Formula 1 is like that jigsaw puzzle where even a minor tweak slides the frame to descend into a confusing spiral. And at the moment, it looks every bit dramatic as the rain-fueled contest at Brazil’s Interlagos circuit of 2016 or the 2012 Abu Dhabi triumph that upheld the triumph of the underdog.
You didn’t know who would emerge on top or what might happen at the end of the contest.
Until a few hours back, Sebastian Vettel was the hotly-trending item in the world of Formula 1. All Facebook posts were about him. The world of sports on Twitter was all about him.
A few hours later, there’s not much attention with the four-time world champion. As much of it rests with Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniel Ricciardo, who are Ferrari and McLaren drivers of 2021, respectively.
Oh, how quickly do fortunes change in the world of Grand Prix racing- don’t they?
Anyone watching the 2019 season was only getting used to new changes in the racing order at teams like Ferrari, McLaren, and Renault.
Just simply rewind the clocks to a little over a year back in time.
The sight of Ricciardo and Hulkenberg gelling well together cut a figure of promise and quiet confidence. Everything was jovial about seeing Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris blending together like peas and carrots at McLaren.
At Ferrari, meanwhile, a younger force was in the camp of a master, the bond was that of a professor and a keen pupil; Vettel and Leclerc’s pairing was apparently touted as the next ‘big partnership!’
Cut to May 2020.
And what do we see?
In a year where much of the sporting action anywhere on the planet belongs to cancelled events and postponed games and tournaments, Formula 1 is still going strong, despite not having hosted a single Grand Prix.
Well, tell you what. It’s not always a live Grand Prix that makes all the deafening noise. It’s the driver shuffle that matters just as much, cutting the clutter in an already noisy world.
And what better than having two of the fastest young forces on the grid holding aloft the attention in a world where destinies change at a rapid pace?
As Daniel Ricciardo– a veteran of a decade in the sport that’s culminated in 7 wins and 29 podiums moves to McLaren- you are bound to see a major shift in the fortunes of a side that, from the onset of 2019, ws already improving in the ‘right direction’.
That said, make no mistake. From the onset of 2015 until 2018, a team that’s actually a legendary outfit in the top annals of Grand Prix racing was reduced to a frail machine that only fetched DNFs.
The constant retirements at Spa-Francorchamps, Hungaroring, Sakhir, Yas Marina, and the likes didn’t cut a promising figure for the team that at the behest of a Senna and Hakkinen ruled at the principality of Monaco and roared at Estoril.
For nearly half a decade, McLaren’s progress stalled at the end of engineering gaffes served a damning blow to the career of a redoubtable great in Fernando Alonso. Moreover, it effectively shut the door on the career of a young Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne.
We never saw him again. Did we?
Then finally, 2019 provided a major respite.
Yes, while the dominant features of a season that once again, belonged to Hamilton’s dominance in his Mercedes, was the starry arrival of Leclerc and Verstappen’s heroism at Austria, among other things, it’s what McLaren managed on the Constructor’s Standings at the end that mattered a lot.
If anyone was looking for a vastly under-appreciated montage of the year that 2019 was then it was McLaren standing fourth on the Constructor Standings, as the best of the ‘rest’ on the grid.
The 145 points garnered by a team that only a few months ago was nowhere in sight of improvement was as mighty a departure from frequent waning fortunes as was the exit of Rosberg from the sport itself.
The resurgence of McLaren was promising. It was actually needed. And now that with Daniel Ricciardo aka ‘The Honeybadger’s’ arrival in the orange-liveried car is confirmed, one can only expect brighter days up ahead.
After all, we’ve seen what the master of ‘late braking’ can achieve. With a faster machine and a more reliable vehicle at his disposal, the main question that the big 2020 driver shuffle warrants is whether Ricciardo and Norris can take McLaren even higher up than where they finished in 2019?
Is dethroning Red Bull on the cards for 2021?
Attention Ferrari fans!
Well, while we know nothing of that, also since predicting anything in an entirely unpredictable sport is anything but wise, what we do know is that McLaren aren’t the only team buzzing with widespread attention.
A lot of it belongs to the force that’s painted in all “Scarlett Red”!
To a team no stranger to strict restructuring and frequent chop-and-change, Maurizio Arrivabene having replaced Marco Mattiaccci, only to make space for Mattia Binotto, since 2017, the only thing that’s been certain for Ferrari is change.
Raikkonen having left a year back and now, with no Vettel too, the news of Carlos Sainz Jr. coming to race alongside newbie Charles Leclerc is perhaps as dazzling in its surprise as it is sudden in its coming.
A month back, much of the focus was when might F1 finally get underway. But where it stands at the moment, the focus is what might happen in 2021.
And while we don’t know it yet, what we certainly know is that the new, sudden driver shuffles have only exacerbated the puzzle that the 2021 season could be, a year where who knows, the triumph could go to anyone.
Surely, the switch to Maranello is Carlos Sainz Jr.’s biggest earning in a relatively young career, the big daddy among the gifts.
But will the young pairing of Leclerc and Sainz, a potentially long-stint, be the power that’s needed to halt Lewis’ indomitable surge at Mercedes.
Can Ferrari finally get back to their title-winning ways and bury the lost chances?
Or will it be Red Bull who’ll ultimately take matters in their own hands to stop Hamilton and Mercedes’ charge, if at all?
Max, are you listening?