The new Formula 1 season continues to draw ever closer. Teams will finally begin launching their new cars starting this week and pre-season testing will follow soon thereafter.
But even before the launch of their new car, Max Verstappen and Red Bull are already making noise about challenging Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes for the championship.
The defending champions are having their own issues at the moment ahead of pre-season testing. Meanwhile, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc has gotten back inside an F1 car to begin some testing of his own.
There’s sure to be much more news coming in the next couple of weeks, but for now, let SBOTOP catch you up on the biggest news stories around Formula 1.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull have sights set on Lewis Hamilton
Max Verstappen had a terrific season in 2019. The Red Bull driver won three races — in Austria, Germany, and Brazil — as he finished third in the drivers’ standings behind the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
But Verstappen, who made big Formula 2020 news by signing a contract extension with the team earlier this year, is confident he can beat Hamilton — if he has a good enough car.
“Lewis is very good. He is definitely one of the best out there but he is not God. Maybe God is with him, but he is not God,” Verstappen said.
Asked if he could beat Hamilton, he said: “Yes. It is very car-dependent, of course.”
Red Bull boss Christian Horner is a bit more cautious in his optimism about their prospects of ending Mercedes’ six-year run of dominance. But still, he believes there’s a chance they can knock Hamilton and the Silver Arrows off their perch.
“Mercedes have been immensely strong at every type of circuit,” Horner said. “Of course, our focus has been to broaden our competitiveness across different types of venue – and they’ve been serial winners over the last five or six years, so you’re going to have to be at the top of your game to beat them. But sport always works in cycles and maybe – just maybe – this is the chance for a new cycle to begin.”
Mercedes are still the clear favourites to win the championship heading into the new season, but it’s certainly within the realms of possibility for Red Bull to defy the Formula 1 2020 predictions and reclaim the title.
Mercedes still dealing with engine issues
The new Formula 1 season is just over a month away, but Mercedes still have some issues with their engine to sort out.
Mercedes engine boss Andy Cowell admitted that they are working hard to fix emerging problems that have arisen with the new power unit.
“[There’s] lots going on in Brixworth, lots of improvements across the whole power unit, on the ERS [Electronic Recovery System] side, on the Internal Combustion Engine side,” he said.
“As ever, we’re fighting a few little issues as we pull everything together, so lots of work going into building the right spec, getting it long-runned and providing power units to the teams so that they can fire up their cars.”
Mercedes are scheduled to launch their new car, the W11, on Valentine’s Day and will have six days of testing before making their way to Melbourne ahead of the season-opening race.
Mercedes had relatively few engine problems last season. Hamilton was one of just two drivers not to exceed his allowance of power unit elements. So while they are dealing with some issues, they still have time to sort everything out before the start of the new season.
Charles Leclerc back on track testing new tyres
Charles Leclerc has made his way back inside an F1 car as he completed the first day of testing for Pirelli’s new 18-inch tyres in Jerez, Spain.
The 22-year-old, who became the first driver to officially test an F1 car this year, completed 130 laps on the new tyres, which were placed on a modified SF90 car.
F1 will make the switch from the 13-inch tyres to the 18-inch ones next season.
Leclerc had a decent season with Ferrari in 2019. He won two races, which came back-to-back: in Belgium and Italy, which was Ferrari’s first win in their home Grand Prix in nine years. He finished fourth in the drivers’ standings, ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
However, Leclerc is by no means contented with his performance and is ready to shoot for more victories this upcoming season.
“As soon as I’m in the car I have that killer instinct,” Leclerc told Motor Sport Magazine. “I don’t want to finish second or third, fourth or fifth; those places don’t matter.”
Ferrari are set to unveil their new car later this week, and with Leclerc leading the charge, this could finally be their year to snap that long championship drought.