In the lead-up to the start of the 2020 Formula 1 season, Crash.net takes a look at what each of the 10 teams needs heading into the new campaign.

In part two, we preview the year ahead for Renault, McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes.

What does each F1 team need in 2020? - Part 1

Renault: Return to the front of the midfield

2019 was supposed to be the year Renault started to bridge the gap between the midfield and the leading three teams to make good on the ambition shown by luring Daniel Ricciardo away from Red Bull.

Instead, it turned out very differently. The team was mired in the midfield throughout the year, slipping to fifth in the constructors’ championship as McLaren – concerningly, a Renault customer team – claimed the title of ‘best of the rest’. The narrow gap to Toro Rosso and Racing Point behind was also evidence of the step backwards the team had made.

Change is afoot for 2020. Nico Hulkenberg was jettisoned in favour of signing Esteban Ocon, who returns to the grid after a year on the sidelines to partner Ricciardo. Technical director Nick Chester has also left Enstone after nearly 20 years as part of a restructuring of the technical department.

2021 may be where the opportunity lies for Renault to really make a mark and join the front-runners in F1, but it needs to take a step forward this year and prove its momentum is moving back in the right direction after such a torrid season.

Signs of progress will be especially crucial if Renault wants to retain marquee signing Ricciardo, who is out of contract at the end of the year. Ricciardo spoke before the winter break about a need for greater team spirit at Enstone, making it something he wanted to help foster this year.

Being beaten by the customer McLaren squad again would be a big blow for a team that is fast-approaching the point where it wanted to be competing for podiums and race wins. If Renault wants to keep Ricciardo in what has the potential to be a volatile driver market, it must prove it is moving in the right direction.

McLaren: Showing the bite behind the banter

The basic goal for McLaren in 2020 is fairly obvious: the same as in 2019. It ended the year a comfortable fourth in the constructors’ championship, far clear of the gaggle of midfield teams, and even snagged a podium finish in Brazil as the decisions taken in the past couple of years began to bear fruit.

Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris arrived as part of an all-new line-up at Woking, and turned out to be a perfect fit for each other both on- and off-track, the latter seen in their various social media escapades. Their friendship made life at McLaren easy, allowing new F1 boss Andreas Seidl to focus his energy on the on-track affairs instead of dealing with any external political drama that may have hurt the team in previous years.

While it has all been fun and games, and generally a good news story for F1, 2020 is the year for McLaren to consolidate its recent progress and show there is some bite behind the banter. It needs to take a stranglehold on P4 in the standings and hit the ground running this year, leaving the rest of the midfield trailing far behind.

As with all teams, 2021 is an opportunity for McLaren to try and bridge the gap to the front-runners, particularly with Mercedes joining as its new power unit supplier. But if it wants to rekindle some of the magic that made it such a force in the past, a strong 2020 to prove last year was no fluke will be important.

Red Bull: Give Verstappen a shot at a maiden title

Had this piece been written two weeks ago, Red Bull’s target would have read: “Keep Max Verstappen, no matter what it costs.” Alas, recent confirmation of a new deal running to the end of 2023 means its most pressing concern for this year has already been dealt with.

Attention now shifts to building on the highly-promising 2019 season that heralded the start of the team’s partnership with Honda. The much-maligned power unit supplier finally came good as it powered Max Verstappen to three victories, proving it was now withing spitting distance of the other manufacturers.

With the rules remaining stable from 2019 to 2020, Red Bull will enter the season fancying its chances of fighting for a first title in seven years. The momentum it picked up through the backend of last year and ability to fight with both Mercedes and Ferrari on a regular basis should boost hopes of continued progress through the early part of 2020.

Verstappen is more than capable of fighting for a maiden world title. 2020 will mark his final opportunity to become the youngest world champion in F1 history. It’s really a question of whether or not Red Bull can put together a package competitive enough for him to do so.

There will also be hopes that Alexander Albon can build upon his promising start to life with the team through the backend of last year. He will need to raise his game a bit to draw closer to Verstappen and stop it being a one-sided season at Red Bull, but with the benefit of a stable off-season and proper preparation for the new campaign, Albon should be in the position to do so.

No more excuses for Red Bull in 2020. This is the year it must fight for a world championship.

Ferrari: Harmony between its drivers – even if that comes at a price

Fighting for the world championship should be taken as a minimum requirement for Ferrari in 2020. After the near-misses in 2017 and 2018, and last year’s disastrous campaign highlighted by just three race wins, it needs to take the fight to Mercedes for real this time around.

But the bigger issue for Ferrari will be ensuring there is no repeat of the tension that brewed between drivers Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel through the backend of last season.

For as much as both drivers and team boss Mattia Binotto may claim that relations remain cordial and healthy, the potential for it to fester away and cause real damage to Ferrari – particularly in the event of a title bid – is too great to risk a repeat of the double DNF in Brazil last year following Leclerc and Vettel’s collision.

The added dimension this year is the contrasting position each driver is in. Leclerc not only beat Vettel in the drivers’ standings last year, but also has a new long-term contract under his belt keeping him at Maranello until the end of 2024. Vettel, meanwhile, is entering the final year of his contract, and would surely be the man to leave were a change required.

Vettel remains a potent force in F1. We saw as much on occasion last year. If you want the two best drivers in your team and the likes of Verstappen and Hamilton are (realistically) unavailable, then pairing Vettel and Leclerc is arguably your strongest bet.

Ferrari will need to carefully its drivers through 2020 to not only protect its title interests, but also to plan for the future. Maybe backing a number one driver wouldn’t be such a bad thing to do…

Mercedes: Get Lewis Hamilton’s new contract signed

Mercedes is braced to face its toughest title challenge yet as the stability in the regulations gives Ferrari and Red Bull a chance to cut the gap – but one of its biggest priorities will come off-track as it looks beyond 2020.

Lewis Hamilton is now in the final year of his Mercedes F1 contract, and while he is widely expected to remain with the team beyond the end of the season, getting the deal across the line will be crucial for Mercedes.

Hamilton’s flirting with Ferrari in the closing stages of last season should come as little surprise. After all, what better way to drive your price up than to give a wink to your team’s fiercest rival? Realistically though, it is hard to see Hamilton turning his back on Mercedes after all the success he has enjoyed with the team and the operation that has been built to support him.

Hamilton has made his name with Mercedes just as Michael Schumacher did with Ferrari – and 2020 could be the year he emulates the German’s record of seven world titles. To do so and then turn his back on Mercedes is hard to foresee.

Nevertheless, getting negotiations sorted and the contract signed will be a point of focus for Mercedes this year. It will want to prevent a long-running silly season of rumours and questions, that will naturally start at winter testing, by getting the deal done early. It will then allow both Hamilton and the team to focus on the title tilt as they look to make history once again.

 

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