KNUTSON: 10 Burning F-1 Questions

Dan Knutson.

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The FIA Formula One World Championship kicks off its season March 15 at Australia’s Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit.

Here are 10 things to look out for during the record 22-race season:

1. Can anybody beat Lewis Hamilton?

He won 11 races last year on the way to his sixth world drivers’ championship. Hamilton and Mercedes, which won its sixth consecutive world constructors’ championship, are on a roll that won’t be easy to stop. He is at the absolute peak of his ability.

With the 2020 technical regulations remaining pretty much the same as in 2019, Mercedes will continue to be the team to beat.

2. Can Haas F1 bounce back?

The United States F-1 team finished an outstanding fifth in the 2018 constructors’ championship with 93 points but tumbled to ninth with a mere 28 points last year. The team spent most of last season trying to figure out why its car behaved so inconsistently.

Drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean had difficulties with tire transitions. The problem was eventually traced to aerodynamic stalling going into low and medium speed bends. It can’t get much worse for Haas, so its outlook bodes better for 2020.

3. Which Ferrari driver will win more races?

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel had a real challenge on his hands last year with sophomore Charles Leclerc. By his own admission, Vettel said his driving was below par and he had a single victory to prove that.

Leclerc started from the pole seven times but only won twice due to mistakes by both he and the team, plus the fact that Mercedes usually had a stronger race pace than Ferrari.

4. How many races will Ferrari and Red Bull win?

The teams combined for six victories last year compared to 15 by Mercedes. Ferrari’s low score was for the reasons listed above. Red Bull really only got going in the second half of the season. Both teams need to remedy these problems to win more than a six pack in 2020.

5. Which team will be the best of the rest behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull?

Renault had a fairly easy time grabbing fourth place in the constructors’ championship in 2018. But the team slipped back in 2019 while McLaren made a huge step forward. McLaren is predicting smaller gains this season while Renault believes it will make considerable improvements.

6. Will the midfield teams be competitive?

While McLaren and Renault eventually finished ahead in 2019, it was often very close among them and the rest of the midfield teams, with Toro Rosso, Racing Point, Alfa Romeo and Haas coming out on top at times. Will that tight competition continue in 2020 and will one of the other teams edge out McLaren or Renault?

7. Can Williams get out of its slump?

Williams has finished last in the constructors’ championship in 2018 and ’19 and scored a measly eight points. The team is convinced that it will do better this year, but how much better?

8. Will Honda close the final gap?

Last year, Honda earned its first F-1 victories — three in all — since 2006. It has made huge strides with its power unit, but can it consistently challenge Mercedes and Ferrari throughout the season? Also, how much will Renault close in on the other three.

9. How will the crews cope with the longer schedule?

There are a record 22 races this season, up one from last year as the Dutch Grand Prix returns for the first time since 1985 and Vietnam hosts its inaugural grand prix.

The number of testing days have been reduced slightly, but still there is a lot of traveling and days away from home for the crews. It’s not that big of  a deal for the drivers and senior team personnel who travel first class and get home more often. But it is going to put extra strain on the crew members.

10. When will teams begin their transition to working on 2021 equipment?

With major technical regulation changes coming in 2021, the teams are going to have to decide when to stop developing their 2020 cars and switch their resources to the 2021 models.

This is especially true for the smaller teams that don’t have the money to do both at the same time.