Ecclestone advises Vettel 'to take a year off'

Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has advised his good friend Sebastian Vettel to take a year off from Formula 1 and observe the sport’s changes before deciding on his future.

The shock announcement of Vettel’s departure from Ferrari at the end of this season has sparked a lot of speculation about the four-time world champion’s next move.

On paper, opportunities exist at Renault and Mercedes for 2021, but there are also good reasons for Vettel not joining either team.

Oddly, the prospect of the German driver taking a sabbatical has seldom been mentioned, but at 32-years-old – two years young than Lewis Hamilton, Vettel could afford to spend 12 months on the sidelines.

And that’s exactly what Ecclestone has advised his friend to do.

“I’ve been talking to him quite a bit and maybe he should take a year off,” said the 89-year-old in an interview with the Evening Standard. “So, come back in 2022 with the rule changes.

“It gives him a chance to wait and see how F1 is going to change. But I think what he’d like to do is drive for Mercedes against Lewis.”

Watching from afar, Ecclestone has taken note of the changes that will sweep F1 from next year, like the introduction of a $145m budget cap.

But Mr. E hasn’t been impressed by the amount of emphasis put on discussions about the cost-cap level.

“It’s been complete rubbish,” he said. “They were messing about over £5million, which is a tiny percentage of their budget, when there’s other things that need to be done.

“When I owned Brabham, we used to spend a lot less than Ferrari and we still won and they didn’t. It’s about the people, not the money.

“The money’s become an ego competition rather than a real competition, one guy just wanting to spend more than the other guy. But again, the public don’t care.”

Bernie Ecclestone (GBR) with Fabiana Flosi (BRA) and Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing Team Principal.

As for the sport’s truncated 2020 season, Ecclestone reiterated his belief that the entire campaign should have been called off in light of the disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a funny championship, isn’t it?” he said. “You have the Austrian Grand Prix and the next week the same thing but called something else.

“So, you’ll look at the championship, someone wins and you’re not quite sure what they’ve won. And people will forever say that it was a lucky win because it wasn’t really a championship.”

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#TheXtraLap: Thoughts ahead of the 2020 Formula 1 season

Before the season starts and we get a better idea of what the standings will be like, I wanted to make an effort to think about my expectations for 2020.

I will give my opinion on each team and what I think is possible in 2020. Mind you, these are my thoughts and not a statistical forecast. In the end, I could be completely wrong. Let’s start with the team that became champion in 2019 and then go down the line.

Mercedes

World Champions for the past six years, but if Red Bull had not started so late and Ferrari had not made so many mistakes, they could already have had a hard time in 2019. What will 2020 bring for the silver team?

I have the idea that after six years, Mercedes is also pretty much at their maximum in terms of developments so I think they will still be fast, but whether they still have the supremacy I wonder. They will be a candidate for the championship again, but I don’t think they will have it easy. There is a chance they will finish second.

Lewis Hamilton will reappear at the start as strong as ever, but the older he gets, the harder it will be to maintain such a high level. If the car doesn’t quite do what is expected, I think Hamilton could have a hard time too.

Valtteri Bottas says he found the answer to beat Hamilton, but in 2019 Bottas 2.0 also started strong, but then dropped away. I think that, also in 2020, Bottas will have a strong year, but doubt if he can maintain the high level. For that, all the pieces of the puzzle for Bottas have to fall just right.

Ferrari

I don’t know why, but for years, Ferrari seems very strong when testing starts, but when it comes down to it, they miss something every time. In 2019 they were fast, but there were a lot of strategic mistakes and both drivers often got in each other’s way.

If they finally get it right, they can go for the championship in 2020.

Sebastian Vettel isn’t a stupid driver because he’s a multiple world champion for a reason. I have to admit that since he left for Ferrari, he hasn’t quite reached his old hungry level. Where he used to get angry when things didn’t go the way he wanted and he did everything he could to get it right, he’s more mellow at Ferrari.

The fact that he is now also a father can of course play a role in that. But I’m not writing him off yet. I’m not sure if he will be world champion again, but he can still compete for the prizes.

Charles Leclerc is still a young gun and it looked as if he wanted too much in 2019 when it turned out that he could handle the Ferrari pretty well. Personally I think he wanted to leave his mark on the team too much and that played against him during the 2019 season.

If he can calm down a bit in certain situations and be a little less self-critical at times when he can’t do anything about it, I think he can throw up a surprise, also towards the championship.

Red Bull

What can I say about Red Bull? The team is known to start with a basic model car and develop the car during the season. Downside is that they normally always lag behind when the season starts and then end up strong.

2020 is the last year that little has changed in the rules and after a year with Honda, I feel that they can develop well and that they can be there from the beginning. If they keep up the tradition and continue to develop, I’ll see them go for the championship.

Max Verstappen has shown that in the “short” time that he is in F1, he knows how to improve every year. If he can continue this trend and Red Bull, in combination with Honda, can give him a car with which he feels comfortable, I think he too can go for the championship.

Alex Albon has proven himself to be a great second driver in 2019, but did not yet have the right experience in all kinds of situations, including the free practice sessions, where he usually wrote off a car. If he has learned from 2019, and he feels better in the new car, he should be good enough to have Verstappen’s back, but above all, he could ensure many points in the constructors’ championship.

McLaren

I did find the team to be a surprise in 2019 when they started with a completely new driver duo. The car was good and the team continued to develop, both with the car and with the team itself. If they can keep the same line, I can see them keeping fourth place in 2020, but with more points. In my opinion the top three are still too far away, but if Mclaren continues like this, I’ll see them finish high.

Carlos Sainz has had very good races in 2019, but also some inferior ones. If I don’t take the DNF’s into account, he would still have finished sixth in the championship for drivers, but then he would have had more points. Sainz is very stable so I see him compete again for “best of the rest”.

Lando Norris was seen as a joker at the beginning of 2019 and most didn’t think he would be so good from the start. Norris has improved well, but if he can be a bit more aggressive in certain situations in 2020, he can settle in the top 10 of the championship.

Renault

What to say about Renault. Every season they start with the same statements, that they have found the leak and that they are going full for it, but as soon as we are a few races into the season, they sink back. For 2020 they have dropped Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon is going to work with Daniel Ricciardo.

I suspect it’s going to be the same story that Renault are going to start this year with saying that they are stronger and better, but I’m afraid it’s going to be the same year in which they’re going to be happy to finish sixth or maybe fifth.

Daniel Ricciardo joined the team in 2019 with high expectations. The results were very disappointing, but I’m sure his paycheck will have made the grief a little less. I don’t see many changes in 2020 except that Ricciardo has had more input into the development of the car for this year.

If the car doesn’t leave him in the lurch, I hope Ricciardo can show what he’s made of and he could end up in the top 10 of the championship.

Esteban Ocon is new to the team. The fact that he didn’t drive at all in 2019 and was only allowed to look at screens at Mercedes doesn’t really help. Also the fact that Ocon has not been involved in the development of the 2020 car is not perfect so he is actually going blind into the year.

Ocon is not a bad driver so I think he will do well under the circumstances, but it will take a couple of races before he is more at ease and can maybe drag out a couple of top 10 finishes.

Alpha Tauri (Toro Rosso)

The team did above expectation in 2019, but it looked like, after the summer break, there wasn’t really an improvement in performance anymore. A third place for Daniil Kvyat and a second place for Pierre Gasly was a highlight and showed that the team was on the right track.

Now that the rules haven’t changed much this year, I expect the team to build on their success and they will have more stability with the same drivers duo and I wouldn’t be surprised if they can go for places five, six or seven.

Daniil Kvyat showed last year that he is much more mature and that brought him to many points and a podium. He has had his moments, but if he can be more patient in certain situations in 2020, he will become a permanent name in the top 10.

Piere Gasly had an eventful 2019, but towards the end it looked like he felt more in place. I assume that Gasly has had more influence on the 2020 car and that will help him with his self-confidence and that he will drive some strong races this year.

Racing Point

The team had an eventful season in 2019 in which they started with a car that wasn’t really developed for 2019 and throughout the year new parts kept coming on the car that generally didn’t allow them to get the potential out of the car.

I expect Racing Point to have a better start in 2020, but then it will need both drivers to score high. Time will tell, but at the base they should be able to finish higher than in 2019.

Sergio Perez is the most experienced driver on the team and although it didn’t always look like it, he did very well in 2019. I feel that if the car is working well from the start, Perez will have a stable season and should be able to finish in the top 10 on a regular basis.

Lance Stroll… I’m still not convinced of his abilities. Before he joined Williams, he spent a full year testing with an old Williams and his dad spent a lot of money to give Stroll every chance to learn. I think he should have gotten one step better, but that didn’t work out with Williams.

According to Stroll, it was because of the car, but even in 2019 he didn’t convince me of his abilities and is allowed to stay where he is thanks to his father. I expect Stroll, in 2020, to have pretty much the same year as in 2019 with a good race here and there, but he will not be as strong as Perez.

Alfa Romeo

The team had a flying start in 2019 in which, especially Kimi Raikkonen, showed what was possible. Antonio Giovinazzi, on the other hand, took the overall picture down and the team occasionally missed out on important points.

Halfway through the season, Giovinazzi was lucky, but Raikkonen’s results were less and the situation didn’t improve. I hope the team will put more effort into the development of the car in 2020 and if both drivers manage to maintain a good level, they can go for a seventh position in the final standings.

Kimi Raikkonen is the oldest driver on the grid but doesn’t seem to be losing anything, or much of, his driver quality. He still knows exactly what to do behind the wheel, so if everything goes well, a top 10 ranking should be possible here and there.

Antonio Giovinazzi has never been able to prove himself completely so far. At the end of last year it all went a bit his side, but his season was generally no more than average. I hope he will take a step forward in 2020 otherwise it could be his last year in F1.

Haas

The team started 2019 with a sponsor drama of the highest level. I’m not even gonna mention the name, but everyone knows about it. Probably this has brought a lot of financial trouble to the development of the car because the whole season the team has had a very hard time and they never found the solution.

The start was nice, but they got tyre problems and went the wrong way with solutions and never got the issue resolved. I hope the team will have a better start in 2020 and eventually find a solution to their problems so they can be more competitive. I expect that they will at least be able to compete for places seven or eight.

Romain Grosjean is still with the team and although he often makes mistakes and complains a lot on the onboard radio, he also has good races so he still has his seat.

It seems as if he always needs to make a lot of effort to keep up with the high level of performance and because of that he also has lesser races on a regular basis. When the car is more stable and Grosjean can focus better on his own races instead of the car, he could do just fine in 2020.

Kevin Magnussen is a racer at heart with a no-nonsense attitude. He is an aggressive driver who always tries to get more out of the car than what is in it.

The Dane can’t help the fact that the car is letting him down on occasion, but in my opinion, he is a bit too resigned as if he doesn’t care when he has lost out again.

I hope that in 2020 he will be pissed more often if things don’t go the way they should and that that will motivate the team to take a step further. You can’t settle for the average if you want to achieve the best. So I also see Magnussen finishing in the top 14.

Williams

Not much to say about the team and their 2019 season. It just couldn’t be worse. With Robert Kubica, they had the experience and with George Russell as a rookie, they should have had a great combination to have a good season, but the car didn’t work.

Not at all. There were no parts. New parts were so fragile that sometimes they couldn’t even be used and I still think that Russell drove the new car and Kubica had to make do with the remaining parts because such a big difference just wasn’t possible.

In everything Russell came out better than Kubica, but I can’t believe Kubica was completely out of it and he certainly should have finished or qualified a couple of times better than Russell. The team scored a single point in Hockenheim and funny enough, it was Kubica who grabbed him in an unlikely race in which many drivers who normally end up in the points, dropped out left and right.

The team has lost sponsors again and it looks like the team will have to do with many small sponsors in 2020. The good news is that father Latifi has started to get involved and has also put his money where his mouth is so the team should be better off financially.

This means of course that his son Nicolas Latifi got a seat at the expense of Kubica. But because money plays such a big role in F1, all of a sudden Roy Nissany joined the team as a test driver. Normally they don’t just get all kinds of free practice sessions so you can assume that this also involves a lot of money.

But I still don’t have the high expectations for the team for 2020 and I’m afraid they’ll finish last in 2020 as well. I just hope that they can collect more than a single point so they can collect some more prize money before 2021.

George Russell will be the leader of the team in 2020 and with a season already behind him, there is a chance he will do better than 2019.

The car needs to be better for Russell to get the most out of it so if the combination is good I hope to see Russell a bit more often in Q2 and then there is still a lot possible in the race. Top 10 finish seems too far away to me, but it’s F1 and weird things can happen and often do.

Nicolas Latifi is the only rooky in 2020 so there is no pressure for him yet. He wasn’t there when the car was developed for 2020 so the question is if and how he can handle the car.

My expectations for Latifi are therefore not very high and he will have to prove himself, otherwise, he will soon be seen as the driver who is in F1 because of his father’s money.


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Todt hits out at 'privileged' who lament F1 calendar expansion

FIA president Jean Todt chastised those in F1 who bemoan the calendar’s expansion to 22 races this season, insisting they should consider themselves “blessed” to be part of the sport.

Grand Prix racing’s schedule will reach a record high in 2020, with regulations allowing for an increase up to 25 races in the future.

But the current expansion also implies a heightened burden and strain on team personnel, inevitable consequences that F1 will combat in 2021 by shortening the race weekend schedule.

However, Todt believes that passion should surpass the worries of stress for those who are fortunate enough to work in the sport.

“I think it will be a long process before being close to 25 races,” said Todt, quoted by Autosport.

“Probably so much emphasis on speculating and assessing 25 races, and at the moment we should concentrate on 22, which is the situation.

“About what it represents, here I may have a different point of view.

“I really feel that, and I include myself, we are so blessed to be in a world where we love what we do. We have the passion. We are privileged.

“Whoever is in F1 is privileged. Of course, you have some duties.

“When I was in other positions [as Ferrari team principal], I was working 18 hours every day, seven days, six or seven days a week, because I had passion, I wanted a result.

“Then of course, the family, if you have a beloved family, they will understand. And you don’t do that for all your life.”

The FIA president admits that his travels around the world, especially to under-developed nations, has helped him put things into perspective.

“Believe me, I do a lot in the other activities in my life, where I see people, if they are blessed, they get $30 a month, in certain countries,” he said. “So we should not forget that.

“You have an eight billion population, and you have 800 million people, they [are not able] to eat, to drink, to get a vaccination.

“We’re here to talk about F1, but we must not close our eyes and forget what is happening, for other people, for other communities.

“I feel again, we have to be blessed, and all those who are in F1, with much higher salaries, incidentally, than any other business, should be very happy.”

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Sophia Floersch criticizes Ferrari's female driver plans

German driver Sophia Floersch believes that Ferrari’s plans to add a female driver to its Driver Academy for the sake of diversity are wrong.

Scuderia boss Mattia Binotto recently spoke of the House of Maranello’s desire to include a female racer among its juniors in the near-term future.

“The Academy [is also looking] for women in the future,” said Binotto. “Women should be part of the Ferrari Academy.

“That’s something on which we are working right now to make sure that it may happen very soon.

Floersch, who famously survived a horrendous crash in the 2018 Macau Grand Prix and raced in the Formula Regional Championship in 2019, responded on social media to Binotto’s rather comments, insisting merit rather than gender should be at the forefront of a team’s choice regarding its drivers.

The 19-year-old also referenced former French rally driver Michèle Mouton who won four world championship rounds and finished runner in the series in 1982.

“Is this the spirit of modern people?”, the 19-year-old wrote on Twitter.

“As long as we are just marketing stuff in racing nothing will change. We have to show that we are equal. Proof of concept. Like Michele Mouton”.

Floersch is nominated this year for a Laureus Award in the ‘Comeback of the Year’ category, an accolade she earned following her comeback after her Macau pains.

The only woman currenty involved in F1 is 2019 W Series champion Jamie Chadwick who enjoys a simulator and development role with Williams.  However, the young Briton has yet to take to the track on-board an F1 car in the real world.

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Former team principal Richards says 'F1 has lost initiative'

Royal Automobile Club Motor Sports Association chairman David Richards says that Formula 1’s decision to switch to V6 hybrid engines has ended up sidelining the sport and made it less technologically relevant in the modern world.

“Traditionally, we have lived off the fact that we have driven new technologies,” he said at last week’s Autosport International show in Birmingham. “If you go back the last decade we’ve lost that initiative.

“We’ve become entertainment – which is alright in itself, and there is a place for that – but I believe we’ve lost the initiative on technology.”

Richards is a former F1 team principal, with spells in charge of Benetton in 1997 and BAR between 2002 and 2004. He’s also a former chairman of Aston Martin and is currently CEO of advanced engineering company Prodrive.

In his view, F1 made a serious mistake by dumping normally aspirated V8 engines in 2014 in the way that it did, and as a result has become increasingly marginalised within the world of motorsport and automotive technology.

“I think quite frankly it started when they introduced these wonderful engines that they have in Formula 1 today,” Crash.net reports the 67-year-old as saying.

“They’re an extraordinary engineering feat with the hybrid systems on them – the whole sort of way that they operate – [but] we just didn’t get it right from the outset.

“The day they were introduced, Bernie Ecclestone said they were terrible, and they sounded bad, and how terrible this was for the sport,” he recalled.

Richards explained that in his view, innovation in motorsport was now coming from elsewhere, such as Audi’s development of four-wheel drive and the widespread adoption of paddle-shift gearbox technology in sports cars.

But Richards added that he felt that it would be wrong to pin the industry’s future entirely on electric power.

“We’re not going to just say there is only one solution, like electric that the government seems to be promoting,” he said.

“There are lots of solutions out there. There’s hybrid solutions, there’s hydrogen coming, there’s a whole range of different technologies we should be promoting.

“Already Le Mans have hung their flag to the mast and said for 2024, the LMP1 class – the class that will win Le Mans – will be a hydrogen car.

“And the motorsport industry in Britain has a great opportunity to pioneer this technology and be at the forefront of it,” he added. “We’ve got to be on our front foot now.”

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Berger says 'experienced' Vettel can't be dismissed

Former F1 driver Gerhard Berger won’t write off Sebastian Vettel for the 2020 title fight, insisting the Ferrari driver’s vast experience remains a big asset.

Vettel, who won just single race in 2019, was outscored in the championship by Scuderia teammate and two-time winner Charles Leclerc last season and outpaced in qualifying by the Monegasque.

The 32-year-old’s contract with Ferrari runs out at the end of this year, and many believe that if the German is swept under the carpet by Leclerc, he’ll be heading into retirement after Abu Dhabi.

But Berger refuses to dismiss the four-time world champion as a contender for the 2020 world crown despite Ferrari sending a clear signal about the future when it extended recently Leclerc’s contract until the end of 2024.

“We don’t know if it’ll be a decisive year for him personally, he’ll determine that himself” Berger told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.

“Is he driving his last year and wants a good retirement? Does he want to extend his stay at Ferrari for another three years? Does he want to take Leclerc apart?

“It’s clear that with Leclerc, he has a tough nut to crack. But he can’t do it. Regardless of whether you drive a Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull, you always have a tough nut to crack.

“That used to be the case with the top teams. There are always two alpha animals that go head-to-head until one remains. When I went to McLaren, I had Senna. You can’t run away from it.”

©WRI

While Leclerc ended the season with an upper hand overall on Vettel, Berger believes the German’s form in the latter part of the season proved that he should still be a force to be reckoned with.

“In the last third of the season, Vettel showed that he can do that [go head-to-head with Leclerc] very well,” added the former McLaren and Ferrari stalwart.

“There’s no question that Leclerc has the future ahead of him and Sebastian is in the last stage of his career.

“But he has some insane experience, he has been world champion four times, has been with Ferrari for five years.

“From this he can draw and balance out the boy’s bravery. It will be an interesting duel, but I don’t dare to predict the outcome.”

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Smedley warns that 'it can get worse' at Williams

Rob Smedley, Williams’ former head of vehicle performance, says the Grove-based outfit’s plight could actually get worse in 2020.

Williams has been fighting a depressed state of affairs since 2018, the former championship-winning team scoring 7 points that season and just a single top-ten finish in 2019.

Weighed down by engineering failures and organizational deficiencies, Formula 1’s third most successful team hit “rock bottom” last season according to its deputy team principal Claire Williams.

But Smedley, who left Williams at the end of 2018, knows from experience that a team’s decline can be locked in a bottomless pit.

“There would always be a philosophy that it can’t get any worse,” Smedley told Reuters‘ Alan Baldwin.

“Having been around the block a few times in motorsport, and Formula 1 in particular, (I know) the reality is it can get worse than this.

“We talk about how it can’t get much worse than 2019, but we said that about 2018. And we said that about 2017. The reality is that 2020 can actually be worse than 2019.”

Claire Williams recently said that her team’s wretched season was necessary for Williams to make the right decisions to enable a comeback.
But Smedley warns against entertaining such a mindset, although he would like nothing more than to his former employer succeed.

“Anyone who thinks that you can turn things around from where Williams are now to suddenly arrive back in the top five of the championship, they are very much mistaken. It is just incorrect,” he said.

“Now I’m on the outside I can hope, but when I was on the inside I didn’t want to just hope.

“It’s a tragic case. I’m not of the generation that can’t remember when Williams won a world championship.

“To see the decline there, it’s heartbreaking really as a Formula One fan.”

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Marko: Sainz is fast, but he's no Verstappen!

Red Bull motorsport boss Helmut Marko has no regrets about not retaining Carlos Sainz in the energy drink’s bull pen, insisting the Spaniard is fast but “not a Verstappen”.

Sainz was a pure product of Red Bull’s Junior Team who rose through the junior ranks to graduate to Formula 1 in 2015 with Toro Rosso.

In his third year with the Faenza-based squad, Sainz was loaned to Renault, undertaking a full season with the French squad in 2018 before Marko released him from his contract with Red Bull, a decision which led to his move to McLaren for 2019.

Given Sainz’s good results with the Woking-based outfit and the disappointing performance of Pierre Gasly which led to last year’s mid-season swap with Alex Albon, one could be led to believe that Red Bull now views dismissing the Spaniard as a mistake. But Marko harbors no regrets.

“Carlos was confronted with one Max Verstappen,” Marko explained, speaking in his home town of Graz to Motorsport.com.

“The choice [in 2016] then actually went between the two: who do we promote? And then you get to the heart of it.

“Carlos is fast – otherwise we would not have picked him up at all – but he is not a Verstappen.”

Marko’s choice of betting on Verstappen by swapping the Dutchman with Daniil Kvyat after just four races in 2016 was validated by Verstappen’s sensational debut triumph with Red Bull Racing in Spain.

For Sainz, his former teammate’s win was likely a tough moment to endure. But Marko believes Red Bull and Sainz made the most of their relationship.

“We helped Carlos in his career and didn’t have to let him go,” added Marko.

“But we made the transition to Renault and later McLaren possible.

“We have a good relationship, but at that particular moment we also had Verstappen in the team and there are differences between them.”

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Brundle: Hamilton's 2021 options 'cut down' by Verstappen deal

Former F1 driver and Sky Sports pundit Martin Brundle believes that Max Verstappen’s new deal with Red Bull Racing has “cut down” Lewis Hamilton’s options for 2021.

Verstappen extended this week his allegiance to Red Bull – the company that brought the Dutchman into F1 in 2014 – until the end of 2023.

Vesrtappen’s deal with the Milton Keynes-based team has quashed the prospect of a move to Ferrari or Mercedes in the mid-term.

But Brundle says the move, coupled with Charles Leclerc’s locked-in seat at Ferrari, opens up questions about Mercedes’ game plan regarding the future with both Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas’ contracts expiring at the end of this year.

“The Verstappen news does make my mind think ‘what’s going on at Mercedes’ short to medium term?” Brundle told Sky Sports.

“I really would have expected one of Verstappen or Leclerc to rock up at Mercedes.

“You’d have to look at it and think that Mercedes have got to be at least the equal-best car for another two or three years with the momentum they’ve got, so why hasn’t one of them signed up there?”

Hamilton has said that he is in no hurry to decide his post-2020 future, although the six-time world champion has often expressed his desire to remain with the Mercedes family, despite rumors of Ferrari’s courtship of the Briton.

“It leaves Lewis with reduced options, but he’s still holding a lot of aces,” added Brundle. “And it doesn’t prevent Lewis from going to either of those two teams at all, really.

“It possibly would at Red Bull, but it doesn’t stop the idea of a Hamilton-Leclerc line-up at Ferrari. But it has cut Lewis’ options down, if indeed he hasn’t already signed with Mercedes-Benz longer term.

“Maybe the music stopped before Christmas, they all sat down and there is some embedded news we haven’t heard yet.”

Brundle admitted to have been surprised by the recent flurry of contract announcements.

“These post-2020 deals have certainly happened earlier than I expected,” he said.

“I thought Max would see whether Red Bull could give him a championship-challenging car over the first few races of the year and then take a view.

“So something has crystalised that earlier, which again makes my mind wonder about what is going on elsewhere.”

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Wolff: Three teams could win wide-open 2020 title

Toto Wolff expects 2020 to be Mercedes’ hardest year yet in its efforts to secure a seventh consecutive world championship.

Although the Silver Arrows finished last year over two hundred points clear of its nearest rivals in the constructors championship, it proved to be a tough fight against the resurgent Ferrari and Red Bull efforts.

And Wolff told the official Formula1.com website that the new season will see the big three teams get even closer together, with no room for mistakes if his team is to come out on top again.

“It’s fair to say that there are three teams capable of winning races today and probably winning championships if things are being put together,” said the Mercedes team principal.

“I don’t think we are going to see the kind of 10 race wins or 12 race wins per team for next year any more,” he continued. “I see this very much as being a much tougher season.

“But obviously we will be trying everything to optimise our weaknesses and continue to perform well.”

Wolff added that he was also wary about the big improvements being shown in the midfield, with McLaren making big strides to finish fourth in the 2019 standings and poised to do even better this year.

“McLaren have massively caught up,” he acknowledged. “Probably the steepest performance slope of all teams. They will be there or thereabouts, in my opinion.”

There will be a big change to F1’s sporting and technical regulations after the end of 2020, which is something that Wolff would prefer not to see. Rather than promoting closer competition, Wolff suggested that the new rules would actually hinder the progress being made toward tighter racing.

“We have always defended the standpoint that by [leaving] the regulations alone, performance convergence would happen,” he stated.

©Mercedes

“At least there’s a high probability that convergence happens rather than throwing the dice and introducing something new, and I think we have seen that.”

The imminent new rules have also raised speculation that Mercedes might call it a day in the sport, having achieved all that they could possibly have hopes for in terms of trophies and titles.

But Wolff insisted that the team and its parent business had no plans to pull out of the championship after this season.

“Leaving the sport now would certainly not be the right thing from a commercial point of view,” Wolff told Motorsport-Total.com. “It now becomes a new opportunity.

Citing improved figures on Grand Prix spectators, new interest from sponsors, and a big growth in digital subscribers, Wolff added: “We should be aware of the opportunities ahead of us, and focus on making it a good deal for everyone.”

And while he was broadly in favour of expanding the current field of ten teams on the grid, Wolff said that the current line-up “should be proud that we are part of such a limited field of starters.

“But if there is interest in new teams joining the field with a solid foundation, why shouldn’t we talk about it?”

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