Get set to be thrilled for the next F1 season
If Sunday’s race in Sao Paulo was any indication, then 2020 should be a cracker. That’s not to say all of next season’s record 22 races will be packed with the thrills, spills and moments of high drama the Brazilian race treated fans to.
Formula One headed into the Brazilian Grand Prix with the destiny of both titles decided, but despite effectively being a dead rubber, the 71-lap thriller around the Interlagos track served up plenty of excitement and yet another glimmer of hope for next season.
There is one more race to go, the season finale in Abu Dhabi, before the curtain comes down on the 21-round 2019 season. But, with Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes having swept to an unprecedented sixth successive title double at the last race in Texas, the focus has begun to turn to the 2020 season.
If Sunday’s race in Sao Paulo was any indication, then 2020 — the last season of stable regulations before the introduction of sweeping rule changes, which always carries a risk of spreading the field out — should be a cracker.
That’s not to say all of next season’s record 22 races will be packed with the thrills, spills and moments of high drama the Brazilian race treated fans to. The Interlagos race, won by Max Verstappen for Red Bull ahead of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz, who took McLaren’s first podium since 2014, was more an outlier in that sense.
But it was the latest in a run of recent races hinting at a potentially more competitive 2020, with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull all in the mix. The 2019 season will go down in the record books as another dominant year for Mercedes, with the German marque wrapping up the title with four races to spare and Hamilton following suit with the drivers’ crown two races later.
But, winners of 14 of the 20 races so far, the foundations of Mercedes and Hamilton’s title success this season were laid before Formula One departed on its summer break. The second half of the season has seen five different drivers from three teams stand on the top of the podium and it has been far more evenly matched, with the advantage ebbing and flowing between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
Here are some numbers. Mercedes won 10 of the 12 races held before the summer break, seven of them in one-two formation, chalking up an 83% win rate, spanning the season opening Australian Grand Prix and Hungarian Grand Prix, which took place just before the summer break.
Of the eight races that have taken place since the season resumed with the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa in September to the recent outing in Brazil, Mercedes have won just four, their win rate dropping to 50%.
In that time, they have also only started just once from pole. Of the four they did win, they got lucky in Russia, with a fortuitously-timed virtual safety car period allowing Hamilton to snatch a fourth successive win away from Ferrari whose Charles Leclerc was otherwise looking like the favourite to win.
Of the rest, it was only in Japan and the US where they enjoyed the sort of crushing speed superiority, and that too only in the race, that they enjoyed in the first part of the year. Ferrari, meanwhile, won thrice, started six races from pole, including the one Leclerc inherited from the penalized Verstappen in Mexico.
On Sunday in Brazil, while Hamilton battled hard, it was Red Bull’s turn to shine with Verstappen’s car having enough of an edge over his rival’s Mercedes to not just be able to keep the Briton at bay but even pass him twice.
This convergence between the sport’s top three teams may have come too late to salvage the 2019 season. But with the rules staying stable, there is no reason the battle shouldn’t continue to get closer next year. The 2020 season, with a record 22 races, is set to be the longest in Formula One history. On the evidence of the latter half of 2019, it could even be one of its most thrilling in years.