After much discussion and debating behind the scenes, the 2020 Formula One season is scheduled to get underway in Austria on the weekend of July 4th and 5th.
We’re still to discover the full roadmap of this season’s calendar, as the sport looks to best respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But only eight races are required to constitute a world championship, while Formula One bosses are confident of holding far more than that before 2020 is over.
Lewis Hamilton is seeking a seventh world title this year, and he’s the 4/9 favourite this season after cruising to his sixth crown in 2019.
The Mercedes ace saw off all comers last season, but will he do so again this year? We’ve lined up the four most likely suspects to finally dethrone the Brit…
The Monegasque driver was the star of 2019, racking up seven pole positions and two wins for Ferrari in just his second season in the sport.
Leclerc has already ousted Vettel as the Scuderia’s lead man. So can the 22-year-old take the fight to Hamilton?
The duo clashed at last season’s Italian Grand Prix, when Leclerc won after some questionable defensive driving in front of the Mercedes. But the Ferrari man had made his point; that he wasn’t going to be bullied by anyone, even a six-time world champion.
Leclerc still has some learning to do, however. He lost a chunk of points in the early part of last season through mistakes, and he can’t afford to do the same again if he’s to launch a title bid.
Leclerc is the stage in his career where Max Verstappen was about three seasons ago. Back then, the Dutchman had the opportunity to win races, but was frequently involved in on-track incidents.
Now though, Verstappen is possibly the most accomplished racer on the grid, after Hamilton.
The Dutchman showed a new level of maturity in 2019. He was involved in fewer incidents, outscored both Ferrari drivers in the championship and racked up three superb wins along the way.
His Red Bull team have often struggled to find pace in the car early in the season, but if they can hit the ground running in 2020, there’s every reason to believe that Verstappen is now very much ready for a full-on Hamilton-aimed title challenge.
What about the other Mercedes driver? Valtteri Bottas certainly upped his game in 2019, driving to a career-best four wins in one season.
But the Finn was still found wanting when Hamilton raised the bar in the second half of the campaign.
This is his fourth season alongside Hamilton, and the Finn has yet to find a way to get on top of his mercurial Mercedes partner.
Perhaps he could take inspiration from the fact that Nico Rosberg, Hamilton’s team-mate before Bottas, won his single world championship in 2016 – his fourth season as Hamilton’s team-mate.
Or is this the year that Sebastian Vettel brings it all together and finally puts one over on Hamilton?
The German has already announced he will leave Ferrari at the end of the season, though it remains to be seen who he will drive for in 2021 or if he will retire from the sport.
The four-time world champion came out second best in his 2017 and 2018 title fights against Hamilton, while he spent 2019 struggling to get a handle on new hotshot team-mate Leclerc.
Will Vettel be able to channel all of those battles into 2020 and launch one final title bid with the famous red team? Time will tell.
Who do you think is Hamilton’s biggest rival in 2020? Let us know in our poll @Ladbrokes!
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication