WHERE IT STANDS: Somewhere it has been many times the past few years. After a slow start to the previous season, a stronger finish has raised expectations for the coming year. But this time does feel different. The Honda partnership can be considered a success given that the pair were able to win multiple races in their first year together, and the absence of changes to the regulations should allow Red Bull to pick up where it left off at the end of the season.
In Max Verstappen it clearly has a driver capable of leading any championship challenge, and Alex Albon appears to be a good partner for him, even if he still has to close the performance gap. So it’s a settled team that is getting down to work this winter.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Hitting the ground running. All too often Red Bull has looked ready to challenge Mercedes and struggled out of the blocks, wasting time playing catch-up and realistically being out of the title race before the summer break.
Last year, a new power unit supplier and the change in front wing regulations gave Red Bull a couple of excuses. But in 2020 it doesn’t have one, so the pressure is on the team to not squander this opportunity.
REALISTIC TARGET: The title. Red Bull has the resources, the driver and now the power unit to be competitive at pretty much every venue. Having taken three wins in 2019 and with Verstappen finishing third in the drivers’ championship, the only next step available is to properly fight for the championship.
WHERE IT STANDS: Like Red Bull, in an all-too-familiar place. Ferrari spends the winter reflecting on another year that promised so much and ultimately delivered so little. For three consecutive seasons it has had a car at least capable of being in the championship picture, but has failed to sustain a challenge.
Despite its legality being constantly questioned, it clearly had the best power unit on the grid and good car development in the middle of the season resulted in a run of six straight pole positions and three consecutive wins that could – and perhaps should – have been more. Such a spell of form has to be cause for optimism, as does the potential shown by Charles Leclerc.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Handling its two drivers. While Leclerc developed impressively in his first season with the Scuderia, Sebastian Vettel failed to find his best form. That has been the case for a number of years, and it appeared that the obvious threat to his position as team leader played some part in the controversial moments between the team-mates.
With Leclerc’s emergence and Lewis Hamilton being linked with a move to Maranello, Vettel is clearly fighting for his career at Ferrari, and team principal Mattia Binotto will have to make sure that dynamic does not cost the team serious points like it did in Brazil.
REALISTIC TARGET: Fulfilling its potential. That might seem an obvious target for any team, and of course as one of the top three, the championship has to be the aim, but it feels like Ferrari more than any other team needs to get the basics right and execute cleanly. Too often there seem to be questionable strategies or odd performance drops that open the team up to criticism, and that’s something that can be addressed regardless of the car’s competitiveness.
WHERE IT STANDS: Potentially at the final year of its dominance. Six straight drivers’ and constructors’ championship doubles is unprecedented, and next year Mercedes has every chance of making it seven. But the following year poses the biggest threat to that run, and there’s no guarantee that the central figures to the success – Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff – will still be with the team.
They will be there in 2020, though, and Mercedes’ stunning start to last year should not be forgotten. This is a team that has made winning a habit and, although he wasn’t at Hamilton’s level, Valtteri Bottas finished P2 in the standings to ensure another comfortable championship win. The key pieces remain in place.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Dealing with speculation. You might think it would be complacency after such a run of success, but Mercedes has had a remarkable ability to not let its high levels slip at all, and the radical changes in 2021 will be providing all the motivation required to the team back at the factory.
But the questions about where Hamilton and Wolff will be in a year’s time really started to gather pace in Abu Dhabi, and are only likely to get stronger once the new season gets underway – provided their futures haven’t been decided by then of course – while Mercedes’ own commitment has also come under scrutiny. Uncertainty is very rarely positive.
REALISTIC TARGET: Extending its record. Ferrari and Red Bull have more room for improvement but have also shown flashes of what each can do over the past 12 months, so there is every chance Mercedes will face its toughest challenge yet next season. That said, with stability in the regulations and stability within the team for 2020 at least, it remains the favorite for both titles, and anything less would be deemed a failure.