Mercedes may be busily making more room for its latest F1 Constructors title trophy but with three rounds of the 2020 F1 World Championship season remaining there is still all to play for in an increasingly tight four-way fight for ‘bronze’.

You need to go back to 2016 for the last time the triumvirate of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari didn’t lock out the top three in the overall standings - the interloper that year coming courtesy of today’s minnows Williams - and there is a chance it won’t be a different story in 2020 as Ferrari’s third and fourth in Turkey, courtesy of a return to the podium for Sebastian Vettel, fired up its renewed hopes.

Strictly speaking though, Ferrari faces a minor mountain to overhaul the three teams - Racing Point, McLaren and Renault - ahead of it and even succeeding in its targets across the two Bahrain and one Abu Dhabi race won’t go far to softening the blow of what has been a dismal season for the Scuderia.

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Turkey aside, Vettel has been the weak link in Ferrari’s armoury, albeit twinned with an SF1000 package that Ferrari would consign to a forgotten past the Monday after Yas Marina if they didn’t have to form the basis of its 2021 machine too.

However, its fortunes are being largely upheld by Charles Leclerc, who is coming out the big (scant) winner from Ferrari’s annus horribilis by keeping his chin up and maximising his package in a way that emphasises his team leading ‘future champion’ status and belies the fact this is still only his third season in F1.

Still, Ferrari has the most ground to make up and while 24 points looks surmountable, it has three confident ‘mid-field’ teams, not to mention Mercedes and Red Bull, to get the edge over in the three races, which include a Bahrain ‘outer’ layout which - given the SF1000’s top speed dilemma - will be giving Mattia Binotto some sleepless nights right now.

Spurred on by a return to the podium for Sergio Perez in Turkey - the ninth of his career across Sauber and Force India/Racing Point machinery - Racing Point leads the fight for third overall.

While the so-called ‘pink Mercedes’ has been rapid enough out of the box from day one to suggest it is the favourite for bronze, it shouldn’t disguise what would be an immense achievement for the soon-to-be Aston Martin Racing squad.

Though it can be argued the team hasn’t always maximised its clearly capable package (and COVID-19 hasn't helped either), Perez especially has cemented his status as a driver that is not just experienced and steady but has a nous for conditions to match the very best in the sport.

Which is why the prospect of him sat on the sidelines for 2021 throws in such a curious dynamic to these proceedings with Perez three races away from being replaced by Vettel at Racing Point/Aston Martin. While hindsight is a wonderful thing and 13th overall isn’t perhaps representative of what Vettel is capable of, it’s still remarkable that provisional fourth place Perez could be forced to walk away from F1 at the end of his zenith.

With Perez squeezing the most from the Racing Point, it will therefore come down to Lance Stroll to hitch his socks up and make the difference. The Canadian has been mired in some woeful form of late - two points from six races - though did steal some spotlight with a pole in Turkey. 

Even so, given he is probably going to be retained in the team owned by his father for 2021, he’ll have his own personal targets to justify such nepotism in the final rounds. Shout out to Nico Hulkenberg as well, his ten points in three outings could end up becoming very valuable at the end of the year...

In fourth overall currently, McLaren’s form has tailed off in recent races but can count on being the only team with two drivers performing at a high-level with Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris evenly matched and only split by a single point in seventh and eighth overall.

Norris has suffered a slip in recent races to damage his hopes of getting into the top six overall, but it would take a reversal of fortunes for him make the difference in McLaren’s target of a first top three since 2012. Sainz, meanwhile, is going to be feeling increasingly nervous ahead of his switch to a beleaguered Ferrari, so there will be some points to prove in the final rounds.

Finally, Renault in fifth right now - 18 points off Racing Point and six ahead of Ferrari - could as easily be third as it could be sixth come Abu Dhabi. One represents the expected result, the other another disappointing campaign.

To its credit though, Renault is the team to have made the most progress over the course of the season with Daniel Ricciardo not only satisfying the hunger for a return to the podium at the Nurburgring, but then doing it again just two races later at Imola.

Indeed, while the Renault-Ricciardo relationship was effectively over before it had begun when he signed for McLaren pre-season, the Aussie might rue not persevering and it’s testament to his abilities that he will leave the team much better off than when he began before Fernando Alonso swoops in to join the rebranded Alpine outfit.

As with Ferrari and Racing Point, Renault has a - surprising - weak link in Esteban Ocon, whose return to F1 hasn’t been quite as grandstand as many would have anticipated.

Still, like Stroll and Vettel, the Frenchman has the capability to do better meaning that while Perez, Leclerc and Ricciardo have engineered their respective teams into this third place battle, it is Ocon et al. that will probably make the difference between third and sixth.

 

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