2020 F1 season preview: David Coulthard's title prediction

Lewis Hamilton

Coulthard tips Hamilton/Mercedes as champions again

As the new racing season prepares to move, the 13-time Grand Prix and Channel 4 F1 winner looks into his crystal ball

Formula 1 returns this weekend at the Australian Grand Prix, the first race of the 21st - or 22nd depending on the new coronavirus-hit Chinese GP date - to be played around the world over the next eight and a half months.

The rules of stability ahead of the breaking down pressure of the revolution that is coming in 2021 should, in theory, deliver the same as last year: not far from the race, but yet another inevitable Lewis Hamilton/Mercedes double as the 35-year-old races Michael Schumacher records 91 wins and seven titles.

But… in F1 you never know. David Coulthard, a veteran Williams, McLaren and Red Bull, talks about it. Now an increasingly polished broadcaster on Channel 4's excellent coverage, he was too experienced to take it all for granted. Autocar fires for questions on F1 through 2020 and DC fires with a straight back.

Is Lewis Hamilton getting better every year?

“Probably yes, but I don't think he's gotten any faster. He's just a much more earthy version of the flamboyant young thing that broke into F1 in 2007. For athletic people in general, but for everyone, in any business, you won't become more talented – but you do become more efficient in your delivery.”

And Valtteri Bottas got no hope of winning?

“Simple answer: Of course, yes. I wanted to put money on Nico Rosberg: Hamilton winning in a fair fight in the 2016 season? No. But he did. Valtteri is in the same vein. It's been done before, so why not do it again? Will he do it? The evidence still says no - but as he famously said on the radio after winning last year in Australia: 'Fuck you!' I can relate to it.”

Can Sebastian Vettel change his fate this year?

“I think he can. He's done this before if you look at his last year at Red Bull Daniel Ricciardo next [in 2014]. He seemed out of sorts. Nothing flowed. Question: will this be the end of another stage of mediocrity? It's in his hands."

Of Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, who has the most potential?

"Interesting. “Potential” is a wonderfully hackneyed word in motorsport. Many have it. Some of them have become champions. So if I can, I'll change the question: who is the most ready to win? Who will get their elbows in order by Ayrton Senna? If you had to swing the pendulum one way or the other and choose one, you should go with Verstappen. But Charles is the real deal, too.”

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Can McLaren break through the glass ceiling and take F1 into the top three teams?

“I read team leader Andreas Seidl saying they won't be ready until 2022 or 2023. I'm all for them, covering my heads – but equally, why not? Easy for me to say. I don't have access to how limited their budget can be. But they have a Renault engine that can win races and a Mercedes next year. As for the rest, the rustling bits that spin their cars into the ground, they need to understand the dynamics of the car as well as any other team. Are they really saying 'our Aero team isn't good enough and we haven't had time to score better? I doubt it. I don't really understand, despite all my years in F1, how some teams do it right and some don't. I don't understand why they can't do Aero straight and all of a sudden in the mix. Why not?"

About what we've seen so far, how do you driver which McLaren is Lando Norris?

“Very good [long pause that continues]. I have nothing more for you! Next to [teammate] Carlos Sainz Jr., both are exciting prospects with great potential. But we won't really know until the pressure of waiting is suddenly on them."

Daniel Ricciardo make the worst decision by leaving Red Bull for Renault last year?

“He made the right decision for him. Last year has always been challenging. This year will decide whether he was inspired or in an emotionally charged situation he clutched at straws. I know from my point of view, I hung on to the opportunity to drive the best car for as long as I could. But there is a completely different conversation: does Renault make the right decision to invest so much in one person? It made sense to go for such talent as Daniel, but was it right to pay so much for him? If they say 'we don't have a budget, I can give them more than 20 million reasons why...'

Why is F1 going to Vietnam?

“Another emerging market that has seen the benefits of F1 showcases brings. I did a couple of show passes there. General curiosity and interest was expressed. There are a few things that look like good local government decisions. The area will develop and they will receive outside investment. What does F1 do? Chunky pay that works for the team because they get the cut.”

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It's 21 or 22 races TOO manG?

“I hear people say that we can go up to 25. Personally, knowing how much energy it took for me to be a great Grand Prix driver even in my Premier, I don't know if I would have had the strength to do 21 races. You should have with this, but I was exhausted, came in the middle of the season - and I was healthy. They don't do the testing we used to do, which was every week, so maybe that's why.”

Who is your advice for a champion?

“Easy money: Hamilton. Second call: Vettel. Outside bets: Verstappen.”

What are you most excited about?

“I'm looking forward to seeing him as close as I think it might be at the front. I want to see Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull winning each of the first three Grands Prix in particular, no order, and then we're on. Then we have the vintage F1 years.”

David Coulthard on...

The return of Zandvoort as a Dutch GP venue

“If Monaco can have a Grand Prix, so can Zandvoort. It may not have the biggest paddock, but I drove there with Max and Daniel in Red Bull F1 cars and scared each other out of myself. To be honest, I was 45 at the time…”

Williams: Has he sunk to rock bottom?

"Yes. It couldn't have been more uncomfortable for them last year and for those of us who are fans of the team. Williams does not mean that Minardi was in the past.”

Main channel 4 is a limitation

“Sometimes we rebounded like this: 'Hi, how are you? Let's do it'. That being said, I grew up on this, on James Hunt and Murray Walker shortened by 30 minutes at 9pm on BBC Two – and it was wonderful. Therefore, I think that too much of something can be ... too much. But the sky is doing a great job in all sports. With all due respect to them, in this case, when we get to at least show the glare on over-the-air TV is only because the sky allows it to happen with the approval of F1.”

To surprise him in 2020

[Long pause] “F***.” [Another long pause followed] “I think I've been so numb, been around for so long, that nothing surprises me with F1 anymore!”

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