RACE DEBRIEF

    The joys of a fridge full of cheese, Christmas dinner and the days of leftovers and hours spent on the sofa watching the Christmas movie channel is now, sadly, behind us for another year. But fret not. It’s time to get back to business and sharpen focus on what is set to be one of the tightest F1 seasons in the world championship’s illustrious history. And as it's the start of a new decade, with endless opportunities, I’m feeling brave and have decided to make a few bold predictions for the year ahead…

    Ferrari will win the most races – and the constructors’ championship

    F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi - Final Practice

    No, I’m not still on the gin left over from New Year. I genuinely believe Ferrari are going to get their act together this year and deliver a car that will clinch more victories than anyone else.

    The SF90 was an excellent – if erratic – machine and I believe Ferrari’s technical team will have learned from their mistakes and taken a step forward with their 2020 challenger.

    LONG READ: Ferrari on what went wrong in 2019 – and what they’ve learned for 2020

    Chief Mattia Binotto says they are overhauling both the engine and aerodynamics for this campaign, while CEO Louis Camilleri adds the company is “prepared to invest” more cash in the F1 programme – with a new simulator already in the works. They want a title. And they want it bad.

    They are throwing everything at this latest title charge, and with Charles Leclerc certain to kick on from his sensational debut season with Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel finding some form (motivated by his contract expiring at the end of 2020), the Prancing Horse will have the legs to last the distance and bring home a first constructors’ championship since 2008.

    Maranello, get the champagne and red streamers ready. Christmas is going to be party time.

    F1 2020 will have a final race title decider

    2019 Austrian GP

    Ferrari’s improved competitiveness, applied more consistently, will give Mercedes – and reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton – a headache, as Hamilton searches for title number seven and the Silver Arrows hunt an unprecedented seventh successive double.

    The Briton was in exquisite form in 2019. He’ll find next year tougher, though, with Leclerc in a position to begin strongly – with one year now in the bank with Ferrari – and offer a consistent threat.

    Throw in a sterner challenge from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen – who I reckon will go better than last year and win at least four races in 2020 – and we will have a three-horse race for the drivers’ championship, forcing a title decider at the finale in Abu Dhabi for the first time since 2016.

    READ MORE: 10 things every F1 fan should be excited for in 2020

    At least two new faces will grace F1's podium

    2019 Chinese GP

    Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly became the 210th and 211th members of the exclusive F1 podium finishers' club in 2019, with their podiums in the thrilling Brazilian Grand Prix. But they’ll need to make room for more members in 2020.

    One of them should be Alexander Albon, who won 2019 Rookie Of The Year at the FIA Prize Giving ceremony after showing signs he has the speed and determination to mix it with the frontrunners. His Red Bull will be capable of ample podiums – and he will make the most of it.

    LONG READ: Alex Albon – Seizing his second chance

    Providing McLaren can build on their stellar 2019 campaign, Lando Norris is well-placed to collect his first piece of F1 silverware, the Briton showing flashes of brilliance in an impressive rookie year, while the returning Esteban Ocon is also a good bet to give Renault their first podium in nine years.

    At least two of them will make it onto the rostrum at some point this season.

    Haas will edge midfield battle

    Formula One World Championship

    Diabolical. That’s one way to describe the 2019 campaign for Haas. It was a year that offered so much promise, after what felt like a breakthrough year in 2018, but the VF-19 was slow and unpredictable. A dreadful combination.

    But they have learned lessons and switched focus very early to 2020, when it became clear 2019 was a lost cause. Powered by the class-leading Ferrari engine and still set to receive a bunch of parts from the Italian team, as is compliant per the regulations, I expect them to start this year on the right foot.

    The midfield will be tight once more, with McLaren and Renault sure to be at the sharp end of that fight. But the American team will force their way in, too, and edge a tense battle that’ll go down to the wire – and in the process, help drag the trio closer to F1's big three, Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

    Ferrari will sign Ricciardo for 2021

    DXI17062_2019111535004339.jpg

    I picked Daniel Ricciardo to Renault for 2019 and now I’m anticipating another move for the Australian, this time to the mighty Ferrari, taking over the reins from former Red Bull team mate Sebastian Vettel.

    Ricciardo’s move to Renault did not turn out brilliantly last year, and with the 2021 driver market set to be the most dramatic in living memory, I expect the Honey Badger – whose current deal expires at the end of this campaign – to be one of the key cogs.

    He is a proven race winner, consistently gets the most out of a car and is one of the best overtakers in the business. Ricciardo (who has Italian heritage) in red makes sense. He’s exactly the kind of driver they will want alongside Leclerc as they look to build a Schumacher-esque dynasty.

    Expect the Honey Badger to put pen to red paper at some stage this year...