Williams, one of the most successful teams in the history of Formula One, scored no points in 2020, continuing its dismal run that yielded a solitary point the previous season. The two biggest moments the team was involved in in 2020 had nothing to do with its cars’ performance on the track: After 43 years in F1, the Williams team was sold to US investment group Dorilton Capital, which will continue to run the team under its eponymous name. The second involved its driver George Russell, who Williams lent to Mercedes as a stand-in for Lewis Hamilton for the penultimate race of the season. The young Brit led for a major part of the Sakhir Grand Prix after overtaking the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas at the start, but a set of botched pit stops and then a slow puncture stole a sure-shot win, though Russell scored his first points in F1 with a ninth-place finish and the fastest lap of the race.
Russell and Iranian-Canadian teammate Nicholas Latifi will continue with the Grove, Oxfordshire-based team for another year.
Haas finished in the same position in the constructors’ standings as it did last season – ninth – but that doesn’t reflect the sheer drop in performance – 28 points in 2019 versus three this year. Team principal Guenther Steiner said in an interview earlier in 2020 that he didn’t see things changing at Haas at least for this season. That reflected in its only two points finishes in 17 races this year – Kevin Magnussen’s 10th place at the Hungarian Grand Prix and Romain Grosjean’s ninth at the Eifel GP in Germany.
Haas will have a new driver line-up for 2021 in Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher, the son of seven-time world champion Michael. That signals the end of the road in F1 for Magnussen, whose sole podium – a second place – came on debut at the 2014 Australian GP for McLaren, and Grosjean, whose took 10 podium finishes in four seasons with Lotus F1 but had diminishing returns after moving to Haas when it debuted in 2016.
Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari
As with the two bottom-placed teams, Alfa Romeo ended 2020 in the same place as the previous year but with fewer points, indicating a much wider gap to the midfield than earlier. After scoring 57 points in 2019, the team could only manage seven this year – with a 99-point gap to AlphaTauri in seventh.
What’s interesting is there doesn’t seem to be anything interesting coming out of the Alfa Romeo garage for 2021. The team has retained for a third consecutive season the services of Antonio Giovinazzi and 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen. The opening race of next season will mark 20 years since the Finn debuted in F1 – for Sauber after team founder Peter Sauber made a performance delivery promise so the FIA would grant Raikkonen a “superlicense” that is required to participate in the sport.
Raikkonen is an enigma. Reticent to the point of being rude, his press conferences and radio conversations are the stuff of F1 legend. Twice having the set the record for most fastest laps in a season, the Finn holds the record for the fastest lap ever set in an F1 car, in qualifying at the 2018 Italian Grand Prix, one month shy of his 39th birthday. At 41, the same question arises as 10 years ago: He’s incredibly fast, but does he want to win?
Oh, AlphaTauri. At times I wonder how many decisions at the team and its predecessor, Toro Rosso, were taken with their best intentions in mind instead of those of Red Bull.
Team principal Franz Tost and Helmut Marko, an advisor to Red Bull’s F1 teams and the head of its driver development programme, said in February that AlphaTauri was being upgraded to Red Bull’s “sister team” after years as its junior outfit. Maybe that explains why Red Bull persisted with an underwhelming Alexander Albon for a season and a half after he abruptly replaced Pierre Gasly midway through the 2019 season in a straight swap between the two teams.
Gasly’s “demotion” fuelled his F1 resurrection, the highlight of which was victory at the 2020 Italian GP. The Frenchman will continue with the team next year, but teammate Daniil Kvyat’s third stint with Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri comes to an end. Kvyat will be replaced by Japan’s Yuki Tsunoda, who finished third in his debut Formula Two season this year.
Sixth place in the constructors’ championship. Three podium finishes. No wins. How the mighty have fallen! That applies to the Italian marque as well as outgoing four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
The doomsayers, on the basis of pre-season testing, had expected Ferrari to compete in the midfield in 2020. That’s how the season began, but Ferrari soon struggled to keep up and eventually finished 50 points adrift of the three-way race for third place. Charles Leclerc, who is expected to be central to its plans for the first half of this decade, was Ferrari’s sole shining light in a very dark year. The 23-year-old Monégasque racer scored 98 points to Vettel’s 33, who joins Racing Point for 2021.
Daniel Ricciardo delivered fifth place in the drivers’ standings for Renault, but the team’s weak link was Esteban Ocon, who showed glimpses of pace but also phases of rustiness after sitting out the 2019 season without a seat.
Renault retained its fifth place among the constructors from the previous year but doubled its points tally. Ricciardo is moving to McLaren for 2021 and will be replaced by 2005-06 champion Fernando Alonso, who is returning to the sport after two years. What that means for the 24-year-old Ocon – one of F1’s brightest young talents who placed eighth with Force India (Racing Point’s predecessor) in his first full F1 season in 2017 – is anybody’s call considering the heft the 39-year-old Spaniard carries in any team he races for.
Racing Point-BWT Mercedes
Racing Point took its first win in F1 at the Sakhir Grand Prix, the penultimate race of the season, but lost third place in the constructors’ standings to McLaren at the season-ender in Abu Dhabi. And while 2020 was a huge improvement for the team, questions linger over its choice of drivers, for the season past and well as the one ahead.
Sergio Perez took his first victory in the sport in his 190th start – the longest wait by a full 60 starts – at Sakhir, but had to make way for Vettel for 2021. Perez took fourth in the championship by doing what he does best, being steady and reliable, in a car that matched his temperament. He is being replaced by one of the most successful racers of all time, but one whose downward spiral over the last three seasons has been difficult to watch.
In the second car will continue be Lance Stroll, the son of the team’s part-owner Lawrence. Ocon was released at the end of the 2019 season to make way for the younger Stroll, who scored 75 points for 11th place this year – 50 points off his teammate Perez’s fourth.
McLaren is getting back to where it belongs – at the top rung of F1. Long gone are the Honda engine years (McLaren finished 2015 in ninth despite its two drivers holding three world titles between them). Then came the Renault years, which ended with third this season. Come 2021, McLaren resumes its partnership with engine supplier Mercedes – a partnership that resulted in three drivers’ and one constructors’ title each between 1995 and 2014, alongside race wins in 15 of those seasons.
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr and Lando Norris, with only the occasional flash of brilliance between them, soldiered their way to third place in the constructors’ race – there’s no better way to describe their clockwork-like delivery in 2020. Sainz moves to Ferrari to replace Vettel, but Norris gets a very capable new teammate in Daniel Ricciardo, who’s been a bit of a nomad since leaving Red Bull for Renault at the end of 2018.
Red Bull Racing-Honda
Red Bull has put all its weight behind Max Verstappen, who finished third in the championship for second season in a row. But the second race seat has been a bit difficult to fill over the past few seasons. Since Ricciardo left at the end of 2018 once the team’s focus became obvious, Red Bull has vacillated over the seat – first signing on Pierre Gasly, then replacing him with Alexander Albon midway through 2019. For 2021, the team has signed on Perez, who was the penultimate driver to be finalised for next season’s line-up.
Verstappen was the only driver to challenge the two Mercedes cars in 2020. He even took the fight for second with Valtteri Bottas all the way to the final race of the season – the only race where Red Bull showed pace to match Mercedes. Verstappen took his second win of the year and became the youngest racer to record 10 wins in F1. That said, the Red Bull car has a long way to go to match the Silver Arrows up front.
Another season, more records. The only race that Lewis Hamilton was in this year was the one with his teammate Bottas, and that too only for the opening third of the season. The Finn finished for a second year in a row in second place. But considering that Russell, sitting in at Mercedes for a coronavirus-positive Hamilton, led most of the Sakhir GP after overtaking Bottas, one must wonder whether the Finn is just filling up the numbers at Mercedes – a brilliant racer but one who won’t challenge the world champion.