3. …But he’s got serious competition
Hamilton may be the king, but Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc are watching the throne. Last year, they proved themselves to be the hottest drivers of the new generation, Leclerc becoming Ferrari’s youngest ever winner with two victories and seven pole positions, while (increasingly less) Mad Max – who is the youngest Grand Prix winner outright – notched up three wins. Impressive, in only the first year of Honda’s technical partnership with Red Bull Racing. Should either man take Lewis’s crown this season, he’ll be the youngest champion in the sport’s history. Both are just 22.
2019 saw Vettel made some rather rookie-like errors for the veteran of 240 GPs, but if this season’s Ferrari is better-suited to his driving style he may rediscover the magic that won him four titles between 2010 and 2013, in his valedictory year for the team.
Then, of course, there’s Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton’s team-mate and the first guy Lewis needs to beat. Valtteri enjoyed his best season so far in 2019, scoring 326 points to Hamilton’s 413. He’s determined not to be the runner up again this year. We saw last year in Melbourne, Baku, Suzuka and Austin – and Sochi, where he surrendered the lead to Lewis – that on his day there’s no one better. He just needs to find consistency. “I need to find ways to be at my best more often,” he said, “and I’m sure I can improve.”
4. This year’s midfield will be interesting
Bottas may find motivation in the form of Esteban Ocon. The 23-year-old Frenchman, who is managed by Toto Wolff, tested for Mercedes last year having impressed driving for Force India / Racing Point in 2017-18. He lost out on the musical chairs in 2019 but is now back where he belongs, on the grid and at the wheel of a Renault – albeit on a piece of elastic from the world champions.
That means if he goes well against the highly-rated Daniel Ricciardo in 2020, and Bottas struggles against Hamilton, he may find himself in that Mercedes seat for real. Renault were outclassed by McLaren last year but will be hoping for best-of-the-rest honours once again come March. The midfield should be pretty tight, with Racing Point, Alfa Romeo and the newly-named AlphaTauri (previously Toro Rosso) capable of barging through. American team Haas have what it takes too, and will be keen to break back into the top six after a lacklustre 2019. As for the once mighty Williams, things can only get better.
The prospect of increased competition is great news for F1 TV Access subscribers, who’ll get even more bang for their buck — at a 25% discount until July 6, 23:59 BST. For that, you can live stream every track session – including pre-season testing and support races – uninterrupted, watch exclusive pre and post-race shows, access all driver onboard cameras on-demand, keep an eye on the timing screens and telemetry, or relive classic races from the archive like the 1985 Dutch Grand Prix, at home or on the go.
5. Battle of the brands
Mercedes AMG has dominated the last six years, winning both the Driver’s and Constructors’ titles each time. If they win the Constructors’ for a seventh consecutive time this year they will beat the record Ferrari set in 2004. And if they can power either Lewis or Valtteri to win the Drivers’ championship, they’ll be the first engine manufacturer to do it seven consecutive times since Ford-Cosworth’s glory days between 1968 and 1974.
Despite – or because of – its success, no team is under more pressure than Ferrari to add to its trophy cabinet. When Ferrari loses, or worse still when they crash into each other like Brazil 2019, the Italian media attacks. Yet there’s a renewed sense of optimism in Maranello, thanks in no small part to Charles Leclerc’s brilliant debut season with the team, and the calm command of former tech chief turned team principal Mattia Binotto. The team scored nine pole positions last year, indicating that half the time they had the fastest car. They’ll want to build on that in 2020 with better in-race decision making and by keeping their drivers on the straight and narrow.