiders.
Others also suggest that the long awaited 2021 revolution might be pushed to 2022.
A lot of uncertainties that will also define the silly season.
The Formula 1 grid is a puzzle made of 20 pieces. One of key piece of the 2020 market? Sebastian Vettel, whose contract is expiring at the end of the year.
Surely, the situation the world is facing right now can turn the tables, but let’s pretend that at least 8 races happen, as the Formula 1 regulations says to validate the championship; are there enough to chances to rate the drivers’ performances?
Normally, the first part of the season is crucial for drivers who want to be noticed by bigger teams, and it is during the summer break when the silly season goes on fire and a lot of contracts are closed.
In an optimistic forecast, the season will likely start in June, with Baku being the inaugural race of the season, and the others packed with a lot of back to back races. The silly season will the slide to autumn, at least, leaving very few time to discuss and negotiate. Also, there will be very few time also for the team to show their drivers how much they’ve grown and what they can offer for 2021.
This is the case of Daniel Ricciardo and Renault: the Aussie driver signed, when he left Red Bull, a two year deal. He spent his first season struggling with the French manufacturer, alongside Nico Hulkenberg; this season, his box-mate will be the Frenchman Esteban Ocon, previously a Mercedes driver.
Apart from the RS20 performances, the dynamics inside the team will also be very interesting, as Renault surely enjoys having a French driver. Let’s not forget Daniel is, despite not having a world championship on his side, a top driver, who has shown what he is capable of. Many teams would love to have him driving their car, and history says that Ricciardo was close to sign a deal with Ferrari and, as Netflix’s Drive to Survive 2 reveals, with McLaren.
“Daniel will obviously be someone who's very much courted” said Cyril Abiteboul, Renault Sport F1 team principal. “I worry that things will go quickly, and so we need to be very alert to not lose opportunities to keep him.
“I think Daniel is… very attached to his decision to go to Renault, which was heavily criticised […] I think this idea to build a project which comprises the human, technical and sporting sides is something close to his heart. He's someone who is guided by his emotions and I think he wants to show that he can be true to his choice. He wants to show that his choice was a good choice” the team principal continued spoking to f1.com.
Despite this, it is also true that Daniel Ricciardo will turn 31 in July and, as he said to Will Buxton “I thought I’d have a world title or three by now”. Time runs almost as fast a Formula 1 car and if Renault can’t deliver a winning car he might want to turn somewhere else to reach his goal.
Scuderia Ferrari didn’t show their best shape in Barcelona, but surely they are the closest team to Mercedes right now, together with Red Bull, Ricciardo’s previous team.
During the winter tests, he said “I will answer [Ferrari] calls for sure, but I most importantly want this to work”.
“I don't want it to feel like I've just come to Renault, got away from Red Bull and then I’m looking for the next best thing. I really want to make this happen and make it work, and obviously the step to that is getting more out of this year than we did last year, and hopefully getting enough out of it that the journey continues beyond my two-year contract. […] We haven't even started this year so to already start thinking about '21... I can't think about it now.”
Another driver who might want to take the leap is Carlos Sainz, who has shown how strong he is. The Spaniard collected his first ever F1 podium in a crazy race in Brazil, but most of all, he has been consistent all year long, working closely at the Woking factory with his team to reinvent a car who was everything but well-performing.
The couple formed by him and Lando Norris is one of the most interesting of the field and, if McLaren continues to grow like in 2019, these two young drivers can really bring back the papaya team back where it belongs. But also, Sainz has shown everyone what he is capable of, and he would surely fight for victories with a top car.
“I don't know and at the moment I don't really care if Sebastian's going to be the catalyst or not,” Sainz said in Barcelona “I'm very happy in McLaren, I feel very much part of this project, part of this medium to long-term project and probably I cannot start thinking about anything else, unless it's wanting this year to be a step forward from last year and keep working in the same direction, with the same objectives, and we will see at the end of the year.”
Not just Ferrari, but also Mercedes has, right now, two vacant seats for 2021: both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas’ seats will be available next year. Actually, Mercedes is the team to beat, and Hamilton wants to beat Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles. Staying with Mercedes is the safest solution for him, but will Toto Wolff keep Valtteri Bottas?
The Finn said he had a plan to beat Lewis, but only time will tell.
And if Valtteri leaves Mercedes, where can he go?
But most of all, if Sebastian Vettel leaves Ferrari, after six years, where can the four time world champion possibly go? In Mercedes, after a switch with Lewis? Or in a minor team? Will he retire if he fails to conquer his 5th world title this year?
“He's a great champion, we worked together on the engine side, and we won together. But I'm maybe more inspired to work with the drivers of tomorrow than yesterday. It's very harsh to sum it up like that, so please don't sum it up like that to Sebastian!” Said Abiteboul about the chance of having Vettel in the team.
These are, obviously, only hypotheses: maybe nothing that has been said until now will happen.
The only thing we hope will happen is this 2020 championship: not (just) because we miss Formula 1 like crazy, but because that would mean that the world has beaten this invisible enemy that we all know as Coronavirus.