The race for runner-up
Hamilton might have a substantial lead at the very front of the drivers’ championship but things are much tighter for second place.
Valtteri Bottas is on 161 points, with one retirement (last weekend at the Nurburgring, due to a hybrid system failure) while Max Verstappen has 147, with three retirements. Bottas also failed to score due to a late puncture in the British Grand Prix.
Verstappen’s consistency at taking the second or third spot on the podium when he finishes has been flawless. He has yet to pass the chequered flag this season outside the top three, which is partly why he’s been able to keep his Red Bull within striking distance of a Mercedes.
If Verstappen’s reliability improves, he’s more than within DRS range of splitting the Mercedes pair when the season ends in Abu Dhabi in mid-December.
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Six points cover three teams
McLaren, Renault and Racing Point are all within six points of each other in the battle for third place, and any one of the three could conceivably come out on top.
McLaren held an early lead but have had retirements in each of the past three races. That has allowed Racing Point to slip four points ahead of them.
Renault also have four non-finishes but have made a clear step with their RS20 in recent races, which has delivered significant improvements in qualifying and race pace. They are now just two points behind McLaren.
With such fine margins between them, and each team having proven they can take a podium when the opportunity arises, this will be the fight to watch on the third and fourth rows of the grid.
- Renault “not scared of anywhere” in remaining races
- Racing Point can keep third in championship if “bad luck” ends – Green
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Midfield bragging rights
While Mercedes and Red Bull have the top spots on the grid sewn up, who’s going to emerge in front among the drivers not in their cars? Just 15 points – one third-place finish – separate Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez, Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc.
There’s another driver in that mix as well: Alexander Albon. With a Red Bull underneath him, he shouldn’t be part of this group, and will be desperately keen to rediscover his late-2019 form and pull into a clear fourth place.
His plans for next year are yet to be confirmed and the same goes for another driver in this fight. It’s particularly impressive for Perez to be in fifth, given he was forced to sit out both Silverstone rounds after a positive test for Covid-19.
Ricciardo’s long-awaited first podium for Renault capped a superbly consistent run, finishing inside the top six at every race since Belgium, and vaulting him from sixth to fourth in the points. The fact Renault lie fifth in the standings underline the quality of the job he has done.
Norris had a good start to the season but has struggled to continue placing highly, while Charles Leclerc’s fortunes are bound to Ferrari’s.
The Italian division
If you’d told Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost, during the first half of the 2019 season, that the next year his team would be locked in a battle with Ferrari for ‘top Italian team’ honours, you’d have been not unfairly dismissed with an Austrian chuckle.
But it’s 2020 and the showdown between Ferrari and the team now known as AlphaTauri is very much on. Ferrari have a 13-point lead but have been out-scored by Red Bull’s little sister in four of the last five races.
Both squads have one driver overwhelmingly delivering – Leclerc (63 points) for Ferrari and Gasly (53) for AlphaTauri. Their team mates Vettel and Kvyat have respectively delivered just 17 and 14 points. If either manages to consistently place both drivers during the remaining six races – or pull out more miraculous podium finishes – then they’ll easily take the sixth-place spot.
It’s bad enough for Ferrari that finishing in the top half of the championship seems an increasingly remote possibility, but the prospect of them losing to the team formerly known as Minardi is an astonishing measure of the leap backwards they have taken this year.
There are three backmarker teams this year, making the fight to get out of Q1 genuinely exciting. George Russell has consistently proved he can do it for Williams but been unable to take advantage of midfield retirements to cross the line on a Sunday in a points-paying position.
Kimi Raikkonen has often been the quicker of the two Alfa Romeo drivers but as of last weekend his team mate Antonio Giovinazzi holds the dubious title of the rear of the grid’s most valuable driver, on three points.
But with none of the teams likely to score a double points finish without chaos ahead of them, the fight for least-worst team this year could well be settled by what happens among the midfield teams and who is best placed to take advantage.
Over to you
Which is the most intriguing championship contest in F1 this year? Who do you think will come out on top of these battles?
Plus, which other motorsport series have more exciting title contests? Have your say in the comments.
2020 F1 season
- Bottas vs Rosberg: Hamilton’s Mercedes team mates compared after 78 races each
- F1 revenues fell by $877 million in Covid-struck 2020 season
- Hamilton and Mercedes finally announce new deal for 2021 season
- F1 audience figures “strong” in 2020 despite dip in television viewers
- 2020 F1 driver rankings #1: Lewis Hamilton