F1 2020 Driver Predictions: Who Needs to Impress

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Image: PlanetF1

This final driver preview for the 2020 Formula One season focuses on the drivers that need to impress this year. In such a competitive sport, there’s no room for passengers. Just 20 drivers currently have the fortune to sit in these marvels of motoring machinery, and we can expect to see most of them return for 2021. For the drivers mentioned below, 2020 could be their last year on our television unless they bring their A-game, and bring it often.

Pierre Gasly

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What a rollercoaster career for the Frenchman in just two (and a bit) years in the sport. The Red Bull driver program has always had a reputation as a cruel and fickle mistress. Jean-Éric Vergne, Sébastien Buemi, Christian Klien, Vitantonio “Tonio” Liuzzi, the list continues; a list Gasly will want to ensure his name isn’t on. It’s an awkward irony that he replaced demoted Kvyat, before being partnered with the Russian after his own demotion. That awkwardness didn’t dampen his return to Toro Rosso as the young Frenchman produced better drives. Was it the familiar atmosphere, a better-suited car, or the removal of the media spotlight that worked? Who knows. But Pierre’s level cannot drop in 2020.

Let’s look beyond the upcoming season for a moment, from Gasly’s point of view. The ultimate goal of the Red Bull program is to become a race-winning driver at the senior team, a Vettel, Ricciardo, or Verstappen. Gasly had the opportunity, perhaps too soon, and squandered it. Only a sensational performance this year could see him reconsidered by Horner & co in the future. Plus, Albon would have to perform poorly himself, which is out of Gasly’s hands. If he wants to emulate his friend Charles Leclerc and be out front, then he can’t stay at Toro Rosso. He needs interest from elsewhere, and his name is already somewhat tainted. This year, Gasly needs to prove he can rise above the crowded midfield. Not just for the bosses of an energy drink company, but to the other eight teams on the grid where he can grow without a Toro Rosso-looking ceiling.

Predicted finish – 15th

Esteban Ocon

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Few drivers get a second shot at a Formula One career after time away from the sport. We won’t be seeing Felipe Nasr, Pascal Wehrlein, or Rio Haryanto again. And look how much potential and attention Stoffel Vandoorne had before his brief foray with McLaren; now he’s gone, presumably for good. Not to knock any of those names but Ocon probably deserves his return more than they do. After his training wheels at Manor (RIP) were swapped for a competitive Force India, he showed what he could do. Estaban scored points in all but two races in his full debut season. If it weren’t for the sponsorship money Perez and Stroll brought to the team, he would’ve been in the cockpit last year.

Sadly, talent only gets you so far in this game. You have to season it with some combination of politics, resilience, financial backing, and, most of all – luck. It remains to be seen which of these the growing Ocon has to go with his natural ability. The French-owned Renault team will be desperate for a good news story after the dismal seasons they’ve had. A French driver, doing well at a French constructor, with a French engine. That would be something. Abiteboul will be praying for the second coming of Prost to save his job. I’d say the Renault outfit has one of the more potent driver pairings in F1 this year. Low finishing positions won’t be a result of the drivers. Ricciardo is a known force at the top teams. If Ocon can match him on his return to the sport, it won’t be long for Mercedes and co to start wondering if they should’ve snapped him up earlier.

Predicted finish – 13th

Romain Grosjean

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There are cats in the world with fewer metaphorical lives than Romain Grosjean. Not to say that Nico Hulkenberg was great, but he certainly was a safe and consistent driver to have in the garage. Can you say the same for Grosjean? If the Hulkenberg option was available to Gunther Steiner, then I cannot comprehend why it wasn’t chosen. Magnusson has flaws with his aggressive driving style, yet he tends to get the job done and brings the car home. Including mechanical DNFs, Grosjean has over 40 races when he did not finish from his 164 starts. That is to say; there is a 1 in 4 probability he won’t be classified in a race. Not finishing doesn’t only lose your team points; it allows other teams to gain them.

There is no doubt that on his day, Grosjean accomplishes some phenomenal feats. He was a semi-regular podium finisher back in the Lotus days. But what about the days that aren’t his? Spins behind the safety car; crashes of his own making, choking at critical times. His mistakes have undoubtedly cost Haas a lot more money than just the replacement parts. Points mean prize money in F1, and in 2020, Haas can’t have another season finishing ahead of only Williams. To do that, they need two drivers to drive consistently. Yes, it was Grosjean’s experience which helped Haas to troubleshoot their lack of pace in 2019. However, he needs to do a lot more in what will be his 9th season in the sport to justify his continuing presence.

Predicted finish — 18th

Nicholas Latifi

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It may seem harsh to include a driver who hasn’t turned the wheel of a Formula One car in a race as a driver who must impress. The sport is unforgiving, sure, but some leniency can ordinarily be given to rookies. I don’t think that is necessarily going to be the case following 2019. Alex Albon, George Russell, and Lando Norris tore up the rulebook of what to expect from newbies. All three had very different seasons from each other yet were all equally impressive in their own way. Latifi must follow in their footsteps else he surely will be left behind.

The driver longevity Williams used to enjoy with multiple seasons accommodating Nico Rosberg, Rubens Barichello, Valtteri Bottas, and Felipe Massa (Maldonado too, but we all make mistakes) has fallen by the wayside in recent years. Sergey Sirotkin and Robert Kubica didn’t deliver in their sole seasons and promptly have moved on from the sport. Their latest Canadian driver is bringing much-needed sponsor money with him to the ailing Williams team. This may remove a little pressure from Latifi, but if he is to enjoy a long career at the pinnacle of motorsports, then he needs to bring more than money. It’s doubtful Williams will make the strides required to get away from filling the back row. Latifi can still make a strong case for himself by not being shown up by Russell in the sister car. Your teammate is your first rival in F1. For Nicholas Latifi in 2020, his teammate is likely to be his only rival, and one he needs to equal.

Predicted finish — 20th

Antonio Giovinazzi

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One wonders whether Giovinazzi has been unfortunate to have his full debut season in 2019. Paired alongside a former world champion, and entering the sport alongside a trio of tremendous rookies, his peer group is not exactly typical. Just like Ocon at Renault, Ferrari would love to have an Italian driver at the forefront of any achievements their future may have. Daniel Ricciardo has part of the heritage, but an all-out Italian is going to be preferable. Antonio has the chance to fulfil their dream.

Giovinazzi didn’t exactly make his mark last year. True, Alfa Romeo didn’t live up its renowned name. It is still a Sauber beneath the paint job. The pace in the car seemed to disperse gradually as each race passed. Yet Raikkonen did manage to secure the lion’s share of points for the team while they were competitive in the opening rounds. At the same time, Giovinazzi mustered a solitary point by the midseason break. The disorder in Brazil allowed an opportunistic fifth-place finish and 10 points, which somewhat masked an otherwise unremarkable 2019. Ferrari will be assured in their future after their gamble on Leclerc. He doesn’t have the Italian heritage, but he does have the skills to be successful. Antonio will need to do a lot more in 2020 to draw any attention away from Charles. He needs to show to both Alfa and Ferrari that retaining him will bear more fruit than trying out the next youngster looking to break from a junior series.

Predicted finish — 17th

So that concludes where we think the class of 2020 will finish this final season before the upcoming changes. A brief shoutout to those we didn’t extensively delve into. Kevin Magnusson, Lance Stroll, and George Russell will do precisely what they need to for their respective teams. All three will bring something that their employers need, be it points, money, or engine discounts. They’re all fine drivers and, for better or worse, will likely have a 2020 similar to their 2019. Predictions can be difficult to make, in particular before any testing has started. This far into the existing regulations does make things a little easier, however. It’s exciting to now say that it is a Sunday next month when we will be watching the lights go out for a brand new season of F1. Twenty-two races later, we will see just how right these predictions proved to be.

Originally published at https://www.fortloc.com where you can find more motoring news and reviews.

A tall man, living around the world, watching fast cars

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