Predicting how F1′s final key battles will go

Three races to go and still some nice battles to go down

Three races to go and still some nice battles to go down

It’s easy to consider the rest of the 2020 Formula 1 season to be a ‘dead rubber’ now both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles are settled. But there are millions up for grabs in the constructors’ championship, a really intense battle for fourth in the driver’s contest, the abstract concept of ‘personal pride’ for some drivers and a pretty important 2021 driver market score to be settled.

You’ll read and hear a lot about what’s still up for grabs in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. The fun part is trying to guess how they’ll end!

Will Hamilton slip up?

A few years ago I’d have said yes. He took his eye off the ball in 2015 and 2017 after winning those championships. But I think Hamilton’s become more of a bully since then! He doesn’t like giving Valtteri Bottas any kind of mercy.

The way Hamilton’s driven this year has been a shift in intensity and focus. Presumably being left alone to beat Bottas, without much interruption from Red Bull and none at all from Ferrari, has facilitated that.

Bottas needs to try to inflict a defeat on Hamilton to end his year on a high and win ‘race zero’ of 2021. But unlike before, I can’t see Hamilton slipping into much of a title hangover. Especially as it’s pretty difficult to party hard in COVID times.

Will Albon keep his Red Bull seat?

I’ve changed my mind and think he will – IF he does a solid job in the final three races. Qualify and finish fourth, or at least have the potential to do so and control everything he can control, and I think Red Bull keep him on.

If Red Bull was convinced about dropping him, it would have made the decision before Turkey as originally planned. Clearly the team wants/needs to give him as much time as possible (remember there’s a significant Thai faction the company needs to appease) and Albon has constantly flirted with doing enough to give Red Bull a reason to keep him.

Turkey was another near-miss in the end. But Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez are being kept waiting for a reason, which I think is Red Bull just needing even the slightest justification to stick with Albon.

Will Perez leave F1 as best of the rest?

Racing Point’s had the third-fastest car on average in 2020 so it should be no surprise one of its drivers is winning the fight for fourth at the moment. However, Perez should get a lot of credit for occupying that place given he missed two races with COVID-19 and had at least two big results taken from him through no fault of his own (Monza and Imola).

I think the car advantage, combined with just how well Perez is driving this year, makes him favourite to finish fourth. And his probable F1 exit (he also says he won’t race at all in 2021 if he doesn’t have an F1 drive) will come after comfortably his best season.

Daniel Ricciardo will make a very tough fight of it though. Ferrari’s engine deficit I think puts Charles Leclerc on the backfoot at power-sensitive tracks.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Racing Point will win the constructors’ battle. I’ve been pretty consistent this year in believing McLaren has the most reliable driver pairing in this fight and I still expect that to be enough over the final three races even though the team’s peaks aren’t as high as any of its immediate rivals.