Following the predictions for the championship contenders for Formula One 2020, we now look beyond the headline acts to the most competitive group on the grid. The midfield is host to a whole lot of talent. Every one of these drivers would have had several podium finishes, if not wins, in 2019 if the sport had a level playing field. There are some online who even separate F1 into classes with the “big three” in a league unto themselves and Formula 1.5 or Formula B as a different championship! Here are our views on how these best of the rest drivers will fare in the upcoming season.
I doubt many who follow the sport had anything but praise for Sainz before his McLaren debut season in 2019. Yet his performance last year was utterly astounding. His mentor and predecessor at the team, Fernando Alonso, will be proud of Sainz, although no doubt frustrated at retiring before the Woking team’s resurgence. Carlos looked every bit as in control and as fast as his compatriot hero, boding well for his future in the sport. To be compared to a double world champion is high praise indeed.
Overlooked in favour of Verstappen for the Red Bull seat in 2016, loaned out from Toro Rosso like a spare part in 2017, and faced the prospect of having no drive midway through 2018. It’s no wonder Sainz shows the resilience and relentless pace that he does every race weekend. Brazil was a shining example of his ability. To keep a level head through a race packed with incidents and safety cars is praise often heaped onto the victor (and rightly so, Verstappen was outstanding). But Sainz started in last place and fought his way through all the drama on the race track. The podium he got rewarded with was in poetic symmetry with his ascendant career. If McLaren can continue on their trajectory, I believe Sainz will easily be the highest championship finisher outside of the lead teams in 2020.
Predicted finish — 7th
A purist may think categorizing Albon away from his fellow top team drivers is wrong. However, it’s no insult for a driver who has raced just nine times in a lead seat to find themselves grouped within the names here. This time last year, Albon would have been dreaming of getting promoted to Red Bull. I would imagine he’d be content with a couple of seasons honing his racecraft at the junior Toro Rosso/Alpha Tauri team. Yet fate intervened, and he now has the opportunity in 2020 to make a real name for himself at a possibly championship-contending team.
Albon did enough in his rookie season to warrant his place amongst these elite 20 drivers. But I will argue other drivers on the current grid would do more with the car he is lucky enough pilot this season. That is not to say Alex isn’t going to have a good season. He has proven he’s able to adapt to different cars and new circuits at precisely the level one would expect from a Red Bull driver. That’s more than can be said for his predecessor. When at the helm of such a car, you need to perform above those expectations though. That’s what his teammate did, and many years ago, Hamilton and Vettel did the same thing. I expect Albon to grab multiple podiums in 2020, possibly even a win if a race falls his way. To retain his place at the top table, he needs to do more than that as he gains experience. I certainly hope he does, but with the bar rightly set as high as it is, it will be a tall order for Albon to rise any higher.
Predicted finish — 6th
How difficult a decision it must’ve been for Ricciardo to have left everything he knew in the hope of finding greener grass. The scene depicting his jump from a height into the ocean in Netflix’s Drive to Survive serves a perfect metaphor for how 2019 panned out for the Australian. Frequent point-scoring finishes seemed a far reach, let alone the lofty heights of podiums he would’ve hoped to contend to gain. He indeed has jumped from up high into an ocean of mediocrity with Renault.
That’s not to say Daniel himself has regressed as a driver. He may well have even progressed by having to fight at the back again, as he did in his Toro Rosso days, but now armed with seven seasons of wisdom to guide him. We simply can’t know as Renault continues to fall short against the team’s own expectations each year. Ricciardo convincingly outperformed his outgoing teammate, which is a barometer that we can use. Hulkenberg was a stoic and dependable driver to measure against. We either saw how bad Hulkenberg was, or how good Ricciardo is. I presume the latter. He is one of just seven race winners on the grid, and he will win again. But it won’t be in 2020, and I seriously doubt it will be with Renault.
Predicted finish — 10th
By the end of his new contract with the team, Perez would’ve contested nine full seasons with Force India/Racing Point. To put that in context, Hamilton is entering his eighth season with Mercedes, and it is clear how much the team is built around the champion. Perez will have been at the team for most of its history in its various guises. No matter who owns it, this is becoming his team. The level of comfort he is enjoying there will allow so much more mental capacity to concentrate on what matters — the racing. That’s what Checo is good at, and now without worry about finances or instability of his colleagues’ jobs, he can focus on track.
One could debate that 2019 allowed this focus too, yet he finished with his lowest points tally during his term at the team. Last season was a new era for the Silverstone-based outfit, though. Lawrence Stroll & co may have stepped in to help in 2018, but any actual changes will have begun in 2019, and so it should be considered a transition season. Despite that, and a horrific run of eight pointless races in the mid-season, Perez ended 2019 with characteristic high finishes. In signing a three-year deal, Checo looks like he’s happy knowing his time to get a top seat is over with the abundance of fresh talent. All said, his time in the sport is anything but over. I expect another under-the-radar season where he excites and delivers better than those around him.
Predicted finish — 8th
Fortune surely smiled on McLaren in 2019 with the brand new driver partnership. Sainz looks like he could’ve carried the team to fourth place in the constructors’ championship while a newbie drive learned the ropes. He didn’t have to with the arrival of Norris. As his race engineer, Andrew Jarvis put it after Abu Dhabi, “I can’t believe the rookie year you have had”. The level of talent all three rookies brought in 2019 was exemplary. While Albon got promoted to the front and Russell could only fight one other driver, we had a consistent view of what Norris brought over the season.
Bad luck plagued the Brit throughout the season, yet he never looked defeated. All four of his DNFs were mechanical or a result of other drivers’ errors or his team. His final points tally could have been much higher than it was. And to out-qualify a seasoned and highly talented teammate over the season was striking. Unless Norris entered 2019 at his maximum level, we should expect exciting things from him. While Albon must progress rapidly, Norris has the space to do so a little more gradually, which should be a blessing. I don’t expect him to be too far behind Sainz this season at all.
Predicted finish — 9th
It was a season of two halves for Kimi on his return to Sauber. A triumphant return initially before lack of pace from the car saw him slide down the order. Regardless of the car’s late-season performance, or lack thereof, it did show that Raikkonen was not competing to make up the numbers. He knew he wasn’t moving out of Ferrari to fight for wins at Alfa Romeo. Still, he did fight hard for points.
Many who began following the sport in recent years have raised questions about Raikkonen’s credentials to be driving a Ferrari. He was consistently outscored and outperformed by Vettel. The questions were understandable, but I believe in 2019, Raikkonen answered them. His final points haul exceeded what anyone else in a Sauber had been able to achieve for years. Giovinnazzi is an unknown to be used as a measuring stick, but he’s all we have. Kimi outscored him 43 to 14 and scored points in five more races than the Italian. Raikkonen’s skill is not limited to the track; he’s renowned for helping with car setup. Who knows where the Alpha Romeo F1 team will be in the future, but they are laying a solid foundation with the support of Raikkonen in his final years.
Predicted finish — 11th
“Bouncebackability” — (especially in sport) the capacity to recover quickly from a setback.
Daniil Kvyat seemed to lack bouncebackability in 2016 and 2017 with his fall from grace at Red Bull. Following the high of 2015 when he outscored Ricciardo, in 2016, he was demoted to Toro Rosso and endured a mental slump he couldn’t escape. In 2017 he was dropped, picked up, and dropped again from Toro Rosso in what must look like a bad memory now. His season out of the sport could’ve been a career-ending one had he lacked mental fortitude.
But Kvyat found his bouncebackability in 2019 with his recall to the world of Formula One and Torro Rosso. Free from the shackles of expectation at Red Bull, and dare I say, without much care for his fickle employer’s commitment, Daniil had the season he should’ve enjoyed on his first return to Toro Rosso. He enjoyed the highest championship finish in his four seasons racing there and clinched the team’s second-ever podium. The Italian-Austrian team may have a new name for 2020, but they have an old and now-stable pair of hands in Kvyat. While his teammate will need to continue on his own redemption story, Kvyat has completed his. He will continue to show that he is a driver worthy of being in the sport and use 2020 as an advertisement to other teams for 2021 and beyond.
Predicted finish — 12th
Originally published at https://www.fortloc.com where you can find more motoring news and reviews.