RACE DEBRIEF

    The great thing about a new Formula 1 season is no one really knows what's going to happen once the lights go out and the action begins. So before the cars hit the track in Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix next weekend, these are the burning questions we can’t wait to find out the answers to as the 2020 season unfolds…

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    1. Will Hamilton break Michael Schumacher’s major records?

    Lewis Hamilton stands on the brink of statistical immortality in 2020. Just eight more wins will see him surpass Michael Schumacher’s 91 F1 victories, while he could draw equal with the great man on titles if he wins this year’s. Considering Hamilton has averaged over 10 wins a season since 2014, and claimed all-but-one of the championships in the same period, the chances of him becoming F1’s statistical G.O.A.T. are looking high.

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    Hamilton: The ridiculous stats

    2. Will Vettel stay at Ferrari? And who will replace him if not?

    Several drivers are out of contract at the end of 2020, but none have the same amount of attention on their next move as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. The German’s dreams of taking a championship with the Scuderia remain distinctly unfulfilled after five seasons, and the impressive arrival of Charles Leclerc at the team in 2019 – and the accompanying hints of friction between the pair – have put Vettel’s performances under ever-greater scrutiny.

    He may stay, of course. But should Ferrari and Vettel part ways, it will initiate a big old bun fight for his seat, with Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo – who turned a very Ferrari-shade of red when asked at pre-season testing how interested he was in a move to the Prancing Horse – considered the frontrunner by many.

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    Will Ricciardo replace his former Red Bull team mate at Ferrari?

    3. Can Bottas finally defeat Hamilton?

    If the Bottas that romped to emphatic victory at the 2019 Australian Grand Prix was Bottas 2.0, can the Finn turn it up to 3.0 in 2020? He didn’t appear to enjoy answering that particular question at pre-season, growling that “you don’t get much points for talking”. But he did outline one key area he has to improve if he’s going to finally overcome Hamilton this year. “Consistency,” he said. “On a good day, when I get 100% out of myself, I feel I can… beat anyone. But how to be there at every race weekend – that’s the tricky thing.” Indeed it is.

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    Can Bottas turn that frown upside down in 2020?

    4. Will either Verstappen or Leclerc become F1’s youngest champion?

    F1 fans are lucky in that we appear to have at least two once-in-a-generation drivers in the same generation (do the maths), with Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen looking set to go head-to-head in 2020 to try and dethrone Lewis Hamilton – and, in doing so, become F1’s youngest ever world champion. Either of the currently-22-year-old drivers could do it, to beat Sebastian Vettel’s record of 23 years, four months and 11 days set in 2010. And even if they don’t, it will be fun watching them try.

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    ALL THE ANGLES: Verstappen's dramatic late pass on Leclerc at the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix

    5. Does Albon have the right stuff?

    While Max Verstappen generates column inches agogo, his Red Bull team mate Alex Albon rarely enjoys the same level of attention. That’s at odds with how highly his fellow drivers rate him though. “As soon as he got his F1 chance, I knew he was going to be super-fast,” his old F2 team mate Charles Leclerc once said. “I know how good Alex is.”

    And while there were some stand-out moments in his rookie year in 2019 – both with Toro Rosso and then Red Bull – it’s going to be interesting to see if and how Albon kicks on in 2020, and whether he can take the fight to Verstappen week-in, week-out, and maybe even settle a score with Lewis Hamilton for good measure…

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    Alex Albon's best bits at Red Bull

    6. Will Racing Point be ‘best of the rest’?

    From the evidence of pre-season testing, Racing Point’s contentious ‘Pink Mercedes’ RP20 looks to be a bit of a rocket ship, with many suggesting that the Silverstone squad could be back as a thorn in the side of the top three once again this year.

    Sergio Perez’s reputation as a podium-snatcher is well-established (he’s taken eight in his career, all in midfield cars) and Lance Stroll’s got one to his name too, so it wouldn’t come as a total shock to see a splash of pink on the rostrum this season – or Racing Point fighting it out for fourth come the end of the year.

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    7. What will F1’s first in-house designed racetrack be like?

    That’s right, Vietnam’s Hanoi Circuit will be the first circuit in the championship’s 70-year history to be designed by Formula 1 itself, in collaboration with the Tilke company – they of the Circuit of The Americas, Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit and other greatest hits.

    With some corners ‘borrowed’ from iconic tracks like Monaco and Silverstone, and a whopping 1.5km straight, all signs are pointing to the inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix track being a good’un. Enjoy an aerial lap below…

    Vietnam Grand Prix: A look at the circuit from above

    8. Can the Ricciardo/Ocon relationship stand the heat?

    That F1 returnee Esteban Ocon is fast, there is no doubt. But it’s also true that on-track controversy has been a constant sub-plot of his career, from falling out with Sergio Perez at Force India to getting pushed off some scales by Max Verstappen. Now, new Renault team mate Daniel Ricciardo is generally an easy-going chap – but he’s also a keen mixed martial arts fan, and hardly a retiring wallflower when it comes to a wheel-to-wheel barney. Renault will be praying the two can keep it civil in 2020.

    READ MORE: Ocon predicts record-breaking season in ‘impressive’ 2020 F1 cars

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    Can these two stay smiling in 2020?

    9. Can Williams mix it in the midfield?

    If you’ve ever been karting, you’ll know that the only thing worse than scrapping around at the back of the pack is being stuck at the back with no-one to fight – and it was the latter experience that Williams had to endure for most of 2019. George Russell was clear at pre-season testing that the team had reduced the gap for 2020 – “but realistically,” he added, “we are still the slowest car, and I’m not going to get carried away”. Nonetheless, if Williams can take the fight to their lower midfield rivals consistently in 2020, that will be a good building block for the former champs.

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    Williams' 2020 Pre-Season Team Guide

    10. Who’s going to be in the best shape for 2021?

    Ah, the million dollar question – or $175m question actually. That’s the size of the budget cap that will be brought in for 2021. Logic dictates, therefore, that the teams with the biggest resources now will be the ones most likely to steal a march in 2021, with more people and more cash available to get a head start on next year’s car, while still updating their current one. But rule changes tend to upset the natural order – Brawn BGP 001? Mercedes W05? – so don’t be surprised to be surprised when 2021 pre-season testing rolls around…

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