After a bunch of "Virtual GPs," the real Formula One is almost ready to come back in Austria with two races at The Red Bull Ring. So, we thought it would be an interesting idea to do some power rankings for every driver ahead of the season.
Here's the standard disclaimer that these are all just my personal rankings, and they don't really represent anything important beyond my own opinion.
01 - Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
He's the obvious pick to lead the list. Lewis Hamilton's success over the last few years has spoken for itself, and the Mercedes looks really strong this season. Unless he has some serious bad luck, and he doesn't have bad luck often, he's the title favourite yet again in the shortened 2020 season. Be sure to watch for the Mercedes DAS steering system and how it affects the car.
02 - Max Verstappen, Red Bull
The era of the rising star is here, and Verstappen is taking full advantage of it. He showed serious talent last year in several races, including in the rain, and outperformed both of his teammates by huge margins. It's not even a critique of Alex Albon to say that he'll likely do that again this year, it's just that Verstappen is that good.
03 - Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
Leclerc had a ton of pressure last season as a sophomore F1 driver in the most famous seat in the sport, and occasionally you saw that on the track. For the most part, though, he had a really solid year - and at the end of the day, he outperformed Sebastian Vettel to the point where Ferrari moved on from him as their number one driver, which is hugely impressive. He'll likely take the next step this year, even if the car isn't the title contender he's hoping for.
04 - Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
The perfect number two driver for Lewis Hamilton, Bottas will do what he always does: He'll challenge for wins, put up a couple of pole positions, and maintain consistency. Normally, that's perfect as a backup for Hamilton, but in a shortened season, that could be the key for him to challenge for the title.
05 - Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
Seeing as how Vettel's already been replaced by Carlos Sainz on the team for 2021, there's both a lot of pressure and significantly less pressure for Seb at essentially the same time. He won't have the need to please the Tifosi every session, but he still wants to impress some team into signing him and keeping him in the sport - assuming he wants to. 2019 was a lost year for Vettel, but at least he got redemption at the German Grand Prix. It would be sad to see him exit the sport entirely next year.
06 - Alex Albon, Red Bull
We thought it was a surprise that Albon got promoted before Kvyat, but in retrospect, it makes sense considering they already had the data on Daniil and wanted to see what they had in Albon. It was impressive, too! Albon was really solid in that car in the late parts of the season, and there's almost certainly a podium in his near future.
07 - Daniel Ricciardo, Renault
Ricciardo's so much faster than he's shown at Renault, and his disappointment in the team has been fairly obvious as he gets ready to leave the team for McLaren next season. Perhaps then we'll see the Ricciardo that was a reasonably consistent race-winner once again.
08 - Carlos Sainz Jr., McLaren
Carlos Sainz is going to be a Ferrari driver in 2021. Now that Leclerc's the number one driver there, it makes sense, but it's still something that would've been surprising after Sainz's inconsistent Renault days. This season's most interesting teammate matchup is Sainz and sophomore Lando Norris, and there's no clear winner in sight as McLaren continues their march upwards in the constructors standings.
09 - Sergio Perez, Racing Point
If it weren't for the occasional glaring mistake, Perez would be seen by more as the underrated driver he is. He's consistent, he's usually a good qualifier, and he's been faster than most of his teammates in his career. This season could potentially be a wild one for Perez, as the Mercedes-inspired RP20 car is wildly different than the previous Racing Point car. That could be a big risk, but it could also have big benefits.
10 - Lando Norris, McLaren
With a newfound worldwide fame after participating in IndyCar's biggest virtual race, Norris will be one of the most-watched drivers on the grid among the Instagram audience this season. As we mentioned earlier, his battle with Carlos Sainz in a car that should be getting better is one of the most fascinating on the grid if not *the* most interesting.
11 - Kevin Magnussen, Haas
Magnussen's intense personality and risky on-track style doesn't sit well with some drivers, but he's outperformed Romain Grosjean in two of his three years at Haas. The clashes with Grosjean need to stop though, or one of them will find themselves without a seat by the end of the year.
12 - Esteban Ocon, Renault
It's Ocon's return to the grid after a year away, and his year will mostly be focused on adjusting back to the sport. Renault isn't likely to have a competitive car, and not many expect Ocon to beat Daniel Ricciardo head-to-head, so it should be a reasonably low-pressure road to 2021, where he could be the lead driver in a scenario where he's totally used to the sport again.
13 - Pierre Gasly, Alpha Tauri
It was a really tough year for Gasly last year, but his triumphs late in the year in the Toro Rosso should have reminded everyone of his tremendous talent. This year, he'll be focused on emerging as the clear number one driver at Alpha Tauri and finding himself a stronger seat in 2021 - even if that's outside of the Red Bull program.
14 - Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo
Don't expect the F1 veteran to change much success-wise from last year, but it's nice to have him remain on the grid. Will this be his final season?
15 - Daniil Kvyat, Alpha Tauri
Really solid, with one great race. That's how to best describe Kvyat's 2019, and he's likely to continue that road this season as long as he continues to avoid the mistakes that have bothered him during his career. The Alpha Tauri's historically prone to bursts of surprising speed, and that could benefit both drivers in the shortened season.
16 - George Russell, Williams
Russell's almost certainly going to be hanging out near the back of the grid again, which is a shame, but his status as a future star isn't changing soon. There's results in his future, and he just needs to focus on that while he aims to outscore his rookie teammate in 2020.
17 - Romain Grosjean, Haas
Mistakes again were unfortunately the highlight for the speedy F1 veteran. He's got a ton of talent - it's not a mistake that he's been in the sport so long - but he really needs to prove to his team that he's willing to put in the work to consistently improve on the track. He also absolutely can not be part of any incidents with teammate Kevin Magnussen.
18 - Lance Stroll, Racing Point
Stroll's actually a fairly strong racer - he gained 38 positions on first laps last season - but he's a notably weak qualifier, and that's held him back from getting better results. He's strong in the rain races, and it's not too late for him to realize his potential, but it hasn't really arrived yet for him for the most part.
19 - Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo
The Italian wasn't in the running for the briefly vacant Ferrari seat for 2021, but in fairness to him, he's still only entering his second full season in the sport. It's fair to say that no one's really seen his ceiling, but he may want to prove that statement on the track sooner rather than later to risk avoiding the hot seat. Mick Schumacher is on the way, and he will get a chance at some point.
20 - Nicholas Latifi, Williams
Latifi was one of the most consistent presences for fans to watch in the Virtual Grand Prix, so it's not a completely blind view for what to expect, but no one really knows what to expect from him in the Williams car this year - especially since it's almost certainly going to be sticking around the back. It will also be difficult to go head-to-head against former competitor George Russell, but it could have big rewards if he were to beat him in the teammate matchup.