Editors Note- All of the drivel that follows was completed prior to Tom Hanks, Rudy Gobert and a member of Team McLaren contracting COVID-19 and setting off a chain of events that has thrown the world into chaos. The author was too lazy to make any updates or edits. Enjoy.
F1 2020 has such a futuristic ring to it. Who knew when I attended the Long Beach GP in 1981 that I would be sitting here 39 years later still totally geeked up about F1 and motorsports in general. A lot of drama has unfolded over this period so before I hand Lewis Hamilton his seventh drivers title, equaling the great Michael Schumacher, and award the Mercedes team their 7th straight constructors title, I want to take this back to the very beginning of my journey.
I came across this gem over the holidays while visiting my parents and had to snap a picture of the legendary Team Bulshut 912. My dad, AKA The Condor, is on the left while his buddy and ace peddler Pete Shutts is on the right. This was my introduction to motosports when I was a snot nosed, blond haired, stick thin child of the ‘70’s. In my mind this car was capable of winning LeMans and I used to love heading to Sears Point or Laguna to watch the SCCA Porsche club in action. In fact, I still remember getting tossed around the back seat sans seat belts as my dad navigated the corkscrew during some parade lapping.
When my dad wasn’t pursuing his amateur hobby as a driver, we were at the track watching the professionals at work. From 1977 to 1985 I think we probably hit every Can-Am, IMSA, and Trans-Am race at Sears and Laguna. I can still envision Keke Rosberg in ‘80 and Teo Fabi in ‘81 drifting their Budweiser sponsored Haas Lola Can-Am cars through modern day T10 at Laguna. And the sights and sounds of a 20 year old Al Unser Jr flat footing the white Frissbee through the original T2 at Laguna in ‘82 for the entire afternoon is still one of the coolest things I’ve seen.
For Buzzard Purposes, here is the top 8 of the Oct 19, 1980 Laguna Can-Am Race:
- Al Unser Sr! (52:25.460)
- Keke Rosberg (+2 secs behind)
- Elliott Forbes-Robinson
- Geoff Brabham
- Danny Sullivan
- Bobby Rahal
- Rocky Moran
- Al Holbert
I love the thought of a 41 year old Al Unser Senior, oval master and Indy winner in ‘70, ‘71, ‘78 & ‘87, showing up to teach the road racing specialists how it’s done. Keep in mind, Keke Rosberg was the F1 world champion just two years later.
But I digress as I’m heading down a rabbit hole where there is no return. It’s time to stomp on the brake pedal like I’m Patrick Depilliar hurling the ‘78 Tyrrell Cosworth 008 toward the Queen Mary Hairpin at “The Beach”. (Note to self- Write a well researched book on Can-Am, IMSA, Trans-AM and it’s place in pop culture from ‘70-’80).
However, before I get to the business of F1 2020, I do think it’s time to revisit my Top 10 F1 Drivers List from ‘81-Present. It’s been a few years, 7 to be exact, and we’ve now had time to reflect on the career of Alonso, Vettel’s 4 straight titles and subsequent down years and Hamilton’s blitz of the record books. Digging through the archives of this esteemed blog, I see that on May 22, 2013, I did a full Top 40 list and even managed to include a picture of Rick Springfield to make a point. My Top 10 at that time were:
Note- I had Lewis #12 at the time and added the following commentary:
(1 WDC, 21 Wins): Might be one of the best talents of all time but hasn’t quite figured out how to be the best in the mental department.
Interesting! Was I punishing him for dating a Pussycat Doll and transforming his appearance into that of a mainstream pop celebrity? He was out scored by McLaren teammate Jenson Button over the 2011-2012 seasons so that may have played a factor as well. Regardless, I guess Lewis has won me over because he is the big mover on this revised list.
Revised Top 10 (1981-2020):
Sure you probably think I’m nuts and if I had a readership greater than 25 people I would likely receive death threats, but here is my “Hot Take” rambling rational:
I think I will always have Senna on top as long as I’m making lists. I have sort of talked myself into the notion that Senna was sent from another universe so I don’t feel compelled to defend his accomplishments.
After some contemplation while wandering in my local woods, I’m now inclined to call Prost the second best I’ve seen. He won 4 titles in a very competitive era, including beating Senna in ‘89 as McLaren teammates, and could easily have won two more if Renault didn’t fall apart late in the ‘83 season and Lauda didn’t pip him by ½ point in ‘84 after only receiving half points for his win in the legendary wet Monaco GP. From 81-84, Prost won 16 races. Piquet is next up with 9 wins (including the titles in ‘81 and ‘83). Recovering from the ‘83 & ‘84 heartbreaks, The Professor buried Lauda in ‘85 to win the title, Rosberg in ‘86 (title #2), Johannson in ‘87, split titles with Senna in ‘88-89, during which time their win totals were Senna 14 to Prost 11 while Prost scored more total points, smoked Mansell in the ‘90 Ferrari, bettered Alesi in ‘91, sat out in ‘92 after getting sacked by Ferrari for likening the F643 to a truck and returned to whip newcomer Damon Hill and win the ‘93 title for Williams. He then called it a career with 51 wins, the most ever at that time, and had a 25.25% win rate during a time when mechanical dnf’s were still commonplace! Bam that is sick!
The Hamilton vs Schumacher battle for #3 is a coin flip. They both set the F1 world ablaze immediately, with Hamilton just missing out on the title in his rookie season before winning it all in his second. Schumacher had an arguably more difficult path to the top because he had to contend with Mansell and Senna in ‘92 and Prost and Senna in ‘93. Once he had those three legends out of the picture, he became the dominant driver of his generation.
Here are five categories that I used to make the difficult call:
- Speed: Even. They are the only two drivers with more poles than Senna, so I’ll leave it at that.
- Race-craft: Advantage Lewis. Hamilton can slip a 71” wide Mercedes through a “72 gap that Schumacher likely would have made a mess of.
- Team Building: Advantage Schumacher. Nobody was better than Michael at guiding the engineers and mechanics to achieve perfection. Ironically, Michael played a major role in bringing the Mercedes team up to speed which allowed Lewis to step in a win immediately.
- Win Rate: Advantage Lewis: Hamilton 33.6% win rate. Schumacher 29.55%. Only Fangio, Ascari and Jimmy Clark have a higher winning percentage than Hamilton’s insane 33.6% clip.
- X-Factor: Hamilton is at one with a car on the level of Senna and Prost. He’s a genius behind the wheel and I hope we get to see him race in other disciplines at some point. Shumacher was the most dedicated driver that I’ve ever seen. Pre Schumi, drivers were enjoying a round of golf or a poolside cocktail after Friday practice. Schumi raised the bar from a fitness, testing and data analysis standpoint that all current drivers adhere to today.
Alonso gets the #5 spot nod for winning two titles at Renault and clobbering all teammates. I’ll keep Nige at #6 over Piquet at #7 because Nige drove with such fire and passion. The flying Finn Mika checks in at #8 over Vettel at #9 and Verstappen at #10.
Vettel was unbeatable in the amazing RBR car from 2010-2013 and he won a GP in a Toro Rosso, but the countless unnecessary errors over the past 3 years, losing out to teammate Ricciardo in 2014 and Leclerc in 2019 are major flaws that cannot be ignored.
Apologies to all of the 1 time world champs from ‘81-2019 out there with great resumes (K Rosberg, Lauda, Hill, J Villeneuve, Raikkonen, Button, N Rosberg), but I’m going with Max in my 10 slot. He’s managed to win 8 races during this period of Mercedes domination and has done so in a fashion that says surefire world champion. I’m trying to preempt the bandwagon and expect him to be in the Hamilton/Shumacher/Prost discussion when it’s all said and done.
With that out of the way, here is a quick look at F1 2020!
As we head to Melbourne, it feels like a continuation of the 2019 season. We still have the Big 3 with Mercedes on top and the tightly bunched F1.5 pack battling for 4th in the constructors championship. The only driver changes are Ocon replacing Hulkenberg at Renault and Latifi replacing Kubica at Williams. The team principals are all back. The rules and regulations are all the same. Let’s hope that the racing resembles the second half of last year and not the beginning.
Here are a whole bunch of questions that I have for each team:
Mercedes: Will it be a cakewalk to 7 constructors and drivers titles in a row or is Verstappen a legit threat? Can Bottas 3.0 give Lewis a real fight for the title? This is the final year of Hamilton’s contract so will he be back for 2021 or will the allure of Maranello be too tempting to pass up? Is Mercedes still in F1 for the long run or will they concentrate on FE in the coming years?
Ferrari: So many questions with this team! Were they sandbagging in testing? Is their engine legal? Will they shift their focus to Leclerc now that he’s signed long term and Vettel is in a contract year? Will they even be allowed out of Italy if the dreaded COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the country?
Red Bull: Is Max, Red Bull and Honda ready to take on Hamilton and the might of Mercedes? Is Albon going to be able to mix it up in the top 5 or will he be having many a lonely run to 6th place and looking over his shoulder at the Red Bull junior pipeline?
McLaren: Is McLaren still the clear-cut 4th best constructor and have they made any gains on the Big 3? Will Sainz again outscore Norris by a wide margin or will Lando use his rookie lessons to close the gap? They were dead even in qualifying last year but Norris seemed to have the poor luck on Sundays.
Renault: Will this large scale factory effort finally start to see progress and jump back into the 4th place slot or will another difficult campaign trigger a board rethink? Will this car be enough to keep Ricciardo in place for next year? This is a contract year for Ricciardo and if Vettel is not retained at Ferrari and Hamilton stays on at Merc, he could be #1 on their shortlist. Will Ocon continue where he left off at Racing Point? I rate Ocon as the #3 young gun behind Max and Leclerc so it will be fascinating to see how he compares to Ricciardo.
Racing Point: Was their testing pace real and is Perez the best bet to win the F1.5 championship? Can Stroll come to grips with his poor one lap qualifying pace and make a big leap in the midfield pecking order? His race pace seems solid but he’s under-performing on Saturday afternoons and in this tight midfield race that’s the kiss of death. This team always performs well when they have a budget in place so expect good things.
Alpha Tauri: It’s interesting to see Alpha Tauri, formerly Toro Rosso (and Mindardi), sticking with the same experienced lineup as the previous season. Franz Tost traditionally churns through drivers like our president does staff members so it’s odd to see Kvyat and Gasly back. Gasly certainly had a roller coaster season in ‘19. Starting at Red Bull, he looked totally lost and his days in the sport seemed numbered. After returning to Toro Rosso, he immediately looked like the next great Red Bull driver. With an improved Honda engine and continuity on all fronts, will we see AT pull off some midfield shock results?
Alfa Romeo: The boys from Switzerland started ‘19 looking good but faded as the year progressed. It took Giovanazzi half the season to come to grips with the pace of Kimi but he now looks poised to challenge the 40 year old Finn. Who will be the last man standing?
Haas: Will Team Netflix continue to struggle mightily with their Pirelli rubber and force Gene Haas to call time on this team? Will Gunther Steiner lose his mind and sock Grosjean in the chops after his first off of the year?
Williams: Does Williams have a car capable of joining the midfield race? They have a good one in George Russell so the more in the midfield the merrier. Is the experienced rookie Latifi more than just a young man with a big budget? He finished runner up in last years F2 championship with 4 wins and he hails from Canada so hopefully he’s a pleasant surprise.
With all of those questions still to be answered, here are my predictions for the year:
- Hamilton – 10 wins
- Bottas – 5 wins
- Verstappen – 4 wins
- Leclerc – 2 wins
- Vettel – 1 win
- Perez (6 F1.5 Class Wins)
- Sainz (5)
- Ricciardo (4)
- Norris (3)
- Ocon (1)
- Gasly (2)
- Kvyat (1)
Here are 5 BOLD predictions for the season:
- COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the world forcing the FIA to take drastic measures after Australia and run all of the remaining 21 races on spec simulators. GP’s will be held in an undisclosed warehouse with all the drivers lined up along a wall in team hats. Each team will also be able to draft in a person off the streets to partake, creating a grid of 30 drivers. The SIM races will still be televised and streamed online.
- Vettel crashes in the first corner at Melbourne and decides to retire rather than race on the F-ing sims.
- In the first sim race, Kimi gets so frustrated after spinning out for a 3rd time he decides to run the course backwards and is tragically virtually killed after swerving to avoid the oncoming leader, George Russell.
- To everyone’s surprise, the 2020 F1 World Champion turns out to be a 14 year old gamer drafted in by Red Bull from Poland. He’s never driven a car before but loves drinking Red Bull and staying up late.
- Most shocking of all, television ratings and streaming hits dwarf anything ever seen before from live racing in real cars on real tracks. Kids under 20 from around the globe jump on board and the 14 year old Pole, Simon Warzyzankowski, becomes the most recognizable sporting figure on the planet and signs a $500,000,000 contract to remain a Red Bull ambassador and lead sim GP driver.
I said they were bold! IF we do race outside in real cars on real tracks, I’m excited to see the additions of Zandvoort and Vietnam on the calendar. The thought of 100,000 Dutch Verstappen buzzards converging on that little beach community in the dunes will be incredible to witness. The fact that the upgraded circuit looks like a RBR type of track makes it all the better. On paper the Vietnam layout looks unlike anything I’ve ever seen and my prediction is that chaos will be the word of the day. And what if Albon is performing well? Could we get an Albon Army making the trek from Thailand?
Well let’s get it on and don’t forget to support your local Indycar series. It should be a banner season stateside.