When a new Formula One season comes around, numerous subplots generate intrigue throughout the paddock. While title-winning discussions typically dominate pre-season speculation, there is a growing amount of interest in the drivers with points to prove as the anticipation builds. So, who’s more determined than ever to succeed when the lights go out in 2020?
Daniel Ricciardo – Renault
After making the move to Renault in 2019, Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo ended a ten-year career with Red Bull Racing as he sought to take the next step in his career. Following his departure, much was made of the reasoning behind the now 30-year-old's decision, with some, including Christian Horner, the team principal at Red Bull Racing, claiming that he was running from a fight with Max Verstappen. Although Ricciardo denies this, such suggestions have certainly applied more pressure to the Australian coming into the new season following his lackluster debut year with the French team.
The Perth-born driver finished the 2019 season ninth in the standings, 42 points behind McLaren’s Carlos Sainz. This, along with Ricciardo’s rivalry with Verstappen, is one of the main reasons why the Renault driver has a point to prove in the upcoming season. Having taken Sainz’s seat with the French racing team, he’ll be keen to show that they have made the right decision in appointing him as the man to take them back to challenging for podiums and race wins.
Esteban Ocon – Renault
There can be no doubts that 23-year-old Esteban Ocon will have the bit between his teeth when the 2020 F1 season gets underway and he makes his return to the grid. Sadly for Ocon, his absence from high-level racing last year was through no fault of his own. The struggles at Williams during 2018 resulted in Lawrence Stroll switching from the iconic racing team to Force India, which became Racing Point. As a result, his son, Lance, also left Williams with the intention being that he would get a seat at Racing Point in 2019.
Unfortunately for Ocon, his at-the-time team opted to keep Sergio Perez ahead of him. Moreover, at this point, most teams had already confirmed their driver line-ups, leaving the Spaniard without a seat last year. Like Ricciardo, Ocon will be determined to prove something to his old team following their disappointing separation. Furthermore, in coming into Renault alongside the Australian, the 23-year-old will be hopeful of bettering his 30-year-old teammate in the fight against McLaren.
Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari
Perhaps the driver with the most to prove on the grid is the four-time World Champion, Sebastian Vettel. At the beginning of 2019, the German was generally seen as being the Prancing Horses’ number one driver ahead of Charles Leclerc. However, by the end of the racing calendar, his position within the team became a little more unclear after his Monaco-born teammate secured victories at both Spa and Monza. Although Vettel won in Singapore, many believe that Leclerc was, on paper, given the more favorable strategy out of the two Ferrari drivers.
Furthermore, while Vettel will be among the betting favorites to clinch the title going into the new season, his long-term future with the Italian team remains uncertain at the time of writing. The 32-year-old is currently in the last year of his deal with Ferrari, and he will be keen to show that he is capable of consistently competing for race wins in his effort to win his fifth world title.
Who Will Step Up and Deliver?
Given the unpredictability of Formula One, it’s impossible to predict who will come out on top at the end of the 2020 season. However, some drivers have more of a point to prove than others. Because of the high-stakes nature of the sport, there is pressure to hit the ground running, and Ocon, Ricciardo, and Vettel will all be chomping at the bit when the lights go out at the very first race.