With both the drivers and constructors championship being tied up by Hamilton and Mercedes, it would be easy to assume that the 2020 F1 season was all but over. However, there is a fight for third that is just heating up, and one that has some huge ramifications for the teams involved.
Racing Point, Renault and McLaren are all in contention for third place, with only 27 points between McLaren currently in third and Renault in fifth, with just two races left to go. Ferrari are also mathematically in contention, but it would take a lot from them to snatch third from the clutches of the three teams above them. For that reason I’m not going to include Ferrari in this post.
The most recent outing in Bahrain was definitely a round to favour McLaren, coming in fourth and fifth they had the biggest haul of points out of the three. But there are some positives that Renault and Racing Point can take from the race and there is a lot that can happen in the final rounds of the championship. For this blog, I will quickly evaluate each teams position and what they need to do in order to secure that all important third spot in the constructors championship.
Until the very few last laps, Sergio Perez was sitting comfortably in third, only for his podium spot to slip through his fingers as his Racing Point’s engine caught on fire due to an mgu-k failure, forcing him to stop. Lance Stroll was also unlucky, having his car flipped over by Daniil Kvyat in a collision after the restart. This resulted in the team finishing the weekend with no points whilst all their rivals drivers finished in the top ten.
And this is not the first string of bad luck Racing Point have had. At the Turkish grand Prix, Lance Stroll took pole position, the only time so far Mercedes haven’t done so this season. Stroll had a great start and looked like he may cruise to his first win in Formula 1, only for a decision to change tyres backfiring for Lance, sending him sliding down the order to finish in a disappointing ninth. Luckily Perez was there to save the weekend from being a complete disaster, picking up second place.
Additionally they have had to call on the services on Nico Hulkenberg on several occasions due to Stroll and Perez falling ill. Whilst Nico did a stellar job, it certainly wasn’t ideal. Bad luck has been a consistent theme for Racing Point, Lance Stroll for example has retired five times this season, and whilst some of these were his fault, some, like in Mugello, were completely out of his control.
Lets also not forget that Racing Point actually lost 15 points towards the beginning of the season due to their controversial brake ducts. Without that they would only be two points behind McLaren, and if you take into account all the misfortune the team has had throughout the year, I think its safe to assume that they have the best car on the grid excluding Red Bull and Mercedes.
On the one hand Racing Point have shot themselves in the foot multiple times, but on the other they have had a huge amount of bad luck. In order to get third they really need their bad luck to end and with the possibility of Hamilton missing our not just on the Sakhir grand prix but the Abu Dhabi one as well, Racing Point have a strong chance to get their drivers on the podium. And if they manage to do that, they would put themselves in a very strong position to get third.
McLaren are leading the race for third at the moment after a successful race in Bahrain coming in fourth and fifth after Perez’s engine failure. This really put them in the driving seat. Carlos Sainz drove a fantastic race starting fifteenth on the grid he looked to have some awesome race pace. Norris on the other hand, comfortable sat high up in the order for most of the race after a great start in a just as an impressive drive.
However, McLaren’s qualifying pace has not been the best this season, and in Bahrain both of them didn’t qualify in the best of positions, with Sainz in fifteenth and Norris in ninth. They seem to rely on their race pace making up for it, which has seemed to work throughout the season, but does not come without some risk. All it takes is for some traffic to hold them up to throw them out of the points and ruin their chase for third.
In my opinion McLaren have the best driving line up out of the three teams. Both Norris and Sainz provide a very well balanced team who consistently score points. It’s almost the perfect ratio of experience and youth, you could easily imagine either driver one day winning the championship and being a regular feature on the podium. Renault and Racing Point certainly do not lack talent in their team, Ricciardo and Perez are fantastic drivers whilst Stroll and Ocon are showing some real promise. But overall the combination of Sainz and Norris makes McLaren’s line up the best for me.
McLaren’s key to taking third is to try and qualify well. If they can get both cars into Q3 and get their cars qualifying in the points, I don’t seem them falling back during the race. McLaren need to ask questions of Racing Point and Renault by putting their car in a decent position forcing their rivals to react. It is McLaren’s to lose, but it is also Racing Points and Renaults to win!
Although I think McLaren have the best driver line up, Renault have the best driver. Ricciardo is something else, he is up there with Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton as the best drivers currently on the grid. He is fantastic going late on the brakes and on multiple occasions has put that Renault car in a position not many could. It will be really interesting to see how he gets along in the McLaren car next season next to Lando.
There is no doubt that Renault have a lot to do if they are going to get third in the championship, and unfortunately for them its not just about what they do but what Racing Point and McLaren do. However, we do know that the Renault car performs well on the high speed circuits, Sakhir this weekend could really benefit them, and if they manage to get a good haul of points this weekend it could really put the pressure on McLaren and Racing Point and force a mistake.
The car really seems to be a hit or miss for Renault, one weekend it looks like the fastest car out of the three and then next weekend they will be way off the pace of the others. The success of their fight for third really depends on what Renault turns up to each weekend, if the competitive Renault turns up, just like Racing Point, they could get their drivers on the podium.
In my opinion, I think it unlikely that Renault will get third, there is too much for them to do with too many factors outside their control that need to go their way. But that isn’t to say it’s not possible. It is not too far out of the realms of possibility for Renault to end up on the podium in either of the two last races, and if Racing Point and McLaren perform poorly, they could really close the gap and potentially leapfrog their way to third.
The importance of third place cannot be understated, there will be a difference of millions in revenue. And I think its important to remember that the car for 2021 is probably already built, so the revenue made from this season will most likely be invested into development for the 2022 car, the year of regulation changes. And money talks in F1, it really could significantly improve their chances of fighting for championships in the future.
But also from a competitive stand point. Each one of these teams wants to get one up over the others. The confidence that this would bring to the whole team as well would be astounding. There is a lot to play for and brings a huge element of excitement to these final rounds.
Personally I think McLaren will take third spot, they have the least to do with the best team to do it with. I will of course hold my hands up if Racing Point or Renault manage to snatch it away and admit I was wrong, but if I were a betting man, McLaren would be my bet.
Featured image from McLaren Facbook page