June 18, 2021

Who finishes third? Analysing F1’s closest battle

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Analysing the all-important battle for third as Racing Point, McLaren and Renault head to Portugal with just six points separating the rivals.

By Matt Morlidge

Last Updated: 21/10/20 12:45pm

While Lewis Hamilton’s bid to become Formula 1’s all-time record race-winner and Mercedes vs an improving Red Bull are likely to headline this weekend’s Portuguese GP – you can also expect another twist in what has been the sport’s closest and most intense battle on the grid this season.

Racing Point, McLaren and Renault have been yo-yoing all season and head to Portimao with just six points between them, with six races remaining. And, with Ferrari seemingly out of the picture, this typically-fierce midfield fight should settle who finishes third in the 2020 constructors’ standings.

It would be Racing Point’s record-high F1 finish. It would be McLaren’s best since 2012. It would be Renault’s highest in 13 years.

Who comes out on top?

Racing Point
Position: 3rd. Points: 120

Story so far
Despite a disrupted F1 2020 which has included off-track appeals of their car and three separate Nico Hulkenberg call-ups due to driver illness, Racing Point, while not streaking away from their rivals, have been the midfield benchmark. Only missing out on Q3 twice in dry qualifying sessions – once due to a Lance Stroll issue in Russia and again when Hulkenberg was thrown into the car in Germany – the team have been consistently fast and that is reflected in their, albeit slender, points advantage. They have one podium to their name this year, Stroll’s in Italy, but Racing Point might feel they should have had a few more given their package, finishing fourth a grid-high four times.

Prospects for the rest of 2020
Racing Point have brought their first major upgrade to their car in recent races – one that has moved them away from Mercedes’ design – and the results have been promising. Stroll, who got the new parts, including a new floor and front wing, first at Mugello was running fourth before his crash, while Sergio Perez was fourth at Sochi and the Nurburgring with the new package. They have been competitive on most tracks this season, particularly those which favour more downforce, so while more big updates before the end of F1 2020 are doubtful, the team will fancy their chances of more strong results and, more importantly, finishing third.

What they said
Andrew Green, technical director: “I just want a normal race weekend, and we haven’t had a normal race weekend probably since race one of this season. It’s going to be a real battle. There’s three teams there, we’re just swapping places all the time. It’s going to be good fun to the end of the season.”

Position: 4th. Points: 116

Story so far
McLaren, best of the rest behind F1’s usual ‘big three’ in 2019, started this season in fine form, securing a podium at the season-opener and finishing the Austria double-header with 39 points – which had them second and only behind Mercedes in the early standings. Another standout result came when Carlos Sainz was second, and unlucky not to win, at Monza, after which McLaren enjoyed a 16-point buffer to their closest rivals for third. However, McLaren’s success has been slightly more erratic, and track-specific, than Racing Point and Renault – while their recent upgrades, introduced at Mugello, have not yet panned out as hoped. McLaren have not qualified higher than sixth, or finished a race higher than fifth, since, scoring just 18 points in the last three races compared to Racing Point’s 38, and Renault’s 43.

Prospects for the rest of 2020
McLaren described their updates, which included a new nose, as “quite a big change in terms of the aero concept of the car” and believe they will put them in good shape for the minor regulation change for 2021. But the team need some performance from them this season if they are to move back ahead in the fight for third and, worryingly, Sainz finished behind Norris in Eifel GP qualifying, when he was running the upgrade and his team-mate was not.

What they said
Andreas Seidl, team principal: “We have to acknowledge that the Racing Point is a strong car, the way this car has been put together. And Renault, we have to acknowledge, they made a good step forward with their car and are, at the moment in terms of pace, ahead of us. We will continue to use our new nose-box aero concept combined with a known competitive car configuration [at the Portuguese GP] and we will continue to bring more new upgrades to the car to test on Friday and also further explore and quantify our new aero concept.”

Position: 5th. Points: 114

Story so far
Step forward Renault, F1 2020’s in-form team. A big season for the French outfit may not have started particularly well – with a best result of eighth after the first three races – but P4 and P6 with fresh upgrades at the British GP kickstarted their season and, since more updates were introduced at the Belgian GP, Renault have been superb – securing at least one top-six finish in all of the the last five races. Daniel Ricciardo, meanwhile, has been described as the “trump card” in the constructors’ battle for third, with the Australian’s post-Spain form card reading: 4th, 6th, 4th, 5th, 3rd. Renault would be in even better shape if Esteban Ocon could match Ricciardo, and if he had not suffered DNFs in Tuscany and Germany.

Prospects for the rest of 2020
Most encouraging for Renault with their 2020 car is the fact it seems to be flying on all tracks. The team were fastest of all on the straights at the high-speed Spa and Monza and they then backed that up with brilliant Tuscan and Eifel GPs – at two completely different circuits. Team boss Cyril Abiteboul says they will think about more upgrades before the end of the season, but they should be in great shape regardless in the final six races.

What they said
Ricciardo: “Last year I felt we, at times, could be very fast or well outside the top 10. I think now we’re just able to sit in that sweet spot and obviously the performance is there. It’s proven now: we’ve done it on low downforce and high downforce circuits. So, yeah, I think it’s a good package and we should have confidence now for the remainder of the season.”