Biggest questions ahead of F1 season
The 2020 Formula 1 season is just days away from kicking off but serious questions remain overhead.
Before the lights go green, we've compiled and answered some of the biggest questions that will affect the field this season.
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Can anyone stop Lewis Hamilton and his date with the record books?
The 'Search for Seven' is on for Lewis Hamilton, who has moved to the brink of Michael Schumacher's once-unimaginable all-time record of world championships at a rate of knots in recent seasons. After winning 'just' one world title - albeit probably the most dramatic one in history - during his first seven seasons of F1, Hamilton has dominated the turbo hybrid era with Mercedes, claiming five of the last six drivers' crowns.
He starts as favourite again for 2020 and, despite now being the second-oldest driver on the grid, there are no signs that Hamilton plans to let up anytime soon. Can anyone deny him that record-equalling triumph over the next eight months?
Are Red Bull a real force with Honda?
Although they finished third in the championship last year, Red Bull couldn't have asked for much more from Honda in their first year together. That engine improved so much towards the end of the season that Hamilton claimed Red Bull had more power than Mercedes. And we haven't heard that often in the hybrid era.
With a decent engine in the back, and a star driver in Max Verstappen in the cockpit, it's now up to Red Bull to do what they do best and deliver a contending chassis. Winter testing was promising, now we'll find out if the former world champions can do what they haven't done since their last title in 2013 - challenge over a whole season.
And will Verstappen become F1's youngest champion?
Verstappen is already F1's youngest-ever driver and youngest-ever race winner, but 2020 is his last chance to become the sport's youngest-ever champion. His performances over the last year have proved that he's ready for that shot.
Although his chances do rely heavily on the question above.
Will Vettel find his spark again?
Just how big a season is this for Sebastian Vettel? There's certainly a case to make that it could prove the campaign that ultimately defines the second half of his F1 career. In the final year of his Ferrari contract, and in his second season up against Charles Leclerc after being beaten by the youngster in 2019, Vettel essentially finds himself at a crossroads.
But it would be unwise to write-off the four-time world champion and 53-time race winner - especially if the new SF1000 Ferrari proves more to his liking than last year's challenger. Vettel has insisted he is motivated and determined to enjoy a stronger 2020, so it will be intriguing to see how that plays out in the battle for supremacy at Ferrari.
Will the new races deliver?
Provided they go ahead, the new race in Vietnam and the returning Dutch GP promise excitement.
In Vietnam, F1 travels to a new market and to an interesting-looking Hanoi track which is half street fighter (a la Baku), and half a classic circuit with inspiration from Monaco and Suzuka, among others. The returning Zandvoort circuit, meanwhile, has been heavily renovated and it will be intriguing to see how the new-for-2020 cars handle its aggressive banking.
Can the younger generation continue to flourish?
Max Verstappen. Charles Leclerc. Alex Albon. Lando Norris. Lance Stroll. George Russell.
The under-25s on the grid can all take encouragement from their 2019 seasons - particularly the rookies. In Verstappen vs Leclerc, meanwhile, F1 may have a battle at the front over the next decade and beyond.
Add Esteban Ocon and Nicholas Latifi, the only 2020 rookie, to that list above, and F1's next generation looks extremely promising. Who will stand out this year?
Who will lead the competitive midfield?
The early indications are that Racing Point, who finished seventh last year, have stolen a march on their competitors with their new-look, Mercedes-inspired 2020 challenger. But you certainly can't rule out McLaren, who were holding back at testing, after their superb 2019, while Renault have the resources and a quality driver line-up. And the newly-named AlphaTauri look likely to be a force, too.
Will the lap records be shattered?
The times from winter testing suggest so, as does the early feedback from drivers who were amazed by the amount of downforce they have in these new cars. This should be F1's fastest-ever season.
Who will provide the driver market surprise?
The long-term winter renewals for Verstappen at Red Bull and Leclerc at Ferrari undoubtedly took some of the early sting out of this year's driver market, but most of F1's class of 2020 still don't have deals in place yet for next season. And that remains an unusual situation.
The large out-of-contract contingent includes the grid's other big names - Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas and Ricciardo - and means that there will be plenty of 'will they, won't they' questions in regards to potential moves lingering for much of the season until all the 2021 pieces all fall into place.
Will all 10 current teams sign up for 2021?
2021's sporting, technical and financial rules are in place, but the commercial terms that F1's teams compete on still have to be agreed and signed off. That'll prove one of the year's biggest off-track talking points as the various powerbrokers work towards a conclusion to the long-running debate to ensure the sport retains its current 10 outfits.
Can Williams come back fighting?
'Fighting' is certainly Williams' buzzword for this season, with the proud Grove team looking to take their first steps back to the midfield after a chastening campaign spent cut adrift in 2019.
But the early signs look promising, with the striking FW43 proving much faster than last year's car in winter testing and seemingly offering more development promise. After scoring a solitary point last time around, things can - and certainly should - only get better in 2020.
How will Kimi celebrate breaking his F1 record?
Probably by saying bwoah. But the F1 record for most races - which Kimi Raikkonen is set to break with his 327th entry in Hungary - is a momentous achievement, and one even the Iceman may express some emotion about.
This article originally appeared on Sky Sports and was reproduced with permission,