Romain Grosjean escaped one of the worst crashes in recent Formula 1 memory with just minor burns and possible broken ribs.
We’re now into the final week of the Formula One off-season. For some people, like me, this means putting the finishing touches to their F1 Fantasy teams.
In this article I’ll look at the drivers to watch in 2020.
The young challengers: Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen
Most F1 Fantasy players will put Lewis Hamilton straight into their team, no questions asked. At a price of $31.3 million, he’s not cheap, but he’s worth it if he has the season many are predicting. Remember: Hamilton could win a record-equalling seventh world championship this year, and he has a good chance of doing so.
However, the world champion is not in my team. Instead the two drivers who are expected to challenge the Brit this season are.
Based on preseason testing results, that should be taken with a pinch of salt, Red Bull Racing are ready to mount a challenge on Mercedes. If there’s one driver they’re happy to have in their armoury, it’s Max Verstappen.
The Dutchman gave Hamilton a real run for his money at last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix in particular, when he overtook the Briton twice for the race lead, backed by a great performance from the RBR pit crew. With continuity in the regulations, Red Bull Racing have been able to work on building on their successes in 2019 to come into this season confident they can start the new decade on top.
Don’t put Charles Leclerc out of the running, though, as he’s also expected to join in the title fight. After results didn’t go the Monegasque driver’s way last year, suffering a loss of power in Bahrain while leading and being caught and overtaken by Verstappen in Austria after starting on pole, Leclerc had a much better second half of the season.
He took four poles in four races last September on his way to taking the pole trophy with seven pole positions. Based on that, he should definitely have got more than just two race victories last year.
However, there is a slight snag with Leclerc’s Ferrari. The team are worried about how far off the pace of Mercedes they will be. Qualifying in Melbourne will provide a real sense of where the Scuderia fit on the time sheets.
Leclerc has the ability to work with what he is given and, if his Ferrari is third-best behind Mercedes and Red Bull, he can still push to get the best out of the SF1000. Overall, I am of the belief you shouldn’t write off someone’s season before they’ve even been allowed the opportunity to show you what they’re capable of. That’s why I’m backing him in 2020.
The McLaren lads: Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris
I had to back these two. Their combined efforts got McLaren to fourth in the constructors championship last year, their best finish since 2012. There is a lot of expectation they will put in a similar performance this year.
Sainz consistently finished best of the rest, picking up places as the frontrunners got into trouble and getting the car home. Meanwhile, Norris continued to learn throughout his rookie season while still managing to get good points finishes. He also beat his teammate in qualifying 10-9.
McLaren didn’t show too much pace but put in the laps and were pretty reliable so will be going to Melbourne with their sights set on keeping their good work of 2019 up in 2020.
Demoted but determined: Pierre Gasly
Gasly was at Red Bull Racing from Australia to Hungary last season. He languished in positions far below what the team were expecting of him. The low point probably would have been being lapped by his teammate, Max Verstappen, in Austria. Looking at his performances in that time, it’s no wonder Red Bull gave him the boot.
That’s not to say that the Frenchman isn’t a good driver. He proved as much by winning the drag race with Hamilton in Interlagos to claim second position.
As Toro Rosso has a new beginning as AlphaTauri this season, so too does Gasly, who needs to put everything behind him and concentrate on showing Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko, Red Bull CEO Dietrich Mateschitz and Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner that he deserves to get back into the senior team. While this does depend on how Alexander Albon fairs at Red Bull Racing this season, Gasly will still give it his all, and he has the potential to do great things this year.
The pink Mercedes: Racing Point
I was toying with the idea of putting Sergio Perez in my team but, with a budget of $100 million and going with both Verstappen and Leclerc, some re-jigging meant he wasn’t one of my five drivers. So I went for Racing Point as my constructor.
And who could blame me for having faith in Racing Point? Aesthetically the car is almost a replica of last year’s Mercedes and should have the potential to get into the points. Whether it will be able to consistently challenge McLaren and Renault, though, is a question that will be left unanswered until the race next Sunday.
All that’s needed is Lance Stroll to improve his qualifying performances and then the team will have a fighting chance. The Canadian has shown he can make places up, but that is usually because he starts further back than he really should be.
Some predict podiums from Racing Point this year. I’m not as optimistic, but I think we will be seeing more pink points in 2020.
Hopefully these predictions should inspire you to make up your own F1 Fantasy team, where you can join The Roar’s league (code: 65fd33704d) and compete with other Roarers, including me, to see who will come out on top at the end of the season.
You must have your team saved by 5pm AEDT on Saturday, 14 March, ready for the start of qualifying in Melbourne.
It’s nearly time to go racing once more. Are you ready?